In this age of setbacks, corruption and fast-tracks that allow pubs to seemingly sell PPE, I think I need to start this review with a bit of transparency. The owner of Farzi Café, Zorawar Kalra, is an acquaintance of mine, and before they opened in London, I did a whirlwind tour of India sampling Farzis (and some of their many sister restaurants) for a feature.
The word “farzi” has many definitions, from fake to fabulous, but in the realm of the concept of Farzi Café – “the farzifier” or the reinvention of classic Indian dishes – it is definitely the latest. And yes, I understand the eye roll that probably met a lot of that last line, from the “concept” to using the restaurant name as a verb. Believe me, I was there with you on the cynicism, doubly so when Farzi London opened, and the chicken tikka masala arrived in a tiny red phone booth, and the menu was strewn with “takes” on the egg Scotch and shepherd’s pie. And then I ate there…and, like its Indian counterparts, it became easy to overlook the occasional quirky presentation as the food was fantastic.
There is a very good reason for this. Zorawar is the son of the late Jiggs Kalra, a man known as the “Indian Food Czar” because what Jiggs didn’t know about Indian food could probably have been written on a grain of rice. Zorawar explained to me that even though he told his chefs that they could play with a dish as much as they wanted, deconstruct it to the nth degree, do with it whatever they wanted…but the end result still had to to taste his father’s recipe. And, therefore, the food was sometimes crazy but, ultimately, delicious.
Set menus and a decent crowd
It’s been a few years now and, especially after the pandemic, I’ve been intrigued to see how Cafe Farzi had succeeded. Whilst the menu is a bit pared down – the Anglo/British dishes are gone, I didn’t see a CTM stuffed miniature phone box – I was pleased to see the place was absolutely packed on a fairly standard Tuesday night . Part of that reason seems to be their understanding of pre-theater marketing – very sensible when you’re next to Only Fools and Horses The Musical at the Theater Royal Haymarket and directly opposite The Phantom of the Opera at Her Majesty’s Theater – but, even as the curtains went up, there was a decent crowd still present, and more were arriving.
As always, the a la carte menu can be a bit pricey – several dishes are over the £30 mark – but: a) there’s no questioning the quality of the ingredients used; and b) there are a few fixed menus that will leave you well fed and not necessarily exposed. As we tour, doggy bag in hand, very satisfied and with enough leftovers for another meal, the silver menu seems like a very smart way to spend £49pp.
Among the small plates, the zaffrani murg tikka (with its promise of masala dick scratches to please anyone with a schoolboy sense of humor) is excellent, ditto the sautéed Manglorian rava prawns, with its excellent smoked tomato chutney and pickled radish. However, I will always have a soft spot for Farzi’s dal chawal arancini, a papad take on the Italian classic, after watching Zorawar for their presence on the menu. He just smiled and pointed out that India was a culture that had leftover rice. Well yeah, when you say it like that…
Brilliant with ghee…
Main courses follow a similar vein of good ingredients, perfect cooking, and unapologetic spice, the latter of which suggests Jiggs’ influence still holds true. With dishes such as tandoori paneer and mushroom butter masala, double butter dal makhni and ghee glistening nans, you might not want to invite your doctor (or, indeed, visit the night before). ‘an annual review), but damn it, it’s worth a few days of moderation, doubly so in the case of the Vindaloo of Garlic and Vinegar Lamb Shank.
The desserts are decent, Farzi’s cocktail program remains impressive, the wine list is solid (and starts at £29, which isn’t bad for these regions) and the whisk(e)y collection is also worth a look. detour.
For Zorawar’s sake, but especially for London’s sake, I’m glad Farzi made it to the other side.
Farzi Cafe, 8 Haymarket, London SW1Y 4BP; farzilondon.com