Simply Ootyful South Indian Dining at Ooty, Baker Street
14 Oct 2019
Indian food is extremely close to my heart, but I actively avoid reviewing Indian restaurants. Why? Simply because my standards soar too high. I was spoilt as a child with lamb that fell apart in thick, spice-rich sauces, samosas crispy on the outside and filled with lemony, hot minced chicken on the inside, and every vegetable or bean you can think of cooked in fiery masala curries. I was massively spoilt. And now, when I see ‘korma’ or ‘vindaloo’ on any menu, I react instantly with a purposefully conspicuous eye roll. If you eat nonsense like that, you’re not eating authentic Indian food. Sorry – but you’re not.
I have, however, the utmost respect for Indian restaurants that seek to modernise authenticity; restaurants that handle traditional flavours and techniques with respect, only to uplift them with twists and turns that add intrigue because, well, why not? What is the point of being champions of flavour if you can’t fiddle and play with them? With a menu that does exactly that, Ooty offered an experience I had no intention of dodging.
Stepping into the brightly lit restaurant, I was rather surprised by its interiors and said brightness. It’s a blatant contradiction to anything traditionally ‘Indian’ – design-wise. Elegant jazz music played as I stroked the pink velvet seats, gazed at floral motifs on the walls and considered pocketing the ornate cutlery. A wash of femininity in the restaurant’s character overwhelmed me. An ode, I then registered, to the famed gardens of Ooty in Tamil Nadu – the small hillside town the restaurant is named for.
Differing poppadoms arrived on a stylish wooden tray with two little copper pots of chutney. Poppadoms at Indian restaurants are, more often than not, a delicious mistake that fill you up before the true feast begins. Not at Ooty, though. They were stellar, and were nicely offset by a traditionally South Indian rasam – a kind of spicy, tangy and sweet daal served in a shot glass. This rasam was infused with pineapple, for an extra twist.
We were advised by our delightful and well-informed waiter that the Lamb Rack (£21) starter was a must-try. Sitting on a dhokla (a savoury cake) with chilli jam, the juicy chunks of lamb were smooth to cut into and were almost creamy to the taste, transitioning into a beautifully balanced heat that slowly escalated. The Garlic Chilli Scallops (£14) were served on an open shell and sat on a bed of puy lentils and cashew nut koshimbir, a Maharashtrian salad that was deliciously earthy. Be warned, spice amateurs – the ‘chilli’ in the name is no joke. This was proper chilli heat, made easier on the palate by another rasam. Non-pineapple, this time, and served in what looked like a test tube. I was teased by my Mother, a chilli aficionado, for being weak to the crutch of the test tube rasam. “Come on, Ashiana, you’re my daughter. You can take it!” she spurred.
It was incredibly hard to pick the mains with things like Telicherry Pepper Duck and Seabass Moilee tickling all my curious inclinations. I even took to Instagram to help me decide. The Kerlan Lime Lobster came up trumps. Layered on top of one another, two barbequed lobster tails arrived with three squishy squid ink idlis (savoury rice cakes), black as night. The rich, buttery seafood bisque that it all sat on was the standout feature. Mop this up with a Malabar Parotta and you’re in flavour paradise. The dish was finished with an edible spoon holding a small, rugby-ball scoop of flavourful coriander and coconut chutney. Along with our lobster dish, our curiosity led us to also ordering a Chettinad Dosa (£9), filled with slow cooked venison. I have a weakness for game in Indian cooking. Filled with soft, marinated meat, the colossal dosa was satisfyingly crispy, only to go weak when dipped in the tamarind-rich sambar and shovelled, still dripping, into your mouth. Not a first date dish, that’s for sure. Lucky for me, my plus one spent at least 2 years of her life watching me dribble.
The Jaggery Pineapple Bake (£9) is one of those dishes that is entirely the opposite of what you expect. I have mentioned before that I enjoy when a dish confuses me, and I stand by this statement. Served with a sphere of black sesame ice cream and smoked cardamom rice pudding, the charred slice of pineapple tasted burnt, yet sweet with jaggery. Utterly baffling.
I swell with pride at being Indian everyday, but even more so when a restaurant like Ooty takes the physical place of Galvin Bistrot de Luxe and offers excellent fine dining that no one expects. Ooty offers a menu of authentic elements that you might never have heard of and rich flavours that you might never have tried, all elevated at the hands of masterful experts and tweaked for an audience that delights in luxury.