Whereas so many restaurants in London seem to be honing in on cuisine from a particular region in a search for “authenticity”, Pahli Hill in Fitzrovia celebrates the best dishes from across the Indian sub-continent. In doing so, the kitchen is true to the restaurant’s name. Named after one of the oldest and most affluent neighbourhoods in Mumbai, this is where a melting pot of immigrants from across the country arrive, many dreaming to make it big in Bollywood. Taking its cue from the diverse regions of India where its inhabitants originated, the restaurant similarly brings together an eclectic mix of flavours from across the country.
The setting is equally eclectic – kitsch you might say. Downstairs, the Bandra Bhai bar is lively, offering well-reputed cocktails and tasty small plates including chaat and grilled kebabs.
On the ground floor, the vibe feels exotic and inviting thanks to dimmed lighting illuminated by bright Indian paintings and posters. Whether you’re cosying up among colourful cushions in the art deco-inspired interior or sitting at the kitchen counter, the ambience is intimate.
Head chef here, Avinash Shashidhara, worked for a decade at The River Café after starting his career at The Oberoi hotel in Bangalore. This means a strong commitment to seasonal ingredients, meaning a fresh and regularly changing menu, with an extensive tandoori grill section and a collection of joyfully crowd-pleasing main dishes from around India, from hearty biryani to southern dosas.
From the small plates, the chef kindly sent us Crispy Khakhra (£6) to graze on. A Gujarati staple, this snack is given a modern elevation thanks to a punchy mustard and chilli pickle – a surprise that makes each bite leave you with a simle.
Another small plate not to miss is the Hara Kebab (£12), also sent by the chef. A falafel-style combination of spring peas and spinach, the sweet tamarind chutney that arrives on side for dipping is an irresistible accompaniment for every dish here. Worth keeping the pot – if there’s any remaining – as your plate is taken.
The Tandoor & Grill plates were probably the highlight of the evening, not least the Violetta Artichokes (£14). Served over the creamiest Bhaang jeera (hempseed) chutney and given an extra crunch thanks to toasted walnuts scattered through, this dish is exemplary of the kitchen’s ability to take seasonal veg, give them a South Asian twist and present with flair and flamboyance but most importantly, deliver on flavour.
I mistakenly ordered the very tempting but sadly – it turns out – not vegan Delica Pumpkin & Bottle Gourd Kofta, served with cashew cream, saffron and toasted pine nuts (£21). My companion rated this very highly – rich and satisfying.
Keen to ensure I did not leave hungry, the attentive chef kindly sent another (vegan) Tandoori dish: the Pale Aubergine Bharta (£14). Cooked on the open fire and spiced with cumin, the smokey flavour of the aubergine sung through and complemented the slow-cooked daal upon which it was resting ideally. To provide some freshness, tomatoes and pomegranates were scattered above, elevating the dish in Christmas spirit. Another incredibly vibrant dish.
To go with, the Tandoori Sourdough Roti (£4.50) is a must. Like an Indian rotlo, its flamed finish makes it an ideal vehicle for scooping all the saucy dishes here. Particularly the trio of mini (vegan) daals the chef sent over for us to try: Tadka Dal (£8), Salan (used as the base for the biryai here), and a vivid spinach Saag (used as the base for the paneer dish). The nutty finish of the Salan was probably the highlight, a bowl finely tempered with curry leaves and maximum flavour.
Pahli Hill amply delivers on its promise of home cooking given a modern twist and delivered in style. The service was attentive and intuitive. Bandraites would be proud. Visit as soon as you can.
Pahli Hill, 79-81 Mortimer St, W1W 7SJ London