A friend recently asked me that if I could only consume one nation’s cuisine for the rest of my life, which would it be. I gave it some thought and despite my love of a traditional British Sunday roast, I opted for the foods of the Indian subcontinent. From tandoori grilled marinated meats to my favourite staple ingredient of rice to crispy poppadums and all the naans, chaat, dahls, biryanis and more, the variety of dishes on offer throughout this vast region are plentiful and so utterly delicious.
On a recent visit to London, I was offered the opportunity to try out a new opening in St John’s Wood and so, of course, I jumped at the chance. Named Ritu for the six seasons that India experiences, the restaurant, which had been open for a month when I visited, incorporates the theme into its décor with gentle touches and also ensures the menu serves seasonal foods. Ritu pays homage to the ‘seasonal culinary art that adapts to the local produce. From forty-degree heat in high summer through to months of never-ending rain in Monsoon season, the land and the produce grown in India is ever-changing.’
And the website elaborates further on how this incorporates into the dining experience: “The rhythm, flow and transformation that these seasons bring to the natural landscape translate into everything from menu through to the décor. This dining experience is infused with distinctiveness and elegance.”
Close to Lord’s Cricket Ground and the famed Abbey Road crossing, this quiet part of the city offers a slower and more peaceful pace compared to the chaos of central London. Providing the perfect restaurant to escape to, Ritu offers outdoor seating for warmer, drier days and a stylish indoor setting with a bar area, and seating in three separate areas, each with their own varying styles that tastefully tie together.
I was seated in the lower section and as well as being suitably cool in temperature to combat the heat outside, the décor brought its own cool elements with mint green walls; teal, blue and grey velvet armchairs and banquet seating; dark wood flooring; plentiful plants; soft feature lighting; and dark grey and gold marble table tops to round off the elegant space.
Aside from sitting in a beautiful location, I was there to dine, and so I pored over the menu, which consisted of a good selection of starters, tandoor, curries, biryanis, rice, sides and bread as well as a vegan menu and tasting menu with a vegetarian option. Upon meeting the chef, who has an impressive CV working in some of the city’s top Indian restaurant kitchens, I happily agreed to accept a platter of starters, both vegetarian and meat filled.
As my dining partner and I waited (it wasn’t long), I sipped on a seasonal crush – a lip-smackingly good mocktail of mixed seasonal berries with passion fruit juice, cranberry juice and lychee juice – and nibbled on some delights from a papad tray.
The starter platters soon came, accompanied with a wonderfully crisp and tasty garlic and coriander naan, and consisted of salmon, chicken and lamb, and paneer, lotus stem chaat and a mushroom patty. All dishes were cooked to perfection with the chicken, lamb and salmon retaining plenty of moisture, making them utterly delectable, and all had just the right level of spice for us. Immediately my favourite from the veggie platter was the paneer, which was stuffed with sultanas and coconut, while the lamb proved to be a winner with its perfect spicing and plump meat. All elements showcased the range of quality ingredients and perfect preparation that goes into that dishes that Ritu serves up.
We chose our own main courses and I opted for the Kaffir malai prawns with a side of steamed rice, while my guest chose a monkfish curry with a side of grilled seasonal vegetables. My prawns were huge (three was just enough), plump, cooked perfectly to retain moisture and were utterly delectable with an earthy sauce to accompany. The monkfish curry packed a punch with its fragrant flavours but was expertly balanced with mango and chilli, making for winning dish.
For dessert we devoured a ras malai – milk pudding with saffron infused milk sauce – and a gulab jamun – a sweet and dense Indian doughnut with syrup, so sweet you could only have a small portion! Both provided a little taster and a sweet finale to a delightfully fulfilling meal.
In a nutshell
Ritu may be fairly new, but it certainly knows what it’s doing. Expect to find plenty of knowledge from friendly staff, a welcoming and elegant setting, a story that ties it all together and delightful foods to devour that will have you rebooking in no time.
All imagery credit: Posh Cockney