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Deya, London W1

Louise Elgin was clearly impressed

I'm not normally a huge fan of cocktails. In my jaded opinion they are often mis-matched combinations of alcohol thrown together with too much sweet fruit juice, resulting in a headache the following morning. However, last night my palate was totally rejuvenated when I went to Deya, a stylish new Indian restaurant and bar in Portman Square. Massimo di Paola, the sleek Italian bartender (who worked for fashionistas Dolce & Gabbana in the capacity of cocktail creator), persuaded me to try one of the House Specials, a Julep. His combination of Zubrowka Bison lemongrass vodka, vanilla liqueur, fresh mint, brown sugar, fresh lime and soda, served in a pleasing oval glass with plenty of crushed ice, is now my new addiction and I shall have to return regularly for my next fix.

Deya is the brainchild of restaurateur Claudio Pulze together with Sir Michael Caine, the foodie actor, who is making a welcome return to the restaurant business. It's an interesting combination of modern and traditional; beautifully moulded high ceilings are resplendent with conservative and innovative chandeliers, creating a sophisticated ambience. The bar area is a little cramped but attractively designed and comfortable, while the adjacent restaurant is spacious and airy, with large sash windows covered in elegant drapes, subtle lighting and well spaced tables. Beautiful murals of sacred Brahmans decorate one side of the room creating an ethereal and surreal feeling.

The menu arrived in a fashionably retro leather bound book,  which was beautifully illustrated. I began with the Deya platter, in other words a little taste of several of Chef Sanjay (formerly of Zaika) Dwivedi's starters. Yummy poached scallops in velvety coconut milk were delicate, creamy and succulent, and came served with a silky mashed potato. Glazed tandoori chicken was tender and flavoursome, the lamb sheekh kebab subtly spiced, and the crab and sweetcorn samosa crisp and melt-in-the-mouth light. 'Not for the faint hearted', was how my guest described his roasted pumpkin lasagne. He said it was mild on the palate before the chillies and cumin kicked in. 

The main courses were a selection of the traditional and the contemporary, served artistically in cubular dishes with the emphasis being on light and healthy cooking. We shared a sweetly spiced lamb roganjosh with a rich onion and tomato sauce and fragrant saffron rice, a hot and fiery green chicken curry, finished with fresh spinach and coriander leaves, and butter chicken, cooked in the tandoor, and served with a buttery tomato sauce. A red snapper masala was the only disappointment, the spicy sauce not doing the fish justice. To accompany this we had some urad dal, black lentils cooked gently overnight in a tandoor oven, giving them a smooth creamy texture and rich flavour, and, finally, some pumpkin cubes, roasted with cumin seeds, ginger and chillies.

A pineapple granita was served very cold in a shot glass, and was highly refreshing, acting as a superb palate cleanser, enabling me to plough on to the dessert menu. I had the chocolate silk, a very light chocolate mousse with a hint of mint, enveloped in an edible pot created from chocolate strands, served with a pistachio ice cream, a mouth-watering melange of separate flavours. Other puddings were based on traditional English favourites with added hints of Indian spice. Throughout the evening, I was drinking a Californian Ca'del Solo, Malvasia Blanca 2001, which was smooth, fruity and highly palatable, whilst the wine list has to be one of the best I've encountered in an Indian restaurant in the capital.

There are three fairly priced set menus suitable for all tastes, including vegetarians. These arrive in a series of five taster courses and include optional wines by the glass especially selected to complement each dish. Whilst the set lunch at £14.50 for two courses has to be a bit of a bargain in an area of town where a sandwich and coffee takeout costs the lion's share of a tenner.

Louise Elgin. November 2004

Deya 34 Portman Square W1 Tel: 020 7224 0411

Starters: £6.50 - £8.50 Mains: £11.50 - £14.50 Puddings: £4.75 
Taster set menus: from £22.00 excluding wine, or £35.00 inc. wines selected to complement each course
Wine by the glass from £4.50

UK Restaurant Reviews – The Best Of The Dine Online Restaurant Reviews 2001 - 2010

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