Southwest London doesn’t know how lucky it really is
Menus may look like an innocuous list of dishes and prices to most people. But, unless they’ve been written on the fly by a sleep-deprived proprietor teetering on the edge of alcoholism, they can be a far more calculated, insidious instrument designed to subtly serve the restaurant’s interests rather than yours. There are numerous formatting and copywriting tricks-of-the-trade designed to subliminally guide you to, depending on the proprietors’ priorities, the most expensive, most profitable or easiest-to-prepare dishes.
Kashmir in Putney unsurprisingly claims to specialise in Kashmiri dishes. Each one is highlighted with a small red maple (or possibly chinar) leaf on the menu, all the better to stand out amidst the larger selection of more familiar curry house staples on the menu. I’m not usually one to be guided by such menu iconography, but I decided to entrust myself to this handholding. Especially as these marked Kashmiri dishes not only make up a very small fraction of the menu, but, with the exception of a handful of familiar faces, rarely seem to turn up elsewhere in London. I’m glad I did.
Kabargah is the sort of dish that would never be conceived of in today’s shallow Instagram-focussed culture that equates aesthetics with value and worth. Just look at it – chopped bits of beige-coloured lamb rib meat, still on the bone. It may not be eye-pleasing, but it had it all where it matters most – in the mouth. The exquisitely crisp crust concealed luscious seams of fat and connective tissue, as well as occasional bits of moist, earthy meat. American-style pork spare ribs and beef short rib dishes still hold first place in my ribbed affections, but this dish comes a respectable second.
The crisp oil-free exterior of the lotus root ‘kebabs’ concealed a smooth, lightly sweet and nutty interior reminiscent of taro. It was more than good enough on its own, with little need for the mint sauce served on the side.
Kashmir’s lamb seekh kebabs were far better than the usual curry house versions – moist and smoothly textured with a mild herby bitterness.
Lamb roganjosh is a familiar curry house standby, but I’ve rarely had a version that’s been as good as Kashmir’s. The thin yet peppery and lightly sour sauce took on the earthiness of the meat-on-the-bone. The cumulative heat was sweat-inducing, while the taste of cardamom and bay leaves in the sauce meshed well with the almonds and cashews of the Kashmiri pulao rice, a side dish ordered separately.
Kashmir’s chicken korma wasn’t anywhere as sickly sweet or cloyingly creamy as the worse examples of this dish. The version here was perhaps a little one-dimensional, but there was still much to recommend it. The mild milkiness of the white sauce was pepped up by fresh coriander, while the moist chunks of chicken were cooked just-so.
If there’s one thing that I didn’t expect from Kashmir was its specialism in exquisite meatball dishes. The lamb Gushtaba meatballs were almost veal-like in their smooth and airy texture, yet hearty and sweet. The white sauce was surprisingly nuanced and layered. Gently creamy, it segued from the taste of curry leaf and cardamom to a subtle bitterness. Every mouthful was beguiling and sumptuous.
The same lamb meatballs turned up again in the Rista where they were paired with a red, possibly tamarind-based sauce. Although this sauce wasn’t quite as soul-soothingly delightful as the one in the Gushtaba, this was probably due to heightened expectations. In any case, it was still a treat – both on its own terms and when compared to almost any other curry in the capital that you’d care to name. Sour, smoky and tingly hot – a potent sauce for a mouth-pleasing gaggle of balls.
If there’s one meatball dish at Kashmir that can outdo the Gushtaba in sheer deliciousness, then it has to be the occasional lamb and prune special. The meatballs, this time around, were denser than before with a coarser grind and a mildly sweet prune at the centre. The prunes’ presence was felt less in the almost beef-like balls and more in the sauce. Although it looked almost identical to the sauce that accompanied the Rista, it had an exceptional level of umami tinged with a gentle sweetness and a cumulative tingly heat. I lapped up every drop.
I wasn’t expecting much from the aubergine curry, which made its superlative qualities all the more remarkable. The hefty portion of heavily simmered yet still fleshy aubergine was the conveyor for a sauce of remarkable depth. Sour with a light spicy heat and yet blessed with a deep umami, it proved to be completely and utterly addictive. There are very few dishes capable of making this committed carnivore forget all about meat. This beauty is one of them.
Medium-sized potatoes, gently tenderised, made up the bulk of the dum aloo. The red sauce wasn’t anywhere as exceptionally well-flavoured as the sauces accompanying the lamb and prune meatballs or the aubergine curry, but its lightly sour and umami qualities were still pleasing.
Breads and sides
The saffron infusion was the least interesting thing about the Kashmiri pulao rice and the lonely scabs of paneer were neither here nor there either. It was all about the cashews and almonds which proved to be a perfect accompaniment to the spice of the rogan josh.
Two-layered kulcha was an airy bread pepped up with the mild heat of green onions. Despite its thinness, sauces clung tightly to this bread like a child to its mother’s teat.
The filling of the thin and pliably soft cheese naan was initially subtle, but its charms were evident after a few mouthfuls. The lactic tang and creamy undertone meant this filled naan was less like a pizza or calzone, as I had feared, and more like a naan fortified with ghee.
