Shekha heads out to West London to try TPH of Chelsea’s vegan-inspired menu… and is happily impressed with the creativity on offer.
Fine South Asian Dining
Chelsea locals, vegetarian and vegan diners, Indian food lovers, curious eaters…
In a Word
The ambiance of TPH of Chelsea starts building up from the minute you walk towards the venue along Cheyne Walk. Set along the beautiful riverfront, the reflection of Albert Bridge’s twinkling lights and painted houseboats bobbing gently in a falling dusk paints a romantic scene. Once inside the restaurant, a blushing rose interior with black furnishings are cosy – lifted by the high, bright windows and splashes of colour from embroidered cushions. The restaurant itself is quiet on a Sunday, but a steady trickle of diners float in and out in the time we are there.
The purpose of our visit is to try a specially created vegan menu from head-chef Yogesh Dutta, for Valentine’s Day, which showcases the very best vegetarian ingredients, supposedly imbued with aphrodisiac qualities. My companion and I choose to share one vegan tasting menu and another meat-based one and, between us, this is more than enough to finish.
The a la carte menu also features some intriguing examples of high-end Indian cuisine, with a focus on healthy dishes and sustainable ingredients. Traditional regional classics, game meat and lesser-known vegetables are also showcased, while a disclaimer at the front of the menu reassures diners that all food is responsibly sourced. As transparency is becoming more of a priority for diners, this was a major plus point for me:
We are first greeted by a refreshing bellini flavoured with rose petals and a mountain of poppadoms: small wafer-like discs, large fried ones with a gorgeous crispy bubbly surface – most commonly served in South Asian restaurants – and a lovely dry roasted papad which thrummed with black pepper. These are served with homemade relishes in tart plum, mango and garlic and tomato. All are lip-smackingly good but the garlic in particular is dangerously addictive.
A platter with a selection of starters follow the poppadoms, with an edamame kebab kicking things off nicely. The little roll packs a nice gingery punch, layered with a gentle chilli heat and ajwain undertone, while crunchy chickpea adds unexpected textural variety.
Another highlight is an onion and kale bhaji which bounces with crunchy kale, gram flour and pearls of diced onion that add a delightful sweetness. A stuffed sweet pepper with potato, cashew and chickpea is also good.
The only vegetarian dud is the chilli tofu, a vegan variant of the classic chilli paneer, which fails to pick up its sauce, disappointingly watery over unctuous, too heavy on sweet red peppers (I prefer the dry version of this dish anyway), the end result being a rather flaccid and messy affair.
The meat starter platter features iconic chicken tikka, grilled lamb chop and king prawn. The chicken tikka is decent, nice spicing over a rich dark meat. The lamb chop is outstanding, wonderful char giving way to succulent, flavourful meat, with lovely crispy fat around the bone. The prawn is equally delicious, simply grilled and well presented in a split shell to let the natural flavour shine through.
The platter comes with a kachumber salad, studded with onion, cucumber and tomato along with a nicely balanced and pleasantly cooling coriander and mint chutney.
Mains are bountiful and varied. Served in small bowls, thali-style, each one is portioned enough for three or more people – along with a basket of different naans.
A rogan josh made with beef topside and studded with green peppercorns promises a lot but doesn’t really deliver – I would like more heat and complexity in the gravy. The beef is tough and the overall impression is of something which has been re-heated. But the meat course is redeemed with the arrival of the chicken tikka with tomato and almond curry. It is successfully nuanced, with smoky chicken and creaminess from the almond tempered by the tangy tomato and rounded off with shavings of pistachio.
A curry of king prawns and split yellow peas is a real stand out for me – layers upon layers of flavour: mustard seeds, curry leaves, cardamom, carried on waves of heat and coddled in a wonderfully rich, thick gravy with slight fishy undertones. I could eat plates of the stuff.
Another memorable dish is a mixed vegetable shak with cauliflower and gourd. A little mouthful bursts with cumin and hums with chilli. It is both homely in flavour and high-end in execution where the spices work in tandem to elevate the humble vegetables.
The other vegetable dishes are also strong. A plantain curry with coconut has wonderful, earthy flavours, while a spicy dish of lotus root adds crunch and zest to the meal.
A vegan black dal is luxurious and still creamy, with hearty morsels of kidney beans that are a real treat. A yellow dal and spinach is also solid, comforting with hits of mild ginger and garlic to keep the cold at bay.
At this point, we are full to burst and to my utter regret we can’t finish everything served. But it seems a shame not to try some of the included dessert. An opulent, moist red velvet cake, crowned with kumquat and passionfruit, rounds off a meal which delivers in its promises to be delicious and indulgent, all while remaining guilt-free.
In a climate where high-end restaurants specialising in food from the Indian subcontinent seems to always be hit and miss, TPH of Chelsea is a pleasant surprise.
Although the more aphrodisiac elements of the menu are perhaps lost on us, I don’t feel lethargic despite how full I am, so perhaps there is something to be said about this after all.
There are a couple of dud dishes, but the best aspect for me is how well the vegan and vegetarian fare stands up against the meat dishes; while other dishes which may be secondary in another restaurant are given star treatment here. A couple of misses with spicing do not take away from what is ultimately a great experience.
It is a wonderful feeling to be eating in a place which prides itself on being “guilt-free”from a health and sustainability standpoint. Finally, though the prices are high, as can be expected with London fine-dining, the portions are some of the most generous I have ever seen in a London restaurant, certainly in Chelsea. It is also great to see that in the age of delivery-focused apps, the age of the doggy bag is not dead, with several of our neighbouring diners requesting to take leftovers home!
TPH of Chelsea
112 Cheyne Walk,
0207 351 5232