Fitzrovia’s Pahli Hill restaurant offers regional Indian cooking straight from the kitchens of Mumbai.
My son is navigating some tough projects at 6th Form at the moment, so I recently decide a bit of mum-son time is in order, and as is always the way, bribery is required to persuade him to spend time with me. This offering comes in the form of a meal out at Pahli Hill in Fitzrovia. We are both fans of Indian food, but this is usually eaten as a takeaway in front of a film at home, so it’s quite the treat for both of us.
Pahli Hill offers regional Indian plates, inspired by home cooking straight from the kitchens of Mumbai. The menu brings together regional flavours and ingredients sourced from local and high-quality suppliers, combining chef Avinash Shashidhara’s classical training along with inspiration from his upbringing in Bangalore, for dishes that are comforting and packed with flavour.
Pahli Hill was almost a victim of the recent pandemic, but hung in there and is now a firm Fitzrovia favourite after glowing critic reviews. Taking its name from one of Mumbai’s oldest neighbourhoods, Pahli Hill is an area particularly well known for its apartment ‘building societies’. These are old residential blocks that are filled with people from all over the Indian subcontinent. As a result, their kitchens become a melting pot of regional flavours and culinary traditions, with residents sharing food with their neighbours. It is this idea of a diverse food culture, with an environment of sharing and community at its heart, that is reflected in the atmosphere, design, and menus at Pahli Hill.
The menu is small but we still can’t quite decide what to choose. My son wants to go off menu and order a chicken tikka masala, so I have to remind him that we’re not back on the sofa at home and it’s time to expand his horizons. While he mulls this over we order some khakhra, Pahli Hill’s version of poppadoms, and it arrives crispy, thin, hot and spicy. It’s so good we devour it and instantly order another portion. While we await our starters we look around, on the night we visit it’s been raining, and the restaurant feels particularly cosy and welcoming. Orange leather banquette seating, rattan style benches and dividers give a warm, comfortable feel, while quirky cartoons and photo montage artwork offer up a cool, modern vibe. An open kitchen means we can see the chefs at work preparing our next course.
We do manage to include a chicken tikka dish, and it’s the best I’ve ever eaten; succulent, perfectly spicy thigh meat that I could have ordered over and over again. We also order an enormous pile of hot, crispy, tender squid served with a sweet chilli dip. We’re starting to fill up, unsurprisingly, but then out come the mains. Lamb biriyani; slow cooked, tender lamb pieces in a lightly spicy rice with yoghurt dip, is comfort on a plate. The lamb cutlets are chargrilled, tasty and tender too. A must-order is the flaky flatbread, which we liberally tear pieces off. Messy and delicious, I’m not sure whether I’ve eaten it or am wearing it by the end of the course.
When I spot Alphonso mango cheesecake is an option for dessert, it’s a no-brainer. With such a short harvest season, it’s not on the menu for long, and it’s fresh, juicy, creamy and lovely. We learn from the friendly waiting team that in spring 2023, Head Chef Avinash appeared on BBC’s Great British Menu, becoming a finalist representing London and the South East and going on to win the starter course at the final banquet. We’re not surprised, and if we had any awards to offer, they would definitely be given out after this meal. Unusual flavour combinations, quality ingredients and a warm and welcoming vibe, it’s a gem in the heart of Fitzrovia.
79-81, Mortimer Street, London, England, W1W | pahlihillbandrabhai.com