The Jamavar chain of high-end Indian restaurants has made its debut outside of India with this elegant opening on Mount Street in Mayfair, London. The concept was created by luxury group Leela Palaces, Hotels and Resorts, with the first Jamavar restaurant unveiled in 2001 at the Leela Palace Bengalaru. It also exists in four other locations – New Delhi, Chennai, Goa and Mumbai. The name comes from the exotic 16th-century shawls (spelt jamawar) made in Kashmir.
Designed by London-based agency Fabled Studio, which also worked on Dinner by Heston Blumenthal, Margot and Shotgun, the 110-seat restaurant is split over two floors. The cosy lower level can seat 32 people, while the grand, ground level seats 62, and is the best place to be positioned, in my opinion. There is also a private dining room (painted royal blue, with blue leather chairs) for eight diners, as well as a garden, although this was inaccessible when I visited.
Upon arrival, a doorman guards the entrance, while two flaming outdoor heaters flank a couple of pave-side tables beneath a yellow awning. Walking through the door – and then a pair of billowing leather curtains to keep out the draft – I see the room is panelled with dark wood inlaid with large mirrors, green marble pilasters trimmed with polished brass and textured wallpaper. The lighting is golden peach.
There is a stone chequerboard floor and bare, dark-surfaced tables (no white linen drapery here). We take a seat at a sumptuous corner banquette, which offered an excellent view of the other diners, and are swiftly greeted by a waiter in a traditional long Indian shirt in olive green (very stylish).
Ibiza lounge music played softly in the background – it was a little incongruous but a deliberate move away from the jangly Indian music heard in regular curryhouses. The clientele was a mix of nationalities – a good few Middle Eastern and Indian families, as well Westerners (both locals and visitors). Although the surroundings are opulent, it’s easy to relax thanks to intuitive service from the staff and delicious aromas wafting around.
There is no Cobra beer served here. You can get a Bespoke lager (£4.75), though, or one of the “Botanical Garden” house gin and tonics. There are four to choose from – the Flying Scott, made with Hendrick’s gin, a ribbon of cucumber, and rose petal and Burlesque bitters (£9) is fresh and rejuvenating.
There is also a selection of signature cocktails using ingredients ranging from coconut oil, coriander puree and blueberry shrub, to tamarind water, ginger Falernum and black cardamom. There are about ten wines available by the glass, including a couple that are organic and biodynamic. There is a far more extensive winelist of vintages by the bottle. Upon describing our ideal profile, the sommelier recommended a bottle of 2013 Amativo from Cantele (60 per cent Primitivo, 40 per cent Negromaro), which was very soft and drinkable.
Executive chef Rohit Ghai has been poached from the Sethi family’s Indian restaurants Trishna and Gymkhana, both in London, and the latter with a Michelin star. He focus at Jamavar is on small plates inspired by street food from both north and south India, as well as more substantial portions of curry, biryani and tandoori. Not only are the flavours knock-out, but so is the presentation (the pictures here don’t quite do it justice).
Some dishes come decorated in swirls of sauces and jewel-like pomegranate seeds, while others are simpler, arriving in pretty metal bowls allowing the flavours to do all the talking. The cuisine has been taken up several notches – even the humble poppadum is fancy, served here as an eclectic jumble of three types ready-broken to dip into chutney (fiery tomato, mint, and sweet mango and coriander seed).
Sipping G&Ts, we ordered up a feast. There was chowk ki aloo tikki (fried potato cakes slathered in honey yoghurt, white radish and tamarind chutney); and idli sambhar (South Indian steamed rice and lentil cakes served on a skewer with Brussels sprouts and a hot savoury broth). This was served as a vegetarian alternative to the lobster idli sambhar.
We then moved on to the kasundi paneer tikka (two perfect pucks of delicately charred cheese with mint and raw papaya chutney) and the incredible gucchi mutter curry with morels, green peas, fresh tomato and star anise. On the side was creamy black Jamavar dahl, basmati rice and delicate half moons of chewy naan bread.
Other dishes on the menu included kid goat shami kebab, venison samosa, southern spiced tiger prawns charcoal grilled in a clay tandoor oven, old Delhi butter chicken and eight-hour slow-cooked Hampshire lamb shank with Rajasthani chilli.
Indian food being so rich it can be hard to manage dessert but if you can, I’d recommend the gulab jamun mali, a spin on the traditional syrupy gulab jamun balls you come across in India. The trio of kulfi are lighter but the intense perfumed flavours (rose petal, rabri, chocolate pink peppercorn) are an acquired taste.
Staff are knowledgeable, friendly and professional. Jamavar gets the level of formality right so people can relax.
It’s unusual, in London, where there are so many restaurants opening all the time, to want to eat in the same place twice but I am already looking forward to going back to Jamavar. It’s well located for people staying at nearby hotels such as the Connaught and Claridge’s, and well suited to business dinners. You should also have more success getting a table than at Gymkhana.
- OPENING HOURS Mon-Sat 12pm-2.30pm and 5.30pm to 10.30pm
- PRICES Starters £8-£15, mains £12-£30, sides £4-£8. Seven-course tasting menu £60 or £55 (vegetarian). Wine flights are an extra £50.
- CONTACT Jamavar, 8 Mount Street, Mayfair, London; tel +(0)20 7499 1800; jamavarrestaurants.com