Matsya (Contemporary Indian Fine Dining) – Mayfair, LondonHALAL STATUS Halal food menu (non-alcoholic substitute available for the Gin Salmon) • Alcohol served
Matsya is a fine dining Indian restaurant in the heart of upmarket Mayfair that specialises in seafood and an array of timeless (and some forgotten) dishes from across India, though with a modern twist.
The venue is an intimate one that’s made optimal use of the space available across two floors and a basement.
With warm lighting, a monochromatic colour scheme and glitzy ornaments, there’s seating for 70 on the ground floor, with the bar room and main dining lounge conveniently demarcated.
Hence, while only minimal decoration has been permitted, the rooms do boast dated fireplaces and two large, rectangular Italian chandeliers made exclusively on the islands of Murano.
We, on the other hand, had the pleasure of quietly dining in the basement’s private VIP room, which will set you back around a £1000 to hire.
Lavishly decked out with an impressively large dining table for 10 and an equally large waterfall chandelier, not only is there an admittedly impressive wall-mounted handmade whiskey vault, but the room also leads towards a secluded wine cellar.
That being said, the actual menu, on first impressions, certainly appears to be an impressive one, with a number of dishes that immediately piqued our interest.
In fact, one area that Matsya believes will make it stand out from the competition, are dishes from the Eastern region of India that have hitherto never been introduced to London, at least not in the way this “Contemporary Indian Dining” promises.
NOTE: This review was conducted during Matsya’s soft opening period that ends at the end of this month.
As impressive and as slick as the glasses and presentation of these mocktails were, there’s no disguising the fact that significant improvement is required.
The issue with both the Virgin Mojito and the Pina Colada was one of composition. With the mint barely discernible in the former, which was more or less watered-down to the point of insipidity anyway; the cream entirely dominated proceedings in the latter, with perhaps a hint of pineapple aroma and no coconut to speak of.
As for the non-alcoholic Champagne, then it was a sparkling, subtly-flavoured grape drink, we believe, that was refreshingly light and pleasant, and easily the best of the three.
The Virgin Strawberry Mojito was slightly more improved in that the mellow combination of the lime and mint came through first, followed by the gentle sweetness of the strawberries.
Despite one Lion considering this to be made with a certain level of “know-how”, the other two weren’t quite convinced, even after a thorough stir.
The wow factor of any traditional Daab Chingri is the coconut shell in which it’s cooked and presented.
As a budding fine dining establishment, however, Matsya goes the extra mile in presenting said Bengali shrimp curry not just in a dehusked coconut shell, but one that’s been properly extirpated of its fibrous exterior.
And we’re delighted to say that this was just as spectacular in flavour as in its delivery, with a rich, deep sauce that exuded a tantalising smoky-mustardy aroma, courtesy of the Kasundi mustard, which was expertly balanced, despite its renowned pungency, by the sweetness of the coconut milk. In addition, there were hints of chilli, a sour edge, and soft shrimps that still retained a nice bite.
One of the best dishes of the evening, with one Lion summing things up perfectly: “Just a gorgeous experience!”
With an almost stringy-cum-pastey consistency, the best way of describing this Lamb Harisa would be to compare it to the well known haleem dish sans the lentils.
This did, nonetheless, split the crowd, for although one Lion wasn’t quite convinced by it despite acknowledging the way in which the heat slowly built up towards an enjoyable limit, the other recognised the spices to be well balanced and, thus, considered it “another brilliant dish”.
As for the perfectly puffed up Kashmiri Naan, then both its addictively crispy texture and its sweet undertone meant that it complemented the heat and spices of the lamb superbly.
Since this was a French-style Lobster Thermidor, the meat from the abdomen had been extracted and cooked with a creamy sauce before smartly being stuffed back into the shell.
And what fun we had with this, and how truly delicious it was too! While the combination of the naturally sweet lobster along with the mildly cheesy, vinegary sauce was good enough on its own, it was made even better with a squeeze of the lime and the resulting sharp, tangy aftertaste.
Before alarm bells start ringing at the inclusion of gin in Matsya’s signature salmon dish, there’s a substitute available on request in the form of the “distilled non-alcoholic spirit”, Seedlip.
With that said, this was, both visually and gastronomically, another stunning plate of food.
At the centre was, of course, a piece of salmon with a perfectly charred, crispy skin that had a dry masala rub whose spices worked really well against the bed of slightly sweet puréed mash.
Be sure though to make good use of the wedge of lemon to give the entire dish a touch of the sour.
Did it succeed? Indeed; but, only at the expense of coherency and narrative, which raises the following query. If this dish was meant to tell a coherent story while simultaneously seeking to challenge, then kudos for the attempt. Otherwise, what’s the point if all that emerges, as was the case with this Vegetable Tawa on the Table, is a discordant assortment of not inexpensive bits and pieces?
For what it’s worth, the bitter gourd’s typically grainy texture and its bitter kick was barely countered by the mildly tangy tomato sauce accompaniment.
The spiced okra appeared to just be there for the sake of being there; the bell peppers were soft on the outside and filled with a mushy soft cheese-like filling; and the lotus stem, marinated in mustard seeds, were tender and fibrous to the bite, with a touch of heat to them.
