The capital is awash with brilliant Indian restaurants, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for one more – as this latest Mayfair opening from hospitality hitmakers JKS and chef Chet Sharma proves. Designed to resemble a mock-Rajasthani train carriage, with gleaming wood panels and checkerboard floors, the elegant dining rooms draws you in before you’ve even had a chance to try the food – which is, of course, the star of the show here. For bold, punchy flavours and a subversive take on Indian cuisine, Bibi is our London restaurant review of the week.
Mayfair newcomer Bibi resembles a splendidly appointed first-class train carriage, all panelled walls, polished mirrors and paisley upholstery. Only the 90s hip hop betrays the fact there are young chefs in the house. It’s a far cry from the laboratory conditions of the Oxford physics department where Chet Sharma, Bibi’s chef patron, earned his doctorate before swapping lab coat for chef’s whites. His debut restaurant, a partnership with JKS Restaurants (Gymkhana, Lyle’s etc), is a tribute to his grandmothers, his ‘bibis’ (Urdu for ‘lady of the house’).
Observing Sharma at the pass (13 of the 33 seats are at the kitchen counter), one can see the focus and precision of the scientist he was and the obsession with ingredients of the chef he now is. It’s this preoccupation with provenance, drilled into him at Mugaritz, the Ledbury, Moor Hall, that separates Bibi from the pack. How many Indian restaurants do you know that print the menu daily? Consider the sweetcorn kurkure, fiery lacy fritters, spiked with yellow chilli and corn husk mayo: Sharma could make them year-round but he won’t. They’ll return next year when the corn’s at its sweetest and juiciest again, redolent of the summer sun’s last rays. It’s a hard act to follow, and the next dish, a tartare-esque beef pepper fry, one of the more expensive plates at just £14, pales in comparison. I want the taste of fermented Tellicherry pepper but get mainly salt.
The kitchen returns to form with traditional minced chicken seekh from the sigree grill; a perfect square of springy, milky paneer and a super-cute, saffron kulfi mini ‘Magnum’. The cooking is cool and contemporary but any ‘bibi’ would recognise the flavours as typically Indian.
Speaking of bibis, if you’re thinking of taking yours, do request a table. The counter seating’s hip but too high for an older/stiffer/shorter person’s comfort. No Mayfair matriarch should have to suffer for her supper.