As an absolute Indian food fiend, I’ll always jump at the chance to try out a new Indian restaurant. There’s something about those deep, complex spice blends and that comforting stick-to-your-ribs warmth that has me absolutely smitten. It’s also the whole experience I love - equal dashes of decadence, gluttony and communal-sharing; I don’t walk out of an Indian restaurant, I groan out.
When Sholay Kitchen got in touch offering to sample their modern Indian cuisine, I accepted it with equal levels of delight and trepidation. I’ve been to a few restaurants who’ve attempted ‘Modern Indian’ before and always came away disappointed. Sacrificing substance over style, they seem to try and fix a problem that doesn’t exist. That being said, good food is good food, and Indian cuisine - like every other on the planet - can be updated and refined.
Based down in the newly-developed Cargo 2 complex in Wapping Wharf, Sholay Kitchen is a shipping container at the end of the top row. It’s a snug venue but they’ve made the most of the spot with a good feeling of space and an open kitchen just a few feet away from the indoor seating (there’s also tables on the decking outside). We settled in on one of the chunky wood tables, got a couple of bottles of beer and ordered our starters.
Sholay Chaat (£3.50)
Sholay’s twist on a traditional Chaat is an amazing start to the meal. A base of crunchy salad was slathered with a creamy raita, warming chutney and topped with little jewels of pomegranate. This is everything I love about Indian food in one bite. A contrast of deep spice and fresh salad turns into a tidal wave of flavour when you burst open a pomegranate seed. I couldn’t get enough of it.
Hara Murgh (£7)
The Hara Murgh was a more reserved affair. Marinated chicken breast is served up with a punchy sauce and garnish. Sholay pride themselves on using top-quality local ingredients and that comes out in the quality of the chicken used.
This dish is also one of those where I start to lean back into my criticism of ‘Modern Indian’ food. With the chicken being the main - and pretty much only - element of the dish, you’re left with a one-dimensional experience. Small plates to me shouldn’t mean less elements, they should be standalone dishes. That being said, the chicken is cooked perfectly and I’m looking forward to what’s in store for the mains.
Dhai Baingain (£6.50)
Sholay’s Dhai Baingain - a baby aubergine dish generously smothered in a mildly-spiced and creamy coconut sauce - has taken the best of traditional and modern food to deliver a complete dish that celebrates Indian cuisine.
The dish is pretty and well designed. The aubergines are melt-in-the-mouth and asking to be scooped onto the naan with generous helpings of that sweet, spiced coconut sauce. Could I have done with a bit more bread? Sure. But this is the kind of dish that respects traditional food while adding modern influence to it - exactly what a modern Indian plate of food should be.
Tawa Poussin (£9.50)
I’m particularly looking forward to seeing what Sholay have done to elevate Tawa when I first ordered. It’s hearty traditional fayre that I’m intrigued to see how they’ve updated it.
The plate arrives with a nice big portion of chicken taking centre stage that sits on top of its warm, mildy sweet bell pepper sauce. All taste nice without hitting the heights of the Chaat or Dhai Baingain.
My review of the Tawa got sidetracked as my mind went to understanding why you'd serve so little rice on the plate. Aesthetically, it gave a feel the plate was lacking. In terms of tackling that big chunk of protein and sauce, it was lacking.
Again, the quality of ingredients on the plate were high and cooked well, but it wasn’t the elevation of the traditional dish I’d hoped for.
Sholay Kitchen’s got a lot of promise. The team they have there are obviously talented and that really shows in some of their dishes.
By modernising Indian cuisine, they’re going to be directly compared to its traditional counterpart - a tough challenge seeing as it’s the nation’s favourite food.
For this venue to be the success it could be, it needs to take some of its focus away from plate construction and look towards a dining experience that encourages people to get stuck in. If they got more of that scooping, dipping, tearing and sharing that’s a part of our favourite Indian restaurant into every dish, it could easily stand out as a destination venue for spice lovers.
At the moment though, if you want to try this place out - go vegetarian and you won’t be disappointed.
Wriggle score: 7/10