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December 24, 2018

Pure Indian review: Chef Shilpa Dandekar shines in Putney, just don’t call it curry

By David Dawkins

Spear’s self-appointed curry correspondent heads to Pure Indian in SW6 to taste chef Shilpa Dandekar’s ‘profoundly aquatic’ Seafood Moliee

Chef Shilpa Dandekar is an outstanding chef just don’t call her wonderful food ‘curry’. ‘I don’t want people to think of me as a “curry chef”,’ she tells Spear’s, bristling at the association after dinner on a rainy day at Pure Indian, just around the corner from Putney Bridge station.

Dandekar’s rather modest but polished destination looks, from the outside at least, much like any other traditional suburban Indian restaurant. The clientele is typical – a group of Indian businessmen on one table, middle-aged work colleagues celebrating a retirement at another. At the table next to me two gentlemen with Tyneside accents thank the staff, revealing, as they gather their coats, that they were served the wrong food (lamb not chicken) but enjoyed it anyway. You can take the curry out of the Indian, but you can’t take the Briton out the slightly awkward hospitality encounter.

I’ve been to Pure Indian twice over the last few months. First-time highlights included traditional rich lava of Khade Masale Ka Ghosht, described as slow-cooked lamb on the bone with whole spices, brown onion, brown garlic and chilli flakes. The Daal Makhani  is a highlight as a dipping sauce for my (lighter than usual) garlic bread. (Regular readers will know that garlic bread is a matter of deep importance for Spear’s: Matsya still tops the garlic bread charts, Pure Indian is Champions League). Back to the Daal Makhani – whole black urad pulse slow-cooked overnight and flavored with black cardamom, dry fenugreek leaves and tomato concasse is a particular highlight, while the Gobi Mutter – cauliflower and green peas cooked in tomatoes, fresh and roasted ground coriander and cumin seeds – brought colour and crunch to the table. Wonderful deep dishes – although to the collected great and good in the the UK, definitely a curry.

The second time around I felt Iike Spear’s hadn’t quite done justice to the seafood on the menu. ‘Profoundly aquatic?’ my friend asks with a faux North-Norfolk twang, upon invitation. This time we go for the steamed mussels, in a rich turmeric coloured sauce. The coconut carries the flavour with chilli, coriander, big lumps of ginger. ‘No garlic?’ My friend exclaims. ‘How very Brexit’ he adds.

The Seafood Moliee is a similar feast with seabass, clams, mussels and shrimps with a hint of tomato alongside the coconut sauce. Outstanding, yes, but I should have gone for my guest’s Halibut fish curry, or the Crab kokum fry – devon crab claw meat with ginger, chilli and pink kokum. At £13-£15 for a main it’s damn good value, and it’s this collision between British seafood and Dandekar’s experience, expertise and intent really sets Pure Indian apart from both the ‘curry’ restaurants – association with which they’re so keen to avoid – and the upper-tier of restaurants in central London with which the food is obviously comparable. Presumably, Putney (or Fulham according to the restaurant’s own marketing materials) rather than Mayfair, for example, keeps the costs down and the quality high. It’s no surprise, Dandekar has worked as sous chef at the Michelin-starred Quilon, and head chef at London’s first Brasserie Blanc, under Raymond Blanc. The serious pedigree to her cooking makes Pure Indian a genuine destination restaurant. Dandekar is every bit a top London chef in the making.

Pure Indian –

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