We discover why Agni has won Michelin Bib Gourmet award two years running
Agni is one of the new wave of Indian restaurants specialising in modern Indian cuisine with very reasonable prices. It is opposite Hammersmith Town Hall in King Street, but is narrow-fronted ands easy to miss. So take care look out for it and it’s worth it.
It’s got an excellent pedigree: the two founders are Gowtham Karingi who was head chef at Veeraswamy and Neeraj Mittra whose background includes being manager of Chutney Mary. And it’s won awards, including (for two years in a row) the Michelin Bib Gourmet for restaurants that offer good food at moderate prices as well as the AA Rosette for Culinary Excellence for 2006-2007.
It’s decorated in apricot and white with interesting wire sculptures on the walls with a big mirror at one end to make up for the narrow front window and increase the light. Which is great because, although it is small it doesn’t feel cramped.
Now on to the food. The menu, which is conveniently divided into vegetarian and non-vegetarian, is a mix of Indian regional cooking. The Michelin Bib Gourmet judges were not wrong – the food is very good indeed. There’s an interesting selection of dishes, seldom seen on the same menu; curries, keebabs, biryanis, tandooris, thalis and snacky street food – something for everyone.
Veggie me started with the vegetarian platter, shared with my chicken-tikka eating companion. The platter was a mix of papri chaat, maro bhajiya, vegetable samosa and paneer tikka which gives a good opportunity to try lots of different dishes (as if we needed an excuse). I was particularly taken with the papri chaat, a crispy wheat biscuit with spiced mashed tamarind, yogurt and chutneys. The oddly named maro bhajoya was thin slices of vegetables fried in a spicy batter – a sort of high class bhaji; and that was very nice as well. The samosa was notable because it wasn’t made with filo pastry. It was a great big India pasty made with gram flour. Altogether, a classy plateful of Indian street food.
The chicken tikka looked was an artist’s dream: three pieces of chicken each a different colour according to its spices:– green herb, red spice and creamy herby yogurt. I am told each was distinctively spiced. This set the tone for the whole meal, skilful spicing that made everything tasted different – unlike so many curry houses where everything tastes the same but with different degrees of chilli hotness. But then this is not a restaurant that would appeal to the ‘let’s go for a Ruby when the pub shuts’ crowd.
The spinach paneer and baghare aubergine were exactly as they should have been. Spicy spinach with chunks of delicately flavoured paneer. Paneer is not an easy ingredient, get it wrong and it’s awful but I’m pleased to report that this was cooked to perfection. The Hyderabadi aubergine was flavoured with peanuts, poppy seed, sesame and coconuts. If you like aubergine this is for you.
On a previous visit I had vegetable biryani and that ticked all the boxes as well.
Both main courses came with rice so the roti was a bit superfluous but we ate it anyway and it was jolly good.
And then it was time for desserts. These are something else and include beetroot halwa (exotic, healthy and delicious) and red chilli ice cream (not spicy, just naughty). We went for rose petal and pepper kulfi. This was another beautifully coloured co-ordinated dish – the two rose petal kulfis came in a delightful shade of grown-up girly pink while the pepper kulfi was a tasteful and toning shade of beige.
Unhappily it didn’t work the way it supposed to. The idea was for the spicy pepper kulfi to offset the richness of its pink partners. But, while the two pinkies
lived up to everything a kulfi should be (rich, creamy and indulgent) the beige offering had lost something in the making and was more of an iceberg than an ice-cream. It was OK to start with as we scraped at the outside and got the idea of the merging of peppery spice and rosy sweetness but it quickly became an uneatable icy mass. This was surprising that a restaurant that pays so much attention to detail.
The service could have been better but the waiters were quite charming so it was easy to forgive occasional lapses.
The bill came to £56.75 which included two glasses of rosé wine and a large cobra beer and service.
All in all, it’s a lovely restaurant offering great food at reasonable prices and I’d certainly go again.
For folk who don’t want to go out there’s a take away service with free delivery in Chiswick and Hammersmith and for those who want to do it themselves there are cookery classes on Sundays.
August 14, 2007