Flora Indica is not your usual curry house or cocktail joint. Indian dishes with a modern twist, luxurious interiors and daring herb-inspired drinks, we sent Rachael Lindsay to give it a go…
Laden down with my rucksack after a weekend of travel, I gingerly ask the serving staff if there is anywhere I can store my bag.
‘Perhaps in the TARDIS?’, the smiling restaurant manager gestures to a full-size blue phone box in the centre of the room.
Flora Indica’s design is inspired by an 1855 catalogue of Indian plants and spices, after which the restaurant is named. A group of Scottish botanists produced the book whilst travelling through India, recording every newly discovered chilli, lime and clove.
Designer, Henry Chebaane has blended steampunk and British Raj elegance for the interiors of this restaurant based in Chelsea, London. Brass piping and Victorian gadgets sit alongside flower motif tin tiles and Tweed upholstering. The TARDIS is an allusion to time travel, back to an era of innovation, discovery and serious excitement about botanicals.
The cocktail menu is devoted to this excitement, and the cocktails here are exquisite. The Bombay Blossom bursts with Earl Grey, rose water, lychee and Rangpur gin and the Chillitini has just the right amount of fire, beautifully matched by notes of citrus and pomegranate.
The waiting staff are as enthusiastic about the dishes as the cocktails and our waitress relishes the opportunity to recommend her personal favourites. She guides us through the menu, pointing out the £44 taste tour of India with its selection of chef-suggested dishes, or the option of choosing our own tapas-style small plates followed by larger curries and sides.
We try to order one small plate each to start and she stops us in our tracks, ensuring that we try dish upon dish of these spiced morsels, from crispy okra fries to soft Yellow Fin Tuna with chilli caviar and cucumber. The winners, in our eyes, are the Jerusalem artichoke Papdi Chaat which is crunchy and layered with creamy yoghurt and the soft mounds of Amritsari Crab with a Tamarind mash and fragrant mayo made Tadka-style, blended with spices roasted in ghee.
The mains on the menu sound a little more familiar with the likes of Chicken Tikka, Paneer Kofta and King Prawn Malaicurry jazzed up with bergamot, baby spinach and monkfish. They arrive with Red Leicester Naan, pink pomegranate raita, pistachio rice and curly kale with turmeric and ginger. We dig in with delight, testing each taste combination together in turn.
We cannot leave without trying dessert. Our waitress recommends the Shahi Brioche and the Kulfi Semi Freddo, India’s answer to ice cream. The Brioche is sweet and chewy, matched perfect with pistachio crumb, saffron cream and grilled pineapple. The Kulfi is a medley; noodles bring the flavour of traditional Indian falooda, a rose water and sweet basil seed pudding, and the chocolate sauce is aromatic with warming cloves.
Each dish is a little experiment in form and flavour and the interiors reflect this sense of exploration. With the impression that we are leaving a South Asian / Victorian universe behind, we head out to the Old Brompton Road, sadly using the door rather than the TARDIS.
Go to Flora Indica at lunch time, to take advantage of the three-course set menu for £18, and if you feel it’s too early for a cocktail (although #TeamCoco know that this is never the case…), try a fragrant tea with a pretty name like Indigo Sky or Chelsea Rose.
Find Indica Rose at 242 Old Brompton Road in London and browse the mouthwatering menu at www.flora-indica.com.