An increasing number of people are venturing south of the river these days, be it to live, with modern new apartment blocks seemingly going up all the time, or visit some of the new restaurants that are catering for the growth in local residents.
Indian restaurant Chokhi Dhani is one such place, located in Vauxhall overlooking the River Thames and just a stone’s throw from the new US Embassy.
Somewhat reminiscent of a Maharaja’s palace, Chokhi Dhani is tucked away in Riverlight Quay, next to a riverfront residential development with an array of stunning barges featuring a backdrop view. As you enter the main entrance, you are greeted by a magnificent 2½ ton brass elephant, which sets the tone of this rather exquisite restaurant.
An oasis of lush flora, deep mahogany wood and an array of glass cabinets boasting some magnificent pieces of exotic Indian jewellery awaits you in the lounge and bar where we were warmly greeted by the Manager, Romano, who attentively welcomes us to this new establishment.
As we nestle in a corner of the sumptuous ground floor area sipping on a glass of bubbly and superb Pinot Noir, we comment on how it reminds us somewhat of a five-star hotel lobby, laden with twinkling candles, deep chairs and couches surrounding tables with an array of hard back coffee table books to peruse. The ambience is contemporary, yet traditional with interiors of deep rich colours and the mood is warm and cosy. The furniture is made of sesame and mango wood, which is a unique type of wood and Chokhi Dhani is the first Indian restaurant in the UK to have this authentic handmade furniture.
Take a look at the artwork and tapestry, which depicts a traditional Rajasthani wedding procession during the time of the Mughals and hand painted by J.P. Verma. The marble mural depicts a Harem and Darbar scene. Display cabinets showcase handmade jewellery made within the hotel premises in Jaipur and is reasonably priced and available to buy.
Fully relaxed from our journey south of the river, we are shown to our table in the main restaurant, which is located upstairs. It’s a Friday evening, and there is a nice mix of families and couples enjoying a relaxed evening meal.
The menu can be a little daunting for those unfamiliar with Indian cuisine, but guidance is close at hand to help you make the right selection. We’d advise choosing an assortment of dishes and sharing them, so you can enjoy as wide a variety as possible. Executive Chef Naseem Qureshi has created a mouth-watering range of dishes so as to give diners an authentic flavour of Rajasthan.
The sommelier expertly selects an array of perfect wines to accompany the food and flavours of the menu with some wonderful sparkling wines and a house champagne at a knock out price of £8.50 per glass! The house wines are full, robust in flavour and boldness to compatibly compliment the fresh herbs and spices of the chef’s masterful and cleverly concocted dishes. An organic Italian 2017 Vermentino/Ansmica at £8 a glass or £35 a bottle turned out to be our favourite of the evening. The wine list itself is comprehensive with a good selection of both old and new world wines and generally speaking, pretty reasonably priced.
The menu is divided into starters, mains and desserts, with a platter of different starters for those sharing. The dishes are bursting with fresh zest of mango, mint and coriander, escalating to the more spicy chutneys and curries. There’s a real emphasis on vegetarian dishes for any vegans. The Thalis sharing platter can be ordered as Maharani for vegetarians or as Maharaja for meat lovers. Highlights include Gatte Curry, made with traditional flour dumpling and cooked in a spicy yoghurt sauce. Methi Mangodi is a yellow lentil nugget and fenugreek leaf curry or meat lovers can choose the Laal Maas, which is succulent cubes of lamb slow cooked in an onion and chilli sauce. If you like curry, then the Paneer Marwari, which is a yoghurt-based paneer curry, is ideal for vegetarians or you can opt for the Jodhpuri Murgh, which is a spicy chicken curry.
Other dish highlights for us are the Butter Chicken, the beautifully presented Fish and Spinach and Jumbo Jhinga Tiger Prawns. A mention also needs to be given to the Kadak Momo, which is a crispy vegetarian dumpling with potatoes and chickpeas and tender Gosht Champien, which are Cornish lamb cutlets with betel leaves, ginger, clove and cardamom.
Don’t leave without trying one of the Indian teas or coffee’s, with blends of leaves that are freshly brewed and consumed with exotic tastes of the Maharaja, Jaipur and Rajasthan. And the desserts are in a class of their own, serving the traditional kulfi style ice creams to the more familiar chocolate fondants.
For those of you who enjoy the outdoors, there is a cosy terrace, where you can enjoy some al fresco dining, cocktails and a range of quality shisha.
Chokhi Dhani significantly sets its mark in London by opening the first outpost from a chain of restaurants based in Rajasthan and whose goal is to showcase Rajasthani cuisine. Chokhi Dhani offers not only excellence in supreme culinary welfare blending the dark with the exotic but caters for the more sublime tastes of delicate dishes for the faint-hearted and some mind-blowing tricks and treats in the form of entertainment with magician Magic Junior that is as spellbinding like the food.
Whilst Vauxhall is not on the doorstep for many people, the Victoria line makes it easily accessible and well worth the visit and a true destination stop.
Chokhi Dhani, 2 Riverlight Quay, Nine Elms Lane, London, SW8 5AW, England.
Tel: +44(0)20 3795 9000
The restaurant in located in Vauxhall close to the new US Embassy and overlooking the River Thames. The closest Train and Tube station is Vauxhall on the Victoria line, which is about a 10-minute walk. Battersea Park Station is also about the same distance. The restaurant is open Tuesday and Wednesday from 5:00pm to 10:30pm and Thursday to Sunday from midday to 10:30pm. They are closed all day Monday. Please note that they operate a smart casual dress code and do not allow any lounge or sportswear in the restaurant or bar area.
Type of Restaurant: Indian Restaurant and Lounge
Price Band: Medium
Insider Tip: It’s worth arriving early so that you can enjoy one of their cocktails in the bright and comfortable bar and lounge. On warmer days, you may want to venture out onto their terrace.
Reviewers’ Rating: 10/10
Simon Burrell is Editor-in-Chief of Our Man On The Ground and member of The British Guild of Travel Writers and Aurelia Bonito is London-based a freelance travel writer and marketing consultant.
Photographs courtesy of Chokhi Dhani and by Simon Burrell