Indian restaurant promoted to 1 Michelin star in 2020 guide
Opheem (meaning opium in Hindi) is the brainchild of Executive chef Aktar Islam, formerly of Lasan which won Gordon Ramsay’s F-Word competition in 2010. Opheem was opened in late 2018 and gained a Michelin star in 2020. The menu is innovative Indian food and this lunch of mine proved to be rammed with a selection of fun dishes. The decor is beautifully done and the lunch menu with no drinks came to £46 which, for the a la carte and what turned out to be 7 courses at this level, I thought was very good value. Just by looking at the canapes and petit fours, one can tell the amount of effort going into the menu and bar the pace of the meal, I was very pleased with this meal in a venue that clearly deserves its new, shiny star.
The lunch menu is offered as 2 courses for £30 or 3 courses for £35, with a 5-course tasting menu at £60 and 7-course tasting menu at £70. Canapes arrived with a selection of three. A savoury cookie of strawberry with toasted sesame and madras was fatty with lovely toasted seeds and delicate strawberry. A potato and tandoori cod roe bite with caviar, chive, garlic flower and garam masala, hint of mustard had a superb fragrance with an element of heat. Then a cube of cucumber with chaat masala had a very good balance of heat and cool from the cucumber. Quality openers.
Then a chicken thigh on a skewer came with crispy rice, coriander, chaat masala tandoori paste. This was fine, not bursting with chicken flavour and a little dry for thigh, but a pleasing offering. The next course was a North Indian variant of pav bread which was a lamb fat brioche with cumin sauce inside with sliced shallots and cumin, to dip into a chive oil on side lamb soup. The bread had a decadent and creamy, savoury interior and sticky top which was washed down very well by the spicier lamb curry soup. A pleasant and original way to have bread for sure.
Softshell crab came from Vietnam where there are clement conditions to make crab abundant and of good flavour (rather like blue crab around the shores of Thailand. This came with a crabmeat quenelle, Granny Smith apple, crab meat kebab (bottom), raw mango salsa & lovely sweet tomato chutney. This had a very good mix of spices and mercifully no sludgy overdose of oil from the deep-fry. The kebab crab was strong and the mix of spices from the chaat masala, acidity from the apple matchsticks, crunch from the crab itself and the sweet from the mango made for a very well-orchestrated plate. I can see how the judges of the Great British Menu made this a finals and winning dish.
A palate cleanser of Hibiscus sorbet with lemon verbena and micro mint herbs poached in nitrogen was wonderfully refreshing. Normally I don’t prescribe to dishes that are too floral but this was cold (definitely), aromatic without being sickly and generally welcome.
My main chosen was the ‘day boat catch’, a take on dishes commonly found in Kerala (South Indian state) and in this case was a decent cut of cod. This was served on a portion of spinach, onion & cabbage with spring onion on top, cooked well and with fair flavour. The langoustine that had been barbequed sat on sea beet and both came with a sensational Alleppey sauce using raw mango, coriander leaf, garlic, onion and coconut – this sauce alone renewed my resolve to visit Kerala as soon as possible, but this was a very good dish all-round in its simplicity and plain good cookery. I opted for a honey and almond naan that had good texture and basmati rice that had reasonable length, were equally fluffy and actually had a very good crunch of sweet onion as an additional nice touch.
My dessert was gulab jamun, a traditional solid milk dessert (milk with a binding agent, butter and sugar that has been deep-fried) was pleasing and came with a mandarin gel and milk sorbet. The latter was more sour than expected and although not hugely pleasant on its own, it was handy at counter-acting the sticky sweetness of the other components as was its point. An experimental dessert was provided of chocolate ganache (70% cocoa) with a blood orange sorbet, orange gel and sweet potato doughnut. The chocolate seemed to have quite a hard texture for most ganaches and also seemed to dominate the rest of the pretty add ons and perhaps the quenelle of sorbet could have been larger here, or with chocolate that was toned down a little. It was ok in general and as an experimental dish I have excluded from the overall grade of this meal.
Finally, an impressive parade of petit fours were produced including dolce de leche salted fudge, a yuzu pate de fruit (essentially a sugar-coated gel), Verona white chocolate mousse tart and a raspberry macaron. Obvious care had been taken into these and these summed up the detail that is laid on at this restaurant. The only point I would alert diners to is that if you wish to have a relatively swift lunch, I would not plan on that for an outing here. This is not necessarily a bad thing and I am probably spoilt from the metropolis of London catering for this in numerous places, but you need to set at least 2 hours aside for the smallest lunch menu as a friendly heads up and this will make sure you don’t miss any onward appointments.
Having said that, this was a cracking Indian meal with a menu showcasing modern twists from Punjab, Lucknow, Kerala, Turkey and Bengal, so a healthy spread of the region. Aktar Islam was not present on my day of visiting, but his head chef Neil Withers was doing a fine job in his stead during my visit. I would definitely recommend giving Opheem a try if you enjoy Indian food.
Food Grade: 81%
Location (Click google logo for directions)