‘Farzi Café is a modern spice bistro serving cutting edge, avant-garde Indian cuisine with a twist. The techniques might be new, the ingredients might be global, but the focus is on unapologetic authenticity that still suits every palate.
Best described as a gourmet experience, it amalgamates traditional global and Indian classics, with Indian influences, contemporary presentations, culinary styles and ambience. It is a quirky, chic, modern Indian café, where guests enjoy a sensory experience through the finest modern Indian cuisine, with a high energy ambience.
Infusing a generous dose of Indian flavours, Farzi Café presents Indian cuisine where culinary art meets the alchemy of modern presentations and cooking techniques like molecular gastronomy to absorb the guest into the ultimate gastronomic illusion.’
It’s good being out with my husband in the West End, our playground in the 90s, when the Atlantic and Met Bar ruled the roost. And Farzi is doing its best to inject a much-needed shot of glamour into this rather tired, Tiger Tiger-afflicted stretch of Haymarket.
A deliciously spicy waft hits us as soon as we walk in, smiley Amelie greeting me with a cheery ‘oh you’re the journalist, right?’ The atmosphere is buzzing, with handsome (uniformly European) waiters in tweed waistcoats weaving between tables, funky yet unobtrusive music, low pendant lamps casting sexy pools of light. The odd man bun notwithstanding, service is great: attentive, knowledgeable and informal.
There’s a large central bar, laden with more varieties of whisky than I’ve ever seen and shiny with polished glassware. Bucket chairs upholstered in teal velvet and a semi-circular leather banquette hugging our table are comfortable and welcoming.
We’re handed cocktail menus based on the zodiac, with a dedicated cocktail for each of the star signs, illustrated with constellations with ingredients listed next to the individual stars. Whatever your take on astrology (and I veer towards the ‘it’s a load of mumbo jumbo’ end of the spectrum) it’s a cute idea, making it practically imperative for punters to try their own. Andy said it ‘would be an ideal talking point on a first date’ (need I be worried?). Anyway, my Capricorn was potent and refreshing, consisting of Peruvian Pisco (‘because the Tropic of Capricorn cuts through Peru’ – you get the idea), milk, verjus, peach, sherry, ylang and Clementine white tea.
Down wide stairs illuminated by a glittery wall of fairy lights there’s another dining room and very pleasing loos – four private rooms with dark blue metro tiles, brass fittings, fresh flowers and fluffy hand towels, more like a luxurious home than a restaurant.
The night we visit, a lot of young, hip Indians. A large, noisy group (around 15 of them, having a high old time) dominates a long table towards the back of the room; several pairs of trendy, bearded men in skinny trousers; a Sikh couple with a very young baby at the table next to us. At a quarter to ten on a Thursday night, the place is packed, with an alarming amount of Instagramming going on.
The ultra-fusion menu is divided into Nano Plates (eg flamed Padron peppers aloo chokha, £5), Small Plates (tuna ceviche Bengal jhal moorie, £12), Pao and Sliders (butter chicken bao green chilli mayo, £10), Roasts and Grills (grainy mustard salmon tikka kasundi mint cream £18), #Farzified (sic) British Classics (masala Wagyu beef cottage pie, £23), Mains (veal ‘osso bucco’ Ishtu dhaniya kulcha, £20), Biryanis (bok choi and asparagus, chicken, shawarma, £15 – £19) and Sides (steamed rice, £3.50, wild garlic potato mash, £7).
If this sounds a bit all over the place and unfocused – well, it is, and we are somewhat at a loss as to what to order. This is where our jovial, well-trained waiter Marco comes in, and following his recommendations we await a disparate-sounding mishmash of dishes, with no idea what to expect.
From Nano Plates, Hass avocado chaat, £7, is a great combination of textures and flavours, the soothing creamy yin of avocado a nice foil to the crunchy, tangy-salty yang of the fried bready, biscuity bits (technical terminology). From Small Plates, Madras pepper prawns with aerated thayir sadam, £12, are excellent: beautifully spiced, the whipped yoghurt accompaniment cooling their peppery heat. From the same menu, Dal chawal arancini with achaar-papad-chutney are a great example of fusion food that works, using basmati rice instead of Arborio (lentils providing the requisite binding stickiness), fragrant with cumin and coriander, green chutney adding a fresh herbal hit. We leave this section of the menu with a perfectly delicious plateful of chicken tikka, £11, tender chunks of breast meat pulsing with flavour, crowned with a savoury wafer of chicken skin and gilded with a slick of chicken liver pate: chicken three ways, ingenious.
From Roasts and Grills we are tempted by Tandoori goat shoulder khamiri kulcha & cumin puff, £22, and most rewarding it is too, the tasty meat falling-apart-tender, soft bread and buttery pastry mopping up its tangy sauce. From Mains, veal ‘osso bucco’ Ishtu dhaniya kulcha, £20, was a tad rich for me, but Italian Marco told us even his father preferred it to the original version, so what do I know? Our shared pudding, Srikhand ‘air’ cheesecake, mango coulis, £8, was, according to my notes ‘so yummy we played spoon wars’, but more than that I’m afraid I can’t recall. Which brings me neatly to…
For reasons impossible to speculate, the Sagittarius cocktail had run out, so Andy went for Cancer, his mother’s sign. His fairly impenetrable notes say ‘ “cut of karka”, earthy beetroot, “acifying” ginger, Indian bitters.’ He seemed to enjoy it, though a tentative sip left me in no doubt as to the superiority of my Capricorn. After that, we gave Marco full rein with the wine – a good decision, as it turned out, his palate proving superior, his pouring hand generous. Some sort of minerally dry white, a full-bodied red to accompany the goat and veal shin, a honeyed Muscat de Beaumes de Venise (the only one I wrote down) with our spoon wars. All in all, it was an extremely jolly evening.
8 Haymarket, London, SW1Y 4BP; 020 3981 0090; farzilondon.com