Mon–Fri 10am–3pm, 6pm–10pm, Sat 9am–5pm, 6pm–10pm, Sun 9am–8pm
‘One of the best kept secret scandals that rocked Victorian British aristocracy. Proud, elegant and curious, our very own Lady Charlotte Louisa Fitzrovia elopes with a suave and sophisticated street boss from Mumbai’s then notorious district, Lokhandwala. Her father, the fourth Earl of Rockbourne and the current governor of colonial India, outraged by the disgrace Lady Charlotte had brought upon the family, immediately outcasts her.
‘Disregarding her father’s disdain, her heart stolen completely, Lady Charlotte sets up her life’s dream in Mumbai: a tea room, gardens, hothouse, and a lounge for her love, Vijay. [After] a magical summer of love and promise of marriage, Lady Charlotte plans a happy life away from British imperial society. Like the fabled Miss Havisham, she awaits the return of Vijay, following his leave late in that fateful summer day, only to face years of delusive hope and disappointment. Vijay, as it transpires, was a scoundrel out to serve his own means, at the emotional expense of a young and beautiful British aristocrat.
‘The scandal goes deeper, when Lady Charlotte’s younger brother, Tarquer, uses his father’s name and connections to import Indian-produced opium to British shores. 93 Charlotte Street is rumoured to be Lady Charlotte’s ‘British house of exile’ until her dying day. Lokhandwala is a sympathetic homage, to Lady Charlotte and all those who have lived, loved and lost.’
Opulent, decadent, wildly romantic. A giddy flurry of birdcages, floral garlands, tropical plants, candelabras and large ornately framed mirrors evoke ‘Lady Charlotte’s hothouse and lounge’ with bucketloads of charm (if not perhaps historical accuracy—more of which later). The compact dining room leads to a tiny jewel box of a cocktail bar, copper-topped and backed with Verdigris-style walls. A clever mural gives the impression of a glass door leading out to lush gardens.
The barmen are chatty and showy-off as they prepare outrageously camp cocktails—my ‘Like a Bird’ is presented in a hollow glass bird, resting on a silk cushion inside a gilded cage. No doubt a tad rich for some palettes, but I loved it.
Stylish, diverse, loads of cool Indians. The large, ethnically mixed group at the next table to us was talking about Ibiza, Formentera and skiing. On a Wednesday in March the place was fully booked and buzzing. Staff are charming and easy on the eye.
From a menu which spans Vegan Shots and Smoothies, Soups, Imperial Jewels (including Persian Steamed Fish and the intriguing-sounding Yorkshire Pudding Lokhandwala Style— ‘lamb kheema, bay leaf, mace in a classic Yorkshire pudding, cashew nut crust, mint and pan drippings with potato mash—a true love affair of Lokhandwala’), we went for the Indian tapas.
The Indian Wigwam (‘dosa cone duet, spicy south Indian potato curry and ‘Pulissery’ of yoghurt’), £6, comprising two crisp pastry funnels brimming with subtly spiced spud, was tasty and moreish. Celery Prawns (‘lava grilled prawns marinated with yoghurt, celery, coriander, mint and green chilli, with a side of ginger pickle’), £12, were finger-lickingly yummy, sizzling skewers of plump crustaceans in no way overpowered by their hot, punchy marinade.
Coconut & Curry Leaf Chicken (‘chunks of chicken cooked on a Tawa served with six seed and grain Indian bread’), £8, again delivered, the nutty flatbread a perfect foil for succulent, coconut-creamy chicken breast, while perfectly cooked Lamb Chops (‘Red Tractor grade British lamb 24 hours slow marinated with spices and cooked in a tandoor’), £14, were pink and juicy on the inside, with a satisfyingly crisp and spicy crust.
From the Deviant Desserts menu, we shared a Warm Chocolate & Mango Soufflé, £7, a heavenly combination of flavours and a gooey, melting delight.
Don’t let the whimsy and complicated descriptions put you off. This is clever and seriously scrumptious cooking, as you might expect from the people behind Mumbai’s The Grub Fest, India’s biggest street food festival.
Ah—the whimsy. At one point we started to think ‘Lady Charlotte Fitzrovia… Charlotte Street… Fitzrovia…’ looked again at the really rather modern looking portrait of the tragic aristocrat displayed on the menu, did some iPhone research—and the penny began to drop. Yes, the whole Lokhandwala back story, from insalubrious cad Vijay to Lady Charlotte’s dastardly opium-smuggling brother, is fiction. But it is such a charming fiction, executed with such style and as the background to such delicious food, that we were willing to forgive the deception, despite feeling rather foolish for having been taken in in the first place.
As I said, a couple of cocktails in the Hot House got our meal off to a flying start. My beautifully presented Like a Bird was a delicately sweet/sour, flamingo pink concoction whose girly appearance belied its alcoholic heft, Andy’s Viceroy an altogether manlier beast involving whisky. One could spend a happy afternoon here working one’s way through the inventive and astutely curated list, were the call of the kitchen not so strong.
The organic house white recommended by our charming waitress was well chosen to accompany the range of flavours and spices on offer (and not the cheapest on the menu). A honeyed Sauternes with our chocolate and mango soufflé brought the meal to a happy, perfectly sated conclusion.
Lokhandwala is a delight for all the senses. Go there. And take some friends.