RESTAURANT REVIEW: CAROM @ MEZA, SOHO
The Meza bar on Wardour Street has long been a staple of the West End bar scene, but owners D & D London have struggled to create a restaurant within the building which matches the status of the bar. In its latest incarceration, Meza have created Carom @ Meza, a pan Indian restaurant with a western take on traditional Indian cuisine. Balaji Balachander has been hired as head chef, and with 3 years at prestigious Mayfair Indian restaurant Benares under his belt, Carom @ Meza is a serious effort by D & D at adding a successful Indian restaurant to their already huge portfolio. Launched over a year ago, it is still going strong so I took a trip down to find out if they have truly found the formula.
As a regular reveller at Floridita, it is easy for me to find Carom as it is situated just upstairs from the underground Cuban bar / restaurant. The Meza bar takes up most of the space at the front venue and we are shown to a colourful area at the back to be seated within Carom. The restaurant is only separated with a thin red sheet and the decor remains consistent with Meza, so it’s clear that Carom wants to be seen as an extension to the bar. The restaurant has been cleverly designed with Asian fixtures making you aware of the type of food on offer, and we are guided to an American diner style booth which hints at a western influence. Some may be put off by this, but I found it fascinating.
The western influence does not stop there. I am handed a menu and it has been laid out in the format of a grill restaurant with clear distinction and descriptions of each dish. Too frequently have I been bamboozled by Indian restaurant menus, so I am glad that Carom has gone back to the drawing board with this layout. All the dishes are meant for sharing and we are encouraged to order a range. We start by ordering the Chilli Squid and a side of poppadoms. We don’t wait long for them to arrive and the squid comes in a beautifully seasoned batter which is only upstaged by the sticky chilli sauce, which had the perfect blend of spice and sweetness. The homemade chutneys that came with the poppadoms were equally as exquisite. In fact, the entire evening featured some of the best dipping sauces I’ve ever tried and seems somewhat of a speciality.
The squid is quickly devoured and for the next course, we order the Neitha Kori (Ghee roasted chicken), Lal Mirch Ka Paneer Tikka (Marinated cottage cheese), and lamb chops with lentil salad; all from the grill menu. As the most unusual dish, I begin with the Paneer Tikka and is by far the standout dish. The soft cottage cheese blends so well with the tikka marinade, and combined with the beetroot dip makes for a very effective coupling. Next, we try the Neitha Kori- the huge chilli in the middle gave fair warning that the dish would be quite hot, and although quite fiery (even for chilli lovers like me and my companion), it was just manageable and well flavoured. With the high standards set so far by all the dishes, I was a little disappointed by the lamb chops, as although seasoned well with a hint of papaya, they were overcooked and tough.
By this point we were quite full, but forgot that we still had mains to follow. We requested a short recess and the smile of the waitress seemed to suggest that this was a regular request. We turn our attentions to the bespoke Asian inspired cocktails which the bartenders have expertly infused Indian herbs and spices with western spirits. For such unusual cocktails, at only £6.50 they are a bargain, and I would highly recommend the Shahi Aloe, a refreshing gin based long drink with saffron, lychee juice and fresh aloe vera.
2 cocktails later, we are ready for mains. We have ordered the Chennai chicken curry which comes from the chef’s hometown, and the Kerala prawn curry with a side of baked basmati rice, roti, paratha and naan breads. The curries are much more traditional than the previous dishes offering much of the flavours you would expect from Indian cuisine. The sweetness of the naan works well with the spices within the Chennai chicken and I would recommend it highly. Unfortunately the same can’t be said for the Kerala Prawn which was very salty and I could hardly taste the mango and coconut sauce.
Nevertheless, the meal was very filling and if I wasn’t in public, I would have loosened my belt 2 notches. We hardly have room for dessert but seeing the chocolate cake with cinnamon ice cream makes me find that little bit extra and rounds off proceedings nicely. My companion goes for the traditional Kulfi mango ice cream, which although thick and creamy, probably wasn’t the best dessert to order after such a large meal and he struggles.
Once the meal is done, we go over to Meza and get a few more drinks. With the buzzing bar at the other end of the floor and the Cuban inspired sister bar Floridita downstairs playing Latin music till the early hours, a meal at Carom could easily turn into a full on night out. The Carom experience overall was a pleasant one and I always applaud chefs that try to be different. There are dishes that haven’t worked but the overwhelming majority were delicious and is well deserving of a visit (and not just to the bar).
Carom @ Meza, 100 Wardour St, W1F 0TN. Nearest Tube: Piccadilly Circus
Meals average around £30 per person. For bookings visit http://www.meza-soho.co.uk or phone 0207 314 4002