When is Indian food not Indian food?
As I recently discovered for Foodism Magazine, the definition of Indian Food – or, yes, indeed, as they call it in India, food – has shifted considerably. As influences spread and regional ingredients become more readily available, so too have classic dishes changed.
And, pushing that particular envelope further still – to, admittedly, sometimes mixed effect – comes Farzi Café.
“Farzi” is Urdu for “fake” (a brave gift to give to cynical journalists!) but, in this context, is meant to mean “illusory”, a tribute to the creativity and the application of modernist cuisines that shape the menu.
While that could, and probably should, fill you with dread – after all, we’ve all been victim to restaurants offering style over substance – Farzi Café has one obvious redeeming quality: when it’s good, it’s really blooming good.
Much of what I tried in India was terrific but in their recently opened London outpost, the strike rate is even higher, in generous portions at surprisingly appealing prices too. Cocktails are similarly excellent and keenly priced.
Let’s get the negatives out of the way first, such as they are. In the evenings, the music is not really my kind of thing, and the lighting means we’re reaching for our glasses and the “torch” facility on our phones.
Mind you, it’s only reasonable to point out that the bulk of the crowd – younger, more stylish, much better eyesight – were having no such problems.
And, in daylight hours, where the music is softer (and when freelancers can take advantage of the all day opening) it’s an altogether different prospect, even for older, grumpier journalists.
Service is charming and friendly but occasionally hilariously overly attentive: there’s a five minute stretch where we’re asked “is everything okay?” four times by one member of staff and twice by another.
It’s a teething problem, I’m sure, funny rather than annoying and far better than being ignored, of course, but to those staff I have one word of advice. Relax. If anyone can afford to have faith in the kitchen – and the bar staff – it’s you.
The bone marrow – butter roasted, heavily spiced, richer than a GOP candidate – is stunning. The venison pepper fry – served with a soft, buttery roti – is a gamey, warming delight.
Butter chicken pao has probably become my new favourite drinking snack in London, although it gets stiff competition from the Dal Chawal Arancini and the Tuna ceviche with jhal moorie.
While both sound like fusions too far, they’re little plates of joy and, besides, India is a culture that has leftover rice.
Also, the jhal moorie, (a spiced, crispy rice-based Indian beach snack) proves the perfect foil for the meltingly soft tuna. It’s perhaps my favourite thing of the evening and has gone straight into my occasionally updated list of “best things in London under a tenner”.
The shrikhand cheesecake too is a thing of clever beauty. There’s no base, so the crunch comes from a dusting of parmesan crisp, which also gives the strained yoghurt a delicate, suitably cheesy hint. It, like the bulk of what we try at Farzi Café, is seriously good.
8 Haymarket, London SW1Y 4BP
Phone: 020 3981 0090