‘Curry’ has long been a favourite in England – an Anglicised version of the myriad Indian dishes the British enjoyed in colonial India. But times are changing. The British – and indeed, many of South Asian heritage – are looking for more authentic tastes.
Enter Ooty, an upmarket venture on Baker Street in London, where South India comes fully into focus, combining traditional tastes with inspired flavours in a space reminiscent of the hill station it is named after.
I was in London during the summer, interspersing the Goan monsoon which I love so much with long evening picnics, drinks in gardens and hanging out by the pub till sundown at 10pm. With not much time on hand, my schedule was full but one meeting is never off the cards.
I first met Pooja and Uday Nayak when they visited Goa from London for the Super Sixes celebrity cricket tournament a few years ago. It was absolutely delightful to hear that they had opened a restaurant – Ooty – a few months ago with a dear friend Aseela Goenka.
Located in the heart of the city with a café bar on Dorset Street, guests can watch the much-touted London nightlife unfold before their very eyes as they sup on the exquisite flavours of southern India.
Indoors, one discovers a distinct individuality in three spaces – the fine dining restaurant, the colonial-style basement bar called Ooty Club, and the all-day casual dining space and cocktail bar called Ooty Station. Natural materials and a faux foliage wall with a deep wooden floor fill the restaurant. The dusky pink chairs and deep green banquets combine with beautiful copper accents to offer a smart, luxurious feel to the space.
At Ooty Club, there are reminiscences of 18th-century India – dark panelling, vintage prints, maps, colonial paintings, globes and carved wooden furniture. Ooty Station, on the other hand, returns to modernity with a relaxed feel that reflects the casual food and cocktails. Here, there are industrial accents, bar-style leather seating and sleek windows that let in the gorgeous summer sun.
Together, they tie up to transport guests back to the colonial getaway hidden in the Nilgiri forests. Pooja, Uday and I sat together at the fine dining restaurant, the 80-cover space milling with people looking for the authentic tastes of south India.
The menu offers a modern take on the original aromatic cuisine, filled with spice and pulses, fresh fish and vegetables. It changes seasonally, but there are some dishes that have already become quite popular. These include the tellicherry crab fry with zesty coconut crab relish and tomato chutney as well as one from our very own Goa – chicken cafreal with cucumber rolls, baby corn shoots and tomato dust coral.
Guests can try inspired cuisine such as the Keralan lime lobster with shellfish charu, squid ink idli and chutney spoon, or go traditional and authentic with the Andhra natu kodi biryani made of guinea fowl, basmati rice, egg salan and cucumber yoghurt pachadi.
Chef Manmeet Singh Bali, who earlier worked at Michelin-starred London restaurants Rasoi and Vineet Bhatia London, has added a griddle to the scene, from where the team serves enticing portions of grills such as fennel lamb shoulder, pine nut and pickled baby shallots and classic masala dosa with crushed new potato.
Vegetarians have much to look forward to, including almond and pea cake with crispy pepper asparagus, wasabi chutney and asparagus shavings for starters, or fennel paneer; samphire pulao, hyderabadi tomato kut and chenna fritters for mains.
Over Barolo red wine and lots of chatter, we enjoyed a melt-in-the-mouth kid goat sukka with spinach and artichoke uttapam, pepper duck egg and lentil sambhar; lamb rack with chilli gram flour, chilli jam and beetroot vinaigrette; and delectable Malabar jhinga biryani featuring tiger prawns,basmati rice, egg salan and cooling cucumber yoghurt pachadi.
In the span of just a few months, Ooty has made a name for itself on the London food scene. It is already a firm favourite of Indians visiting London – even former deputy chief minister Vijay Sardesai stopped in for a bite not too long ago.
Other celebs who have stopped by for their fix of delectable south Indian food have included Hindi film actor Akshay Kumar – who’s known to be quite the regular, Indian actor Kabir Bedi, UK members of Parliament and ministers, former Formula 1 owner Bernie Ecclestone and even Prince Edward!
With folks of this ilk often coming over for their favourite Indian food, it’s highly likely that a meal at Ooty will include bumping into a celebrity or two.
For more details, reservations & whats on the menu : www.ooty.co.uk
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