As I climb the steps of the Montcalm Hotel, tucked away in affluent Marylebone and just a stone’s throw from Marble Arch Tube Station, I’m excited to see what Nirvana Kitchen has to offer. It’s easy to overlook a hotel restaurant, but after checking out the delicious Asian fusion cuisine, I was happy to dispel any preconceptions.
Coming in from the cold, I was greeted by a warm restaurant reception and an even warmer host – so far, so good. There was a gentle hum of chatter and tinkling of music – a far cry from the quiet hotel restaurant you might typically imagine. I must confess, I’m a people watcher and the location of my table can hugely affect my enjoyment, so I was a happy customer as I nestled myself in the corner looking out at the diners.
Nirvana’s menu is ‘Asian fusion’ – so, what does this mean? It covers regions from the Indian Ocean all the way to the far east – usually all in one dish – and I wondered whether this would work or be a plate of confusing flavours.
We selected 2 small dishes to start. First up was a duck and watermelon salad. Rather than the duck being cooked rare and thinly sliced as seems to be the norm, it was shredded into large chunks, almost Peking style, with an incredible crispy skin and a hint of cinnamon. This, mixed with clean watermelon, mandarin, cashews and fresh mint, created an explosion of Asian flavours, sticky, sweet and hugely gratifying to eat. I need this recipe for myself!
We also chose the black cod served with a zingy Thai som tam dip, which had a real warming spice. The black cod was melt-in-the-mouth delicious, however I would have liked slightly more than the 3 small pieces, particularly as my dining partner was expecting half. As a result, the accompanying dip may stick in my memory more. That’s not to say I wouldn’t order it again – I just won’t share it next time.
For our mains we had a choice of charcoal dishes with a good balance of fish, meat and vegetarian options. There were also tasty pots containing fabulous-sounding curries which were difficult to choose from. From the charcoal we decided on the beef bulgogi – a Nirvana specialty – and from the pots we opted for the lamb massaman.
The bulgogi was a beautiful display of colour. Soft, pink beef, bright orange carrots and spice-infused purple potatoes. The beef was sat in a sweet and salty soy-style sauce, which provided the perfect dip. The beef was soft, with minimal chewing necessary – and that’s always a bonus in my book! The carrots which were infused with Indian spices added a real crunch while the potato, though definitely not offensive and providing a wonderful aesthetic to the plate, sadly faded to the background when compared to the other items.
The massaman offered plenty of coconut-infused sauce, which is always a positive, particularly when you can soak it up with fragrant rice and my personal favourite, roti canai. I’m obsessed with this side since my visit to Malaysia – and I’m very picky when it comes to its texture. But this was crispy on the outside and deliciously fluffy on the inside. The curry itself was the creamiest I think I’ve ever eaten. You can often sacrifice flavour for a creamy texture, but there was no need to worry here. The sauce-covered lamb tasted like it has been cooked for hours, falling apart instantly in my mouth.
Our meal was washed down with a cold bottle of sauvignon blanc, which helped cut through the velvety curry and complement the spiced beef.
Personally, desserts always seem like an afterthought when it comes to Asian cuisine, but Nirvana has incorporated plenty of native influences. Our choice of mochi was hugely satisfying to eat with a chewy rice casing filled with mango, salted caramel and yuzu and coconut ice cream. And the lychee sake provided the perfect accompaniment. We also had a white chocolate and berry mousse, with orange sauce, honeycomb and chocolate crumb – not particularly in-keeping perhaps, but tasty and beautifully presented nonetheless.
The dictionary defines nirvana as “an ideal or idyllic state or place.” That’s a lot for this restaurant to live up to, but take the time to appreciate the flavoursome, well thought-out food on offer, and you’ll find that it certainly doesn’t disappoint.
61 Upper Berkeley Street, Marylebone, London, W1H 7PP