I’m slightly short of breath. Sweat is beading at my temples and upper lip. I’m flushed. Is it the slow, creeping heat of the butter garlic crab? Or is it the dreamy duo responsible for Kricket, sitting in a booth meters behind me, guarding my phone as it charges? A quick sweep of the menu – I’m having a difficult time making a choice. A stolen glance behind me – I’m having a difficult time making a choice. How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
Rik Campbell and Will Bowlby, heading up front of house and kitchen respectively, met at Newcastle University. Thankfully though, they aren’t churning out the meal deal curries of your uni days. Forget stringy chicken drowning in the beige sludge of a korma and mannequins draped in saris waving coyly from the windows, their restaurant concept at Kricket is crafted as artfully as their hairstyles. It may not be authentic, but, really, who needs authenticity when the owners are so dishy? Sorry, I mean when the dishes are so delicious.
Hip, but not glaringly so. Welcoming without being overbearing. Almost familiar, but surely you’d remember a face, ahem a space, like that. Playing little spoon to both Shaftesbury Avenue and Regent Street, Kricket is tucked away snugly on Denman Street. Its interior, dreamed up by the design company Run For The Hills, borrows from many other London restaurants with burnished metal accents, colourful tiles set against exposed brick and a serpentine bar running through the ground floor dining room. Rather than feeling trite, however, these details are born anew when coupled with rosy bar stools, rattan-backed booths and glowing lightbulbs suspended like uvulas within the throats of wire cages. Cavernous loos practically implore a mid-meal romp; hunger is not the only carnal desire, after all.
Desperation must be palpable, as the bartender, recognizing I am thirsty AF, begins a happy recitation of dizzying cocktails. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. But #blessed are those who thirst for a stiff drink at Kricket. The Yellow Fairy, a reimagined sour with turmeric and absinthe, and the Anar Dana, with tequila and rosewater, restore faith and fortitude as divinely as holy water. Not sweet on cocktails? The Wild Beer Co. sour white beer goes down a treat as well, and the Vinho Verde is a crisp foil for the rich spice of most of the dishes.
My heart is beating faster than normal. Love-sickened and fear-stricken, I wonder whether two distinctly British restauranteurs with little connection to India beyond Bowlby’s gastronomic gap year (he worked as a chef in a European restaurant in Mumbai, where he won best new European restaurant) can truly translate Indian flavours for European palates. After all, the Brits tried to colonise the sub-continent once, and we all remember how well that turned out.
Luckily most everything is, if not exquisite, at least exciting. Flavours are nuanced and textures are balanced. Four choices in each of four sections – breads and rice, vegetables, fish, and meat – are as varied and vibrant as a Delhi street. Because two is company and three a crowd, dine as a pair and select a duo of dishes from each section.
The bone marrow and cep kulcha is the platonic ideal of an Indian flatbread, tracing marrow like henna delicately drawn around the hands and wrists. The caramelised onion pilau is just the vehicle for the delica pumpkin’s commute from plate to mouth, chauffeuring crumbles of homemade paneer bathed in sauce reminiscent of butter chicken. The mellow salinity of the samphire pakoras has you scooping them up by the handful and ordering more, wondering why you’d never had sea vegetables fried in gram flour before. Once the heat of the butter garlic crab does hit you, you’re struck by its bellicosity. While it’s easily remedied with a nibble of Malabar paratha and a slug of your chaitini, a tempering of the heat would be a preferable solution. The curry leaf mayonnaise that accompanies the KFC – Keralan Fried Chicken – is punchy and enigmatic, but the chicken itself may have you reaching for that old red bucket. With a slimmer coat and a bit more salt, it could be really wonderful.
As I come to the close of my meal, I want to kiss the chef – to chef’s kiss, rather – as the meal edges dangerously near perfection. I gather my things and realise that perhaps my affection is not returned, but I am tough (though perhaps not as tough as the crust on the jaggery treacle tart) and know that I shall persevere. I leave knowing that after this review, I cannot return to Kricket. For no matter how good the food may have been, nothing tastes as bitter as unrequited love.
Monday to Saturday 12:00pm – 2:30pm,
5:30pm – 10:30pm. Sunday closed.