About Zoe (in her own words)
“I’m Zoe Perrett- also trading under the alias of The Spice Scribe. I’m a food writer, eater and cook specialising in all aspects of Indian cuisine. Based just outside of London, sharing a tiny cottage with thousands of cookbooks and spice cupboards full to bursting, I’m on a perpetual quest for edible knowledge in the form of chefs, people, restaurants, products and enterprises small and large that challenge the narrow perceptions of such a vastly diverse food culture.”
For more of her thoughts on Indian food, here is Zoe’s excellent blog!
Zoe’s guest review of the biryani at Indian Essence
Indian Essence is a bit of a glam arrival to Petts Wood, one of those odd little suburbs-that-aren’t-quite-places, half-an-hour on the train from Victoria, with just a smattering of businesses around the train station. In short, somewhere you’d need a reason to be going. A visit to Atul Kochhar’s new venture with Jitinder Singh was ours.
The outside’s all plate glass and snazzy signage, very much in the ‘Modern Indian’ style. Waiters are both numerous and good at what they do, offering recommendations and personal preferences. The menu is short on classic ‘curryhouse’ fare and long on innovative, well-presented dishes that actually work.
There to review, we tried nicely-spiced scallops and potato cakes plated as a sort of deconstructed chaat. Mixed tandoori kebabs all boasted their own unique marinades, and a signature main of John Dory in green herbs atop a thick tomato sauce was excellent. Breads, saag paneer and tadka dal were fine, if unexceptional.
But, for all the clever, different dishes, I had to have a biryani – one of the few concessions to a ‘standard’ Indian menu. Although the menu offered chicken, I am a gosht girl. It arrived at table in Quite A Large Vessel, with small dishes of thick, rich raita (perhaps slightly TOO thick and rich for biryani), gravy and oddly, green chutney.
I didn’t complain- I LOVE green chutney, and this was a good example. Not bad, either, used as a sort of inter-biryani palate refresher. The dish was properly dum sealed, and we saved it ‘til last (in a nod to my friend Asma Khan’s Calcutta-style feasts). Waiters kept wielding knives at us, offering to open the lid, but we waved them away.
A bit stupidly, maybe; by the time we dived in, the red-hot rice had steamed a little too long and was a shade pudding-y. Fried onions were strewn copiously, though, and that haunting kewra aroma pervaded in a most satisfactory manner. Rose petals? Ooh, fancy – although Asma would NOT approve. Lamb was tender and exceptionally tasty. Poornima, you’re missing out there!
The gravy suffered from the same affliction as the raita; that is, it was far too thick- sitting proudly atop the rice rather than sinking in to moisten and further flavour the grain. All the components were most enjoyable, they just didn’t form the essential triumvirate they should. And potatoes? Sorry, entirely absent.
Here is how it scored on the biryanometer:
Rice grain separation: 2.5/5… Although perhaps partly our own fault?
Meat/veg harmony: 3.5/5
Spice blend perfection: 4/5
Potato Content: None!
Fried onion finish: 4/5
Wet/dry index: Pass, served with raita, gravy AND green chutney- a rookie (but certainly not unpleasant) choice.
Biryanometer Rating: 3.5/5
Indian Essence’s food is interesting and diverse; there’s a large sprinkling of Benares’ influence throughout the menu. Biryani is tucked away in the rice/breads/sundries section- offered standardly as ‘chicken’, with other varieties available on request. It’s a tasty, hefty portion and worth ordering if you’re in the mood for a heartier, harmonious eat rather than one of the elegant plated mains.
For exemplary biryani, I’m willing to travel. But for this one? Perhaps not as far as Petts Wood.