Indian Essence, Pett’s Wood

Atul Kochhar’s Indian Essence advertises itself as your favourite local Indian… but what it offers is much, much more than this. In the heart of Petts Wood, the restaurant showcases traditional Indian Cuisine with a creative menu that is sure to excite a discerning clientele as well as satisfying traditional palates.

“Atul Kochhar’s unique talent as a twice Michelin starred chef has changed the way people perceive and experience Indian cuisine. Taking inspiration from his native India while continuously researching regional dishes, Atul has managed to combine his heritage with his love of British cuisine and created a unique and innovative modern Indian cuisine. As the very first Indian chef to receive a Michelin star, accomplished during his time as Head Chef at Tamarind in 2001, he then went on to open the highly acclaimed Benares Restaurant and Bar for which he was awarded his second Michelin star in 2007.” I experienced his exquisite delicate Indian food at Benares a few months ago so was eagerly anticipating my meal at his new, more casual eatery, Indian Essence.

After a lengthy journey from West London, we were relieved to arrive at the restaurant, which is thankfully close to Petts Wood train station. The meal began with miniature poppadums and three homemade fruit chutneys to whet the appetite and introduce a few Indian flavours. We chose several cocktails from the select list: Rose and Lychee Martini was girly and sweet and the Pineapple and Ginger Mojito was refreshing and exotic.

It was a challenge to pick from the menu of tempting dishes… Atul has combined favourite ingredients with typical Indian flavours and methods of cooking to present appetising recipes. It was a meat heavy first course: Lamb chops marinated in fennel, pepper and cream were supremely tasty, falling-off-the-bone soft lamb with an aromatic crumbly marinade. so good I felt the need to gnaw at the bone to obtain any last morsels of meat. Basil infused chicken tikka fillets was presented three ways, each with a different spicy coating, but all equally delicious. Crispy fried squid, was made with a light batter and sweet sticky sauce, not too chewy but with a good bite… we weren’t quite sure how they fitted in with the Indian cuisine but they tasted too good to dwell for long on their authenticity.

For main course we chose a mix of traditional Indian dishes and Indian influenced British classics. Slow cooked Lamb neck curry was the special of the day and also a favourite in the restaurant, recommended enthusiastically by our waiter we had high expectations. The meat was again amazingly tender, softened perhaps by the vibrant spices and herbs. The sauce was light and fragrant, and surprisingly not too rich. Tandoori chicken tikka in creamy tomato and fenugreek sauce was my favourite. Even the accompaniments were divine, the pilau rice and garlic naan were without doubt the best I’ve ever tried. The more familiar steak choice was the only disappointment of the day, a Goa style sirloin cut with pepper coconut sauce and coriander chips. Though the flavourings were intriguing, we found the steak too chewy and the chips too heavy.

Kulfi is a popular Indian frozen dessert made with semi-condensed milk. My brother particular enjoyed the pistachio and mango varieties on offer at Indian Essence, a light and refreshing ice-cream that cleanses the palate after spicy savoury courses. I opted for the interesting sounding Chocolate and peanut butter parfait with sugarcane ice-cream, a wonderful combination of flavours.

On the tedious journey to Pett’s Wood, I declared I’d never visit this faraway area again, my return trip was spent searching for a slot in my diary to return. Indian Essence offers exceptional Indian food that will appeal to everyone, I was impressed with every detail of Atul’s inventive menu and culinary execution.

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