Writer Amanda David suggests you dress a little smarter, but potentially still wear elastic, as she indulges in a variety of small plates at Hankies in Marble Arch.
Just a word to the wise when you’re deciding what to wear for your visit to Hankies Marble Arch, modestly described as ‘a casual Indian street food restaurant’; I would lean towards the smarter side of smart casual, as this branch of Hankies is rather swish.
Housed in the five-star The Montcalm Hotel on Upper Berkeley Street the restaurant is accessed through an arch of fairy lights into an elegant, high-ceilinged dining room, softened by a long flowing curve of copper lighting and neutral tones of polished wood and leather.
Happily it is swish, not stuffy. Despite the luxurious surroundings, Hankies was relaxed and welcoming, with a mixed group of diners and charming front of house staff. On our table, heavy gold cutlery sat next to cheerfully patterned plates and chunky blue glassware sourced from India and, like their fusion of Delhi street food and London high-end dining, it works.
In case you’re wondering, the name Hankies comes from their speciality dish; classic Roomali Roti, literally ‘handkerchief bread’. The dough is hand-spun until translucent and cooked by the chef on a tawa at a station in the dining room, which is fabulous theatre for the guests. The roti are then served delicately folded into soft, silky ‘hankies’ (or alternatively as irresistibly crisp discs dotted with delicious charring).
With some shots of tomato soup warmly spiced with cumin and fresh coriander to accompany the menus and only the roti as a definite choice, we eventually abandoned ourselves to the mercy and wisdom of our waitress to recommend a selection of small plates. Here’s what we tried:
Roomali Roti with a selection of Achars (traditional Indian pickles) – mushroom, chicken and tomato
Both kinds of roti, the soft folded “hankies’ and the crisp version, were outstanding and perfect with the pickles – we liked the mushroom and tomato ones best. I’m definitely coming back for the roti alone; the texture was unbelievably good.
Naan bread with vintage cheddar, cumin and shaved truffles. I enjoyed this and would order it again – my only quibble would be that, while you’re transparently not going to get fresh winter truffles on a naan bread at only £6 a pop (duh), for me the phrase ‘shaved truffles’ has an inevitable Pavlovian resonance and those topping the naan were underwhelming in both taste and texture.
Crispy ‘Gold’ Cod/Soft Shell Crab
With turmeric, amritsari spices and a sour mango dip. Generous portions of perfectly cooked, delicate fish and a whole soft shell crab in a light spicy batter, these went well with the tomato chutney too. If I had to choose, I think the cod balanced slightly more successfully with the spices but both were very good.
Chilli lamb chop
Marinated in Kashmiri chillies, paprika and mustard oil. Again, some accomplished cooking; the lamb was medium but still juicy, whilst the outside had that beautiful caramelised crust and just the right amount of heat. A definite for next time.
Sweet Potato Bomb
Sprouts, spicy chickpeas, jiggery and chilli jam. This was an absolute winner of a dish, packed full of flavour with a light crisp coating and without any of that claggy stodginess many chickpea dishes seem to have. The jiggery and chilli jam adds a perfect punchy touch – highly recommended.
Bhatak Ki Khurchan
Crispy duck, masala cashew nuts, watermelon and sweet and spicy drizzle. The duck was tender and there was a good contrast of textures in this dish; perhaps a little sweet and fruity for my taste but my companion was a fan. Definitely worth a try.
Crab dumpling, roasted onion and plum tomato with coconut malabir sauce. Generously-sized, light-textured crab dumpling with a delicious creamy coconut sauce, a dish I’d not had before and will look out for in the future.
Classic Delhi style, pulled roasted chicken, buttery tomato sauce, fenugreek and garam masala, served with pulao rice and garlic naan. It is a sharing plate portion, but it is rich, tasty and irresistible mopped up with their signature roti.