Since it was a Saturday, and Saturdays in London tend to be incredibly busy in the tourist districts, I decided to make for Kricket at noon for an early lunch. If you get to these central London locations just after the open, there will most certainly be fewer people around since the crowds start coming in around one.
I had half a mind to skip Kricket and head over across the road to Brasserie Zedel. There are few places in the world where such a choice is even available to you, French or Indian, some Thai a little way away, but since I knew I would come back, I stayed true to the original plan.
Kricket is arranged very much like Kiln, except narrower: an L shaped bar behind which a busy kitchen resides, bar wide enough to eat comfortably upon, with lower-back supporting bar stools. There are tables too, and a basement area, but these are for larger groups. Large windows enhance the façade, a popular way to showcase a winningly contemporary interior, and minimalist signage for a conspicuously inconspicuous welcome.
There is a comfortable warmth about the place, light from low hanging bulbs in lanterns made austerely of wire-shaped into fish baskets. There is a metallic, steam-punky edge to Kricket as well, a lot of rusty browns with the shine of steel utensils, of the vents adorning the open ceiling, the frames of the seats. I found it refreshing that the floors were not wood panelled.
The cook nearest to me works the tandoor. He rolls and presses the kulcha bread dough with practiced efficiency, and places it into the oven with a cloth covered pad. I found it odd how my attention was drawn to him. Everyone else seemed to be doing different things, running around with a pan, or a cheque, or in conversation or squeezing past other chefs to make it to their station, but this one little man stood doing the same thing the whole time I was there, one kulcha after the other, expressionless, a machine.
I sat at the bar with my back facing the window, close to the brick-finished wall, going through a menu of small plates that I was starting to warm to. You see these menus allow for so much diversity. For the price you would pay for a couple of starters and a main at any other traditional establishment, you may get six or seven different dishes of food. At Kricket they advocate for sharing, their food to be had alongside an alcoholic beverage, but I’m not about that life; I tend to opt for an extra small plate with the price I would have spent on wine.
So, as I always do, I order enough food to alarm the waitress, but this time instead of concern she seemed rather excited for me. When I spoke to her she seemed to like the idea of a person entering a restaurant on their own and ordering as much as their eyes compelled them to. Everyone should feel comfortable doing it. I’d skipped breakfast that morning and had come hungry, so based on what I had seen sent to the people sat beside me, I knew I would have no issues filling myself if the food was at least half-decent.
Indian small plates seem a contradiction in some ways. Of course, I’ve experienced them before, to some success at Talli Joe’s and Dishoom, but it is hard to extricate oneself from the tradition of large curry dishes, baskets of naan bread and expansive portions of biryani. But this is slowly changing. Prettier, more colourful plates make for more Instagram-able content and chefs are more permitted now than ever before, to drink the creative kool-aid.
First came a plate with a single buttery flatbread, and another with a scallop in half shell. It was not the largest scallop I’d been served by any means, but it looked attractive with the vibrant chimichurri green of wild garlic, the flecks of puffed rice and the subtle reds of ‘goan sausage’ (this last an inferior western, paprika based interpretation, but whose flavours still worked in composition). I’d like to think that if they did use authentic Goan sausage the dish would have been more marvellous than it was: soft pork fat with the tender bit of scallop…yum. Yes, the scallop was tender, an effortless bite of food with the addition of pertinent textural contrasts. I would have asked for another if I hadn’t already called for a good portion of the menu.
The Keralan fried chicken, the dish that placed Kricket on the map with its popularity at the original pop up in Brixton was just as crisp and delicious as you’d expect. Well-seasoned, curry leaf festooned crispy chicken thigh nuggets in a deceptively bountiful bowl, representing a superb deviation from the rather one-dimensional offerings of most fried chicken places. I liked the incorporated slices of pickled daikon, a welcome sweetness. With the curry leaf mayonnaise – one cannot seem to have enough curry leaf in this place – lathered as base, with a couple of daikon slices atop, before placing the chicken into the kulcha bread, the wrap I fashioned for myself was rather wonderful.
While all this piqued my interest, my favourite dish of the meal was the Kashmiri Lamb ribs. Meat sliced off the bone and placed in an almost jenga-like formation, each helping yielded the comfortable saccharinity of beautifully caramelised fat, juicy masala spiced lamb, cooled with a fresh, wild garlic yoghurt sauce and a sprinkling of pomegranate vinegar and sweet jaggery. Though the dish may look a little threadbare when it first comes to you, the richness of each rib will catch up to you eventually.
I had forgotten about the bowl of mussels that I’d ordered, and I wish they had as well. Karnatakan muscles they were called, plentifully portioned though without a flavour profile that is worth remembering. The seafood was fresh tasting however, mussels plump, a touch of vibrancy offered by the acidic tomato based sauce and a subtle kick of mustard seed pungency, but underwhelming on the whole.
I did, however, leave in good fetter. I do think I would have spent significantly more if I had gone with another person; for in my estimation, five dishes seemed to set me up just about right. I will say that if you are looking for a place with an attractively crepuscular ambience, the aromatic allures of an open kitchen, you could do far worse than Kricket. They are in with the times, and do swimmingly with their innovative take on traditional Mumbhai fare.
Location: 12 Denman St, Soho, London W1D 7HH