There are always murmurs of discontent when I come to review Indian restaurants. How could my hum drum, Italo-English foreign palette have any understanding of the myriads of different regional cuisines in India.
I do accept that point resignedly. However I would add that Old English food – I mean the type served in Victorian Britain of the 19th Century – does bear many similarities with Indian cuisine. Unlike Mediterranean cuisine, which uses herbs as the main conduit of flavour, English cuisine of that epoque in much the same way as Indian cuisine today placed a heavy emphasis on spices for flavour. Despite promising beginnings, English cuisine never truly evolved and as such gave way to pan-Mediterranean influences and to uniform blandness in many cases. Analogously, that weak milky English breakfast tea, which pervades nearly every UK household, never transformed into bold, sweet and spicy masala tea that now invigorates the senses and warms the heart in Indian households.
Another digression! Back to Khyber. I see an English food critic with the same first name as me had visited the restaurant many years back and had given it a minor thumbsup (warmly reassuringly from a gentlemen who claims to have eaten at every 3* Michelin restaurant in the world)
Khyber is, indeed, a wonderfully majestic maze of little rooms, marble floors and dark wooden tables. It’s a beautiful setting, one which could only belong in the historical home of South Bombay. However, the food is no match.
The starters that arrive are passable, but only in the same way that eating cornflakes for breakfast is a mildly satisfactory experience. The taste was familiar, reminiscent of countless generic Indian restaurants I have frequented. The paneer had an alarmingly red tandoori paste marinade smeared all over it. The corn tikki was a greasy affair, much like delving into a Vada Pav stall’s cauldron. And the lassi I washed this all down with was expensive at nearly INR 300
The veg malai tikka – the true test of any potential Punjabi wife I am told – was a standout dish. The sauce was creamy, sweet and perfectly balanced by the slightly bitter cabbage inside the tikki. The black daal was a strange mix of too many lentils and pulses – kidney beans, different black daals etc – and was too thin for my taste. The mixed Sabji was heavy with too much cumin and reminded me of a mixed Sabji I had eaten the other week at Tawa (a horror story to be found on Turner road in Bandra) The other mains courses looked average: a leg of tandoori lamb again smeared in that heinously red tandoori paste and chicken tikka masala.
Ultimately the grandeur of the interior overwhelms the average at times careless fare and much like the majority of British cuisine that has failed to redefine itself, the Indian cuisine at Khyber feels tired, worn out and in great need of reinvention.