Dinner in a fire station - a review of Atul Kochhar's newest restaurant in Westminster; Mathura
Atul Kochhar was the first chef to win a Michelin star for his Indian fusion fine dining, putting together Indian flavours with British ingredients. Now holding two Michelin stars he's a culinary force to be admired. We've been fans for quite a while. We've taken part in fund raising for a charity that he was patron of, and have met him a couple of times as a consequence. He's always passionate about the causes he supports and a very likable person.
I was looking for somewhere a little special to celebrate my father's 94th birthday when an email arrived reminding me that Atul has recently opened a new restaurant in the old fire station in Westminster. With the children's nursery rhyme running through my head in an annoying ear-worm way, I booked us a table.
If you've never heard it, it's basically 3 rounds of the same verse:
London's burning, London's burning.
Fetch the engines, fetch the engines.
Fire fire, Fire Fire!
Pour on water, pour on water.
No prizes for guessing this one! ‘London’s Burning’ is clearly about a fire raging through the capital. Some historians disagree, but it's often thought to be about the largest blaze in the city's history – the Great Fire of London. The Great Fire took place in 1666. Back then, London didn't have a fire brigade, but there was still some equipment to fight it with. Believe it or not, there were ‘fire engines’ (barrels on wheels) and ‘fire squirts’, which were essentially giant syringes! We'd recently visited the Museum of London where one of the galleries is dedicated to the Great Fire of London, so it all seemed to come together beautifully.
Instead of hiding the history of the building, it's been embraced and celebrated. Inside the grade 2 listed building the original fireman's pole is still in place and you enter through where the fire engines were housed. The tables are nicely spaced, the colour scheme opulent yet relaxing, and the ambience was relaxed.
The restaurant comprises four rooms: The Watch Room, “one of the only standing Watch room’s left in the world”; the Kushan Dynasty Room with iconic heritage-listed tiles from 1906 when the fire station was built; the Chef’s Table with views into the kitchen; and the 90-cover dining room, which features an open kitchen. We visited on Tuesday evening in January, the ground floor restaurant looked to be pretty full, but it was unsurprising that the lower floor was empty.
We were seated at a lovely round table and started the celebrations with a glass of Buck's Fizz (Mimosa) made with mango juice whilst we shared a basket of poppadums.
We'd chosen a 5 course tasting menu which was an excellent way for the head chef, Shishir Sinha, to showcase his skills and for us to try lots of dishes. Specifically described as an Indian and Asian restaurant, Mathura incorporates influences from nine additional countries, including China, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Myanmar, and Sri Lanka.
Our courses were:
An Amuse bouche - we can't remember what it was called, but it was delicious!
Pan-fried Sea Bass, mustard with an apple, mint & chilli chutney. Perfectly cooked with that hard-to-achieve crispy skin this set the standard for the rest of the courses.
Lehsuni King Prawn: Scottish grilled garlic king prawn served with pickled onions as a contrast to the soft smoky flesh of the prawn (this was my favourite course)
Lotus Stem, walnut & okra chaat. This was delicate and unusual, as well as pretty.
Grilled lamb chop and kebab, this was the heartiest of the courses and was accompanied by garlic naan bread, basmati rice, and a Mathura signature Dal Bukhara, an Afghani 36 hour slow-cooked black lentil and kidney beans (utterly delicious).
Finally we finished with an ultra rich chocolate bombe with a chocolate disk on top. This defeated me, but everyone else cleared their plates!
I have to say that the waiting staff were professional, friendly, knowledgeable, and nothing was too much trouble. They even sang happy birthday to my father at the end of the meal, which was rather sweet, and the Head Chef Shishir Sinha came out from the kitchen to pass on his best wishes too. This is fine-dining, (look at all that cutlery), but it's not stuffy.
At £49.50 a head, the 5 course tasting menu is rather a bargain for this quality of food; booking via Open Table.
There's also an offer on at present via Hot Dinners where you can get 50% off the a la carte menu until 18th February 2022. (Not valid 11-14 February). Book on-line quoting Hot Dinners in the special requests box.
Mathura can be found at 4 Greycoat Place, London, SW1P 1SB.
0204 549 1906