Old Town / New Delhi
Someone famously said that the past is a foreign country and I feel the same way about South London. But the promise of exotic cocktails, and light healthy tapas-style Indian dishes, make me cross the river to Clapham for a meal at Zumbara. Head chef is Raju Rawat who trained at one of India’s finest five star hotels, The Oberoi in New Delhi, and since has worked at Benares, the Cinnamon Club and Bombay Bicycle Club.
It’s a chic and stylish place, reflecting the owners’ previous history of founding Dwell, the contemporary furniture retailer. They cram the tables in and it’s dominated by a long curved bar where they prepare those cocktails. Of course it would be rude not to try one so I start with a Zumbara Martini and my partner goes for Cucumori Chilli. He gulps the combination of Hendricks Gin, St Germaine, cucumber, coriander and chilli and pronounces that it delivers a kick. My martini exudes citron as it’s laced with fresh Pomelo and lemon so is delightfully refreshing.
Now to the food. The menu divides itself into categories: small plates, braised and stews, grill and roast, fish and vegetables but mercifully limits each to a handful of dishes. You won’t find Lamb Vindaloo or Chicken Tikka Marsala here and it’s obvious that this is not your standard Indian when they plonk down their pickles – tamarind dip and coriander chutney with raw carrot and diced salad, all freshly made, and no mango chutney in sight. The dishes hail from the Purab region of North India but, as you’d expect in Clapham, all have a contemporary twist and they’re designed for sharing.
The spiced mincemeat filling in the Patties is slightly bland but the flaky puff pastry crumbles in your mouth. Better are the Pakoras, crisp spinach and onion fritters, crunchy and light, the chick pea flour binding them together, without any trace of oil. From the braised and stew section we go for Kullia, chunks of lamb on the bone, slow cooked with turnip, and this is definitely a winner. The meat is tender, spices are subtle and the vegetable soft, yet not falling apart.
The dishes keep on coming and we hit a bottleneck as the table is not big enough to hold them all. We send some back whilst we tuck into the Tallee Machli, Pollock fillets in dry spices, coated in an almost Japanese tempura batter, light as a feather. Slightly out of order, we’re back to meat with Sikkiwe Chops, lamb twice marinated in herbs, small but bitingly tender, the spices whispering in a low undertone.
Vegetables are the stars here – the Bhindi, braised chopped okra, is slightly undercooked but all the better for it and I love the Karela, bitter gourd with lentils, a fascinating combination. Of course we have some steamed rice and only the Chappatis disappoint – they’re slightly leathery and I suspect they’ve been reheated. Moving on to dessert, we share Kheer, rice pudding with cardamom and Gajja Ka Halwa, warm creamed carrot pudding. They’re both not oversweet and served in small bowls, so we don’t feel too stuffed.
If you’re after red hot curries, that blow your head off, then Zumbura is not for you. If your palate is more refined, and are going for flavour rather than fire, then this food fits the bill. Portions are small, but enough to fill you up, and the sharing concept means you get to taste the full range of the diverse menu. Even better, prices are reasonable, each dish from £4 to £8, and house wine priced at £17.50. It certainly seems to please the good folk of Clapham Old Town as the restaurant is packed on the night I visit. You never know, it may tempt me to venture south of the river on a future occasion…it’s that good.