Two-layered tandoori roti wasn’t especially good at mopping up sauce, but its hearty maltiness made it difficult to be in anyway upset at this fluffy side of carbs. Laccha paratha was somewhat similar to the tandoori roti, but with a more pronounced maltiness and a fluffiness that proved better at absorbing sauces.
Of all the breads I tried, only the roomali roti was a dud. Not only was the portion size meagre – just one lonely sheaf – the thin and crispy effort wasn’t tissuey soft enough.
Thin yet minty raita bolstered by the earthiness of walnuts is an essential side order if you’re having one of Kashmir’s spicier dishes. Its creaminess and soothing coolness work hand-in-hand to salve any overexcited tastebuds.
Although I only dipped into Kashmir’s non-Kashmiri dishes, most of the ones I tried lacked the deft, sophisticated flavouring and technique on show in the restaurant’s flagship dishes. The fish part of the wasabi salmon, for example, was cooked just-so, but the taste of the Japanese crowd-pleaser was barely present.
Kashmir’s tandoori chicken wasn’t the crimson-hued, charred-round-the-edges effort that I was expecting. Instead, the orange-coloured chicken came licked and lashed with a sauce that was unexpectedly tangy and fruity. It was a pleasure to devour, especially with the moist chicken, even though a part of me did wish for the more pronounced smokiness of the more conventional, scarlet-coloured version of this classic chicken dish.
Salted lime soda sounds bonkers, but it was eminently refreshing. Its zesty, tangy sourness was unsurprisingly similar to Chinese li hing mui/sour plum candies and, to a lesser extent, Japanese umeboshi and Mexican chamoy.
Thin, milky lassi was almost certainly not a straight-from-a-bottle effort. Pepped up with the tingly heat of green chillies and a dash of crushed nuts and seeds, it’s a reminder of just how dull and repetitive most non-alcoholic drinks served elsewhere tend to be. It’s not refreshing enough to soothe your mouth if you’re overly sensitive to spicy heat though. The salted lassi variant was a better choice for that, with its sour tang reminiscent of Turkish ayran.
There is some variation in the qualities of each lassi. A second rendition of the salted lassi was thicker than before and almost cheese like in its salty sour tanginess. Odd, but refreshing nonetheless.
The presence of the eponymous spice in the smooth ginger tea was modest, so it wasn’t overpowering, but its warming heat was still strong enough to coddle my cockles. The masala chai, on the other hand, was watery, unconvincing and not a patch on the deeply flavoured brew at Darjeeling Express.
The crisp sugary crust of the brûlée broke apart to reveal a creamy and subtly grainy semolina pudding infused with the aroma of saffron. Although the crushed pistachio topping was far too muted, the other qualities of this top-notch creme brûlée more than made up for it.
Despite its loose, airy and coarse cake-like texture, the grains of the moong dal halwa still managed to cling together surprisingly well. Its light honey-ish sweetness was neatly counterbalanced by a warming crust of fruit and nut. I would never have thought it possible that such a delicious dessert could be made from mung beans, of all things.
Carrot halwa wasn’t quite as exceptional as the moong dal version, but it was far, far from bad. Although the fluffy loose-grained halwa itself only had a modest amount of sweetness, this did allow the nutty crunch of the crushed pistachio garnish to come to the fore. I’ll never say no to the strident presence of pistachio in any dessert.
The bready nuttiness, chewiness and rosewater flavour of the paan ice cream was almost ruined by the crunchy ice crystals. If this textural flaw could be fixed, then this ice cream would easily be one of Kashmir’s finest desserts.
Kulfi on a stick is available in two flavours – mango and pistachio. The former had the distinct taste of the fruit laced with a tangy, creamy undertone. The crunchy ice crystals spoiled this lolly though. That textural flaw was thankfully absent from the pistachio variant. The same distinctive creamy undertone was present, almost making up for the rather tame pistachio flavour.
Kashmir is good. In fact, it is so good that there are very few other Indian/South Asian restaurants in London that I’d rather eat at – Kashmiri or otherwise. What’s even more surprising is the lack of attention that this Putney restaurant has received. This is almost certainly due to its location on a quiet side street in ‘distant’ Putney, where its clientele of local families, pensioners and aspiring Sloaneys generally sup on the more trad, less Kashmiri dishes on the menu. The lack of a PR offensive aimed at all the usual suspects and pushed through all the usual channels probably doesn’t help either. That’s a real shame – Putney’s Kashmir deserves every ounce of praise I can muster and then some.
Go. Go now.
Address: 18 Lacy Road, Putney, London SW15 1NL
Opening Hours: Tuesday 17.30-22.30. Wednesday-Thursday noon-14.30 and 17.30-22.30. Friday-Saturday noon-14.30 and 17.30-23.00. Sunday-Monday noon-14.30 and 17.30-22.30.
Reservations? Probably a good idea on and around weekends.
Average cost for one person including soft drinks and service charge: £35-40 approx.