Khatte Baingan indeed! For something so small and unassuming, did these vibrantly purple eggplants pack some flavour.
Though gorgeously soft in texture, what made this dish such a tongue-tingling one was the marriage between the sharp and tangy onion-based sauce and the sweetness of the tamarind, along with a smokiness tamely lingering in the background.
While this was good in its own right, give it a go with some crispy naan bread for textural contrast.
GRILLS & TAWAS
Given the quality of the chops and their cooking, these are worth enjoying on their own.
And though there’s no real need for the lemon, the combination of the mint sauce and the spiced onions were a good touch.
However, the size of the chops were, particularly given the price, disappointing.
You can imagine our anticipation at trying these long strips of Australian Halal Wagyu (BMS 8-9), which, according to the suppliers Freedown Food, is the “highest grading” and “equivalent to [Japanese] Kobe cuisine”.
Cutting to the chase, and in light of our admittedly lofty expectations, this, much to our collective frustration, didn’t quite make it.
For one, they were served luke warm which, we believe, adversely impacted the general texture for which wagyu is so well known for and sought after: that melt-in-the-mouth experience. As such, this was good without being anything special.
The second confusing thing was the strength of the green chilli marination – it was fierce; and no amount of the given mint sauce would have been enough to dampen the heat generated. This, then, prompted the question of why, when such a superior quality of beef is to hand, one would overwhelm everything within the vicinity with something so potently strong? Why not let that renowned umami taste of wagyu shine through, enhanced perhaps by a few ingredients that would work towards enhancing said experience, rather than contrariwise?
A peculiar textured “kebab” no doubt; but, when it tastes this good, who cares?
With a spongy bottom, crispy top and soft interior, the harmony achieved with the mixture of spices in this Bharwan Gucchi Kebab was one of soothing warmth, and quite enjoyable minus the default mint sauce. More cleverly was the pickled onion side whose sharpness worked well as a palatte cleanser of sorts.
Firstly this quirkily named Split Personality Dal Bowl comprised of two plates of lentils: one a yellow tadka, and the other black lentils.
The defining characteristic of this perfectly cooked black dal was its slightly thick and viscous consistency.
Taste-wise, it was subtly spiced, with the ginger coming through in places, and ending with the yoghurt aftertaste on top.
For us though, this trumped its darker counterpart, with the sweetness of the lentils perfectly balancing against the gentle chilli heat, which lingered pleasantly, and the evident taste of onion tadka therein.
The tastes and textures going on in this dainty little side meant that it was anything but your typical pulao.
What you had here was the tartness of the dry and chewy goji berries, the sweetness of the raisins, the sprinkling of fresh peas, along with the generous scattering of crunchy nuts, all culminating in a cascading series of flavours that alternated between the sweet and the savoury. A truly fragrant pulao, which, though more than satisfying on its own, would also go well with a meat curry.
Matsya knows how to do naans, that’s for sure!
And this Blue Cheese was the best of the three we had the pleasure of trying. The soft, warm melted cheese, with its distinctive piquancy, coupled with the buttery crispiness of the beautifully charred naan, was a thing of beauty! Delicious; and easily enjoyed on its own.
Again, soft, fluffy, crispy and flaky in parts, this Tandoori Roti had blistered so well that we could have devoured a dozen of these!
The most pleasurable part of this plate though had to have been the Espresso Rasgulla. While this was, collectively speaking, a first time for all three of us, it was so good that it elicited the question: where have you been all our lives?
Merely drawing our spoon through this positively saturated porous ball of squishy goodness released a satisfying amount of subtly flavoured coffee juice, which we could have easily lapped up on its own and be left satiated.
A lovely little Mango Triffle this, with a pulpy mango layer, which was topped with soft and chewy candy-like squares that added a fruity undertone, and garnished with a fresh strawberry and a sprig of berries that leant a sharp aftertaste. Not as good as the one above, but decent enough.
For those who don’t have a sweet tooth, then this Sweet Chocolate Paan ought to be the dessert for you – not least to experience a chocolate paan if you never have.
You certainly won’t regret it, particularly the way in which the sweet white chocolate combines and works against those all too familiar explosion of flavours of a well conceived and constructed paan. In this case, the white chocolate encased the betel leaf and the areca nut-fusion to deliver a refreshing palate-cleansing finale.
- YES/ NO
- CHILD SEATING
- DISABLED FACILITIES
Where it really caught our attention though, was the emphatic way in which it achieved its objective of presenting traditional dishes, albeit with a modern twist, from various regions of India that you simply will not find in London now, or at any other time in the past.
More impressively, this standard has been achieved during a soft opening period that ends on Saturday (incidentally, a 30% discount off the first visit is still available till 31st March). All this begs the question: if this is how good it is now, then with Delhi-born Executive Chef Uttam Karmokar, who's applied his trade both across India and in other top Indian restaurants around the world, in the process of tweaking the current menu, how good will Matsya be in six months time? The answer is both scary and exciting in equal measure.
This is fine dining in the heart of Mayfair; so expect prices to reflect both its location and the meticulous effort and planning put in overall.
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