Stepping in from the freezing night into the cosy buzz of Chor Bizarre, our senses were overwhelmed. Warm spices added to the welcoming feel of this busy, somewhat chaotic-looking restaurant. Chor Bizarre means “thieves’ market” but equally described our initial reaction to the décor. Antique mirrors lined most of the walls, reflecting and multiplying the curious shelves wrapping the rooms. The furnishings were a mix of Indian bric-a-brac, sourced from all over the country by the wife of the managing director. (According to the fascinating menu you can take items home if you make a good enough offer). It also detailed every dish along with snippets of India’s culinary history. It’s a shame we were only given one between us, but poppadoms and chutneys managed to distract my partner while I commandeered it.
The wine list cleverly suggested two choices of wine for each main course, but we couldn’t cope with the waiter’s recommendation of the Maharaja thali so we hazarded our own guess at a Sancerre. We opted for al a carte, against our waiter’s preference (which was for us both to have the thali). Conceding, he did suggest (perhaps, insist), that I have the aloo tikka chaat starter and for that I am eternally grateful. Four beautifully arranged potato patties arrived, drizzled with swirls of yoghurt, a deep red tamarind sauce and mint chutney. The combination was at first sweet, then tangy and finally left a pleasant heat in your mouth. I struggled with the urge to lick the plate completely clean before it was swept away by a smiling waitress.
Then, we waited. And waited. Thankfully the wine and water were left on the table so we could fill our own glasses – the waiters wandering past us without a glance. Twenty minutes passed as we raved about my starter and surveyed our surroundings until finally our table was laden with the main courses and we were told that one of the chefs had had an accident in the kitchen – a quite acceptable excuse for the lack of interest in us. Shortly after that the chef himself came out to apologise and delivered his favourite dish: tandoori lamb chops, cooked to perfection – crisp and slightly charred, but juicy and succulent.
The Mahajara thali included a divinely buttery spinach and corn dish (palak makkai) and a Chor Bizarre version of chicken tikka masala (sharabi kababi), deserving of its position as signature dish. No dish was too spicy, but there was a definite kick to the lamb rogan josh. Each bowl offered up a completely different taste and texture experience, unlike so many Indian meals where every dish has the same taste. My tandoori salmon lived up to its description of “velvety morsels”, tasting smoky and delicately spiced. The aubergine in a mild Indian version of a satay curry was creamy and addictive.
When the mountain of empty plates had been cleared away, the dessert menu (presented on a wooden fan), was promptly waved in front of us. The waiter recommended three sweets and seemed happy with our choice of cottage cheese dumplings to share, but returned a couple of minutes later with the Indian rice pudding. Apparently the chef had insisted. The chef selected well: a cardamom scented mango soup, studded with tender rice, pistachios and almonds for bite. Accompanied by a superb mango lassi, which was tangy and refreshing - it was the perfect end to the meal.
A glance at the bookings list for the evening suggested that even mid-week you will need to plan in advance to eat at Chor Bizarre. If you aren’t bothered about the décor however, they cater for the overspill in their party room downstairs, or you could go for the takeaway option. Despite finishing almost everything and feeling achingly full, we still found ourselves envious of people just receiving their first course and still having the whole experience to go through. If they had brought out our first course again and told us we had to start over, we would willingly have complied.
Dinner for two with wine will set you back around £85.
Reviewer: Jennifer Earle