From West London's Little India to Shanghai - Hardeep is on a mission to bring us Real Indian food with a twist of British!
Chicken tikka masala and similar dishes have been an integral part of British culture for decades. Equally long is the debate questioning authenticity. Too sweet, too thick, or just too needlessly hot. Shanghai's very own Master Chef, Hardeep Somal, believes there is plenty of room to explore a modern cuisine that balances 'real Indian food' with a 'twist of British'.
For Hardeep, it starts with the food he loved growing up. Both his mother & father would cook at home, his father, having lived in India until his 20's, would be the more traditional, and his mother, having grown up mostly in the UK, would dish up a more 'Anglicised' style. Couple this with being raised in West London close to the sights, smells, and flavours of Southall's 'little India', and you have a recipe for passion.
Little India has a reputation for some of the highest quality Indian food anywhere in the UK. Go for a short walk along these streets and you are bombarded with a rich medley of mithai (Indian sticky sweets), vegetarian dishes, every type of curry you can imagine, and street food favourites like Tikkis, Chaats & Samosas. These surroundings made a long-lasting impact on the precocious foodie - planting the seeds for what would later grow into a burning desire to return to his roots.
Hardeep's journey from West London to Shanghai was action-packed. His career started in 1999 and saw him ply his trade in kitchens in Germany, France and England. He worked in a variety of fine dining establishments including the Hilton Hotel Group, The Royal Garden in London, and Richard Branson's Virgin Club VIP club lounges. It was here that he learned the double art of haute cuisine and cooking at scale, and was promoted from Chef De Partie to Head Chef.
Despite this range of high-end eateries, Hardeep yearned to experience working at an Indian restaurant and held great admiration for Benares in Mayfair, one of the first Indian Restaurants in the UK to earn Michelin star. Hardeep believes Benares dramatically changed the game with their innovative brand of modern, British inspired, Indian Cuisine. What Benares was doing set Hardeep's mind racing with ideas, the genie was now well and truly out of the bottle.
Life was to throw an unexpected opportunity Hardeep's way, and in a flash, he was sipping bubbles on a flight headed for Shanghai to assume the position of Head Chef at the Glow London restaurant. These days he is best known for his role at the Camel Hospitality Group, and most notably the Bull and Claw, where his creativity and flair has surprised and delighted guests for years. He can often be found front-of-house greeting guests with his trademark laugh and ensuring everyone is well looked after.
With ideas bubbling away in the background, it was only a matter of time before Hardeep began to hone his very own brand of British inspired Indian food. Goers of Shanghai’s food-festivals are familiar with creations like the now-famous,' NANwich', and the Chicken Tikka Pizza in collaboration with Homeslice. Hardeep credits the other Chef's he met at these festivals for egging him on to pursue his passion.
On July 29th, the Shanghai Chapter of the OCC was lucky enough to encounter Hardeeps most recent foray into this brave new world as he took part in EGG's 'Chef Table', private dining season.
As we entered, the smell of roasted herbs, spices, garlic butter and happiness was pungent. Already drooling, it wouldn't be long until we were all slipping into a relaxing curry induced coma. The menu, that will not be served justice by this review, was a feast fit for a Maharaja; Crispy Fried Tandoori chicken, Punjabi style Potato Chaat, Lobster Masala with Butter Nan and Saffron Rice, and if all that wasn't already enough, a Crispy Pork Belly Vindaloo.
Crispy Tandori chicken
A classic dish with a 'east-meets-west', crispy twist. The chicken was first marinated in yoghurt ginger, garlic, chilli powder, masalas, roasted nuts and cumin seeds, and then dusted with flour and fried resulting in a super-crispy skin. It was served with fried leeks and a curry aioli made by blending fresh curry leaves, dried curry powder & apricot.
Punjabi Style Potato Chaat
This Chaat (an Indian street food staple), was inspired by the Punjabi style of cooking synonymous with the South Indian region. The potato dough was made from a vibrant mix of steamed potatoes, peas, Bombay mix, herbs and spices, and which was then, you guessed it, fried. This sour and sweet, crunchy and soft delight and then lightly dressed with a yoghurt & tamarind coconut sugar reduction.
We all know from the french Lobster Thermidor that creamy sauces work well with lobster but also that the sweet & delicate meat requires a sauce that is light and complementary. According to Hardeep; 'The art comes in striking the perfect balance'. On this evening the lobster was half-cooked then marinated in an assortment of spices that included cumin, ground coriander, Kashmiri chilly powder, ginger, garlic, lemon juice and yoghurt, ensuring the spice was light and not overpowering. On the side, a tomato & onion based sauce with garam masala, ginger, garlic, coriander, cumin & turmeric was cooked off with butter and cream and then added to the mix. The result was a smooth, delicious and creamy combination that had the OCC spinning. The curry was served with a fluffy garlic nan and saffron brown rice. Hardeep explained, 'the trick to the fluffiness is let the Nan bread rest for 3-4 mins to let the yeast do its work before toasting on an open gas flame'.
Roasted Pork Belly and Vindaloo.
Vindaloo has enjoyed huge popularity outside of India and is featured on menus all around the world. But not like this. Often associated with extreme spice, Hardeep wanted to demonstrate a very different side to this dish. In the blend was aromatics such as cloves, bay leaves, cinnamon sticks, cumin & mustard seeds, all toasted down into something like a masala mix, are then added to almost caramelised onions, ginger, garlic, coriander and tomato. The pork belly (heavily influenced by the classic British roast) was scored, salted and seared, (to make it crispy), and oven cooked for 2 hours only half-submerged in the sauce to ensure that while the base braises, the top roasts to a crisp. Sorcery!
Apple Crumble and Ice-Cream.
The dessert was a heartwarmingly familiar apple & almond crumble. This traditionally British pudding was made with mango and cranberries to give it an eastern vibe. Teaming up with Blake Thornley from the Blackbird group the dish was served with mint ice-cream and chocolate glaze - resulting in an extremely high-end magnum.
Customer Care - 9.4
Service - 9.1
Value - 9.9
Quality - 9.6
Atmosphere - 8.6
Total - 9.3