As part of the Marylebone Food Festival, Hankies Marble Arch at the Montcalm offered a demonstration of two of the most popular items on their menu - the bhindi bhel and spinach roomali stuffed with spiced feta, roasted tomato and homemade garlic herb oil.
This was a much smaller group than the other events that I attended during the Marylebone Food Festival, so it was easier to keep an eye on and listen to Chef-Founder Anirudh Arora.
Hankies first opened as Hankies Cafe on Shaftesbury Avenue. I had ordered home delivery from this location and found the flavours quite authentic, despite their unusual twists. So I was quite excited at the chance to view the Chef in action.
We were greeted by his wife Ishita as we entered the rather stylish looking restaurant. There is plenty of Indian work on display, from the stunning portrait at the entry to the beautiful crockery and glassware. All of it is very beautifully curated with an eye for detail without being in the least bit kitschy.
The name Hankies comes from the literal translation of their star dish - the Roomali/Rumali roti. Roomal in Hindi means a handkerchief. While the Chef's interpretation is that the name comes from the way that the bread is folded, I have heard another interpretation which says that the name comes from how thin the bread is - as fine as a linen handkerchief. No matter the etymology of the name, this is not an easy bread to make. Chef Anirudh said it took him a year of practice to be able to make this himself. I do not know of any households in India, that make roomali rotis at home. This is a bread best eaten at highway dhabhas or at restaurants that specialise in it.
Bhel Puri is a standard street food in India. The ingredients and flavour profile vary across the length and breadth of India. It does however contain a few basic ingredients, no matter where you eat it. Its the proportion of each flavour that varies. The base is the puffed rice and deep fried gram flour (roasted and powdered chickpeas) noodles. To this is added freshly chopped onions, tomatoes, green chillies and corriander (personally, I love bits of boiled potato and leave out the tomatoes). The twist here is that they add spiced, fried okra/bhindi to this mix.
Then comes the tamarind sauce and the coriander + mint sauce. All tossed up and sprinkled over with chaat masala powder. A final garnish or fresh pomegranate and nylon sev. A crispy confection, just beginning to get a bit soft with the addition of the sauces and wet ingredients. The flavour is an explosion of salty, spicy, sour and sweet.
Since the puffed rice mix and the chaat masala can be bought from most Indian stores, this is an easy dish to make at home.
The roomali roti however, is a completely different ball game. At Hankies, they flavour the dough with a bit of spinach water to give it the lovely green colour. Its a joy to watch the chefs in action, and if you visit this location, you will always get to see it for yourself as they have a live counter for the roomali rotis in the dining area.
The stuffing is a unique twist, because feta cheese isn't native to India. However, the salty smoothness of the feta, pairs well with the roomali roti and the herbs and spices are beautifully balanced in this stuffing. One stuffed roomali roti is quite filling and I suspect that 2 of these with a side of dhal will be a full meal.
I loved the food and will return soon. We often have guests who want to eat at Indian restaurants and Hankies has now made it to my very short list of authentic Indian food in London.
Rating : 4.5 / 5