I ate here midweek whilst staying in the hotel. I have walked past the entrance many times since it opened and have been meaning to try it out, as an alternative to my usual choice of the main restaurant Trunk.
Based upon the combination of the reviews on here and the hotel's enthusiasm for its latest eaterie, I decided to try it out.
Annayu is an Indian restaurant that wants you to delearn everything you know - or think you know - about Indian cuisine. For most people, an Indian restaurant is where you end up on a Saturday night with your mates, to eat an overwhelmingly hot curry as a drunken demonstration of alpha male behaviour and to drink copious pints of lager. This is the stereotype that Annayu aims to break down and instead present you with a completely different view of Indian cooking.
It describes itself as 'progressive', although that did make me half expect Rick Wakeman on keyboards and Peter Gabriel dressed as a flower (you have to be a certain age to remember that kind of 'prog'). The restaurant's genesis is in progressive, contemporary Indian cuisine; the movement started by Atul Kocchar's Benares and developed by restaurants such as Tamarind and Lasan. This style of cooking relies upon the use of non-traditional ingredients, more authentic Indian dishes and the delicate use of spices to flavour food, rather than offer the ubiquitous menu of curries ranked solely by their temperature.
The menu is quite short, much shorter than the usual expectation for an Indian, with about a half dozen each starter, tandoor and curry dishes. There is also a dedicated selection of vegetarian dishes that is good to see on offer. The ingredients highlighted for many of the dishes contain several pleasant surprises and showcase the importance of spices.
I had the lamb boti kebab for starter, followed by chicken methi and jeera pulao with a mint lachcha paratha and aubergine raita.
The starter was excellent, combining different textures for the lamb as well as tastes with the tandoor flavouring and homemade masala. The portion size was very generous for a starter. The main was equally good, with complex yet delicate spices giving a very light, fresh taste followed by just the right amount of heat that lingered wonderfully. The mint paratha was fantastic; crisp and not oily. The aubergine raita was silky and dense. Again, the portion sizes were more than generous.
Dessert was bhappa doi, a traditional dessert made from steamed yogurt with cardoman, topped with fruit compote. I picked both the starter and dessert on the advice on my server and was very glad I did, especially for this dessert. It was fresh and a great palate cleanser after the curry but with sweetness from the fruit mixing with cardoman. A new discovery for me that I would certainly seek out again.
Service throughout from my server Christina was professional, friendly and attentive. The restaurant manager Bhavesh was welcoming upon arrival and came across several times to see how I was enjoying my meal. The executive chef Madhu even came out from the kitchen to see what I thought and also to offer an amuse bouche before the starter. Yes, that's right, an amuse bouche being served in an Indian - be prepared to change your perceptions of Indian cuisine! Both Madhu and Bhavesh then worked the room, talking to different diners - when was the last time you were in an Indian restaurant and the chef came out to talk to you?!
There was lots of enthusiasm and passion on show here, particularly from the staff as mentioned above. It felt like this was their own restaurant that they had just opened and they really wanted to offer diners the best experience they could.
With my Concierge membership discount, my bill - with a pint of lager and couple of cokes - came to just under £50. This is the same amount as I would have spent in Trunk. In my most recent review of Trunk on here, I suggested that Trunk was trying to please three distinct groups, one of which was the fine dining group, many of whom may not be resident in the hotel. Trunk isn't always successful at this, principally because of the location of the bar in the centre of the restaurant that fills up with hateful conference delegates in their comedy golf polo shirts, pointy clown shoes, Bluetooth headsets and BMW 1-series key fobs (if you are such a good salesman for your company, how come you only have a 114i....you muppet), all glued to the golf or footie on the large TV screens. Not my preferred ambience for £50/head dining.
Annayu is the antidote to this scenario. There are no TVs showing sport and the room has a much more sophisticated and calm feel to it. You feel somewhat more pampered as well as able to relax. The chairs are so much more comfortable than in Trunk and the space has a much more open feel to it, compared to Trunk's darker colour palette. It also costs about the same as Trunk and the portion sizes are much more generous.
Management consultant Tom Kelley said (when talking of business innovation) that one shouldn't aim for perfection but rather authenticity. Annayu seems to be following the maxim, in that it is offering a very authentic Indian dining experience. This is borne out by the number of Indian guests who have left positive reviews already, about the real quality of the food.
A couple of observations in respect of potential improvement;
- the glass tables don't mix well with the starters being served on slate, as the juices and sauces spill over onto the table. Trying then to clear it between courses with those crumb cleaners (that look like a pencil) is futile, as it's mainly liquid. Resorting to using industrial cleaning paper is then overkill and results in just a smeary mess on the glass. Go straight for a wet cloth and possibly some cleaning spray. Or start using plates with raised edges.
- with the generosity of the food portions, serving 250ml mini bottles of coke at £2.75 seems a little stingy and certain over-expensive. What's wrong with 330ml classic contour bottles? Especially when the vending machine by the lifts will retail you a 500ml bottle for £2.
One hopes that Annayu will do very well, as it is trying to offer something innovative and thusfar it certainly is succeeding. I would imagine that it is marketing itself as a standalone brand to non-hotel residents and in this respect, it is definitely worth a visit if you live in the local community and want to try an authentic Indian restaurant.
It would be too bold a statement to predicate that Annayu wants to turn Indian cuisine on its head. It does however succeed in changing your preconceptions about what an Indian restaurant 'has' to be and it presents the country's cuisine in a whole new light. If you come here with an open mind and a desire to try new things, you won't be disappointed. In fact you may well be very impressed.
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