Don’t let the name of this place put you off. Although something of an oxymoron – flavour should never be insulted – the food at Flavour Bastard is by no stretch of the imagination light on taste. Every single dish my companion and I enjoyed here – and there were a lot – was imaginative and had a depth of flavours that leaves you curious, asking questions, trying to place each ingredient and locate its influences. Caution: if you come here, you’ll want to try everything.
Flavour Bastard has been set up by restauranteur Vic Singh and chef Pratap Chahal, an alumnus of Cinnamon Club and Claridges. Speaking to Vic – who kindly came over to chat to us – helped me to understand their slightly mind-boggling name. Rather than wedding themselves to one particular culinary style or tradition, Flavour Bastard seeks to adopt a free-roaming approach to foods, using the moto of “cuisine agnostic”. The fact that they’re even using this term does reflect how food has become something of a religion in London. With restaurants opening every week, supper clubs going on all over the shop, and pop-ups appearing on every corner, trying and reviewing places has a certain reverence around it. It’s part of my routine anyway and certain critiques are treated like holy grail. As Hipprocates once said, “let food be thy religion”. But the beauty of this place is that their religion has no rules. As scribbled out on our bill, the rules are out here.
Amazingly, although my companion and I went to this Soho spot on their soft launch opening week on a Friday night, we didn’t have to queue. I think it’s really admirable that, as Vic explained, they’ve consciously chosen not to publicise too much whilst just setting up, opting to find their feet, settle in and iron out any teething issues. It reflects the commitments of its founders – they’re here for the long haul and Flavour Bastard certainly has the legs to become a Soho institution. Unlike other Indian restaurants – Gymkhana, Kricket or Dishoom, for example – this place is a lot more experimental, pushing the boundaries of Indian flavours and indeed textures using global approaches to cooking.
I love the design of this place. Though I’m slightly obsessed with interiors at the moment, with mood boards for my flat becoming unwieldy, this place oozes industrial chic with warmth. Imagine exposed grey walls, burgundy-painted pipework, bulb filaments and a very effective use of gold metallics. The ceramic plates are also stunners. Even the menu is in keeping with the whole “let’s throw the rulebook out the window” ethos: marked-up like a lawyer’s draft agreement, small FYIs are scribbled on to explain more about certain ingredients. Bergamot I learn, for example, is a “citrus fruit used in perfumery”. It really reflects how this place is a WIP, it’s evolving and is genuinely organic – not only because it’s just set up shop, but also because it will continually play with flavours.
The menu is divided up into tiny, small, and large plates which you can size up or down according to your appetite. Intrigued by all the veggie options (and there’s even a separate vegan menu) we ordered everything going:
- Miso & mango glazed aubergine, peanut-buckwheat crumble (£7);
- A cloud of curds, gram confetti, mint relish, guindilla chilli (£7.50);
- Chickpea salad with rose harrisa, smoked humumus, sesame labneh & date syrup (£6.50);
- Roast sweet potato, fennel yoghurt, sunflower seeds, chilli popcorn (£6.50);
- Flaked rice salad with coconut watercress cream, pickled watermelon (£6.50) and
- Deep-fried feta, walnuts, honey & mint (£4) sent through to us by Vic himself.
Each dish was full of surprises – the kind of delights that leave you with a smile. The star of the show for both my companion and I, and probably the whole restaurant since every table seemed to be ordering it, was the aubergine. Its components were a beautiful marriage of sweet and savoury, creaminess and crunchiness. It’s definitely the kind of dish worthy of a stand-up applause for the kitchen – the sign of a real success for Vic!
We couldn’t resist the intriguing “cloud” – the evocative name drew us into the curd! It turned out to be a pan-fried parcel of hung yoghurt that’s been prepared using a method adopted in the Indian royal palaces. The minty chutney that came with complemented the zesty yoghurt very well.
The chickpea salad is definitely worth upsizing. Our small plate option only filled half the beautiful turquoise plate, yet I could have eaten a whole bowl of this stuff. It had a brilliantly spicy kick: not too high on the chilli but just enough punchiness to make it feel like proper Indian food. It tasted like a real Friday night party of flavours, with some good old date syrup out on the town.
The appearance of turmeric popcorn on the sweet potato definitely leaves you with a smile. For me, popcorn reminds me of childhood. Whilst it’s enjoying something of a renaissance on the snack scene at the moment, my mum’s been making it at home for years, with a good sprinkle of turmeric and chilli Indian style. But incorporating it into a main dish is a total innovation – I wonder why I haven’t come across this before. It would probably work even better if I were a touch (or pop) more crunchy.
Though our flaked rice salad didn’t feature any watermelon this evening, I loved the freshness of the watercress cream. Given my love of incorporating fruits in savoury salads in the summer, such as my rather bizarre but totally delicious chargrilled paneer and watermelon salad, I’m just going to have to return to sample some of this pickled watermelon business to compare and contrast, of course.
Whilst I loved the food at Flavour Bastard, I found that it didn’t completely match it’s free-roaming ethos. All the vegetarian dishes we tried were essentially explorations around Indian flavours – unsurprisingly given its founders’ heritage. But it was nonetheless very experimental, matching Indian spices with creative cooking techniques from Europe and beyond. I learn that the basement kitchen has a josper oven, for example, which explains the wonderful smokiness of the dishes, especially the aubergine. Whilst billed has “deliberately unauthentic”, I do think this place is firmly rooted in Indian food, albeit using far more innovative cooking styles than any other Indian restaurant in London.
The only exception to this comment, though, was our final savoury dish of the evening – the Deep-fried feta with walnuts, honey & mint – which Vic himself kindly sent following my remark that this place was fundamentally Indo-centric. And he was right: this was definitely on the more European side of things: oozing like a croquette, it was drizzled with a beautifully fresh orange-infused honey. It put to shame the terribly cheesy, deep-fried croquettes I’d had a Polpo the night before. Quality honey, nuts and cheese is always going to work.
I still think this place should rethink its title: as my companion pointed out, “Flavour Bastard” sounds uninviting and aggressive. It’s also misrepresents the warmth, subtlety and softness of the food here, as well as the welcoming spirit of the staff, the restaurateurs themselves and Indian culture more widely. Brain-storming other options, I loved the other ones we came up with: F*** Rules (suitably street-like) or simply Flavours (wonderfully ambiguous)?!
All in all, Flavour Bastard is one of the best new openings (or actually well-established restaurants) I’ve been to – which is a total surprise given my reluctance to eat Indianesque food out. Each dish – in keeping with the founders’ aim – leaves you asking questions and wanting more. We did ask each other a number of times, what was that I just tasted, what is that popping in my mouth (which my companion did exactly when enjoying the popping candy in her Mayan-spiced chocolate & brownie mousse with lavender ice cream (£7.50)), or what Indian flavour is that (like the tamarind featuring besides the sweet potato). This place has the legs to become a stand out in jam-packed Soho and beyond. And you can book! Finally, a restaurant that values people’s time. Success all round.
Flavour Bastard, 63-64 Frith Street, London, W1D 3JW