Does good food always equal good style?

Last night, we went out for dinner at a very swish Indian restaurant called Zaika occupying the premier position of No.1 High St Kensington. The food was awesome and I’m still full – cucumber raita wrapped in Indian smoked salmon; soft shelled crab with tamarind mayonnaise; duck breast in black lentil sauce; chocolate samosas…

I’d walked past this restaurant many times before, often oggling at the menu that, lets face it, had it not been a journalist-treat, I’d not normally be able to afford, and was really very excited to actually being seated inside. 
The building, from the outside, is grand, stately and imposing in that London-way which nods back to an era of top hats and carriages; a few polished stone steps leading up to a carved entrance and a heavy wooden door…
Inside, I was anticipating a sumptuous Indian grandeur, but with none of the gaudiness that “ethnic” inspired interiors can sometimes convey. But while the food was exceptional (except for the sea salt on my scallops), I was just a little let down  by the interiors-style that could have created an even more atmospheric night.
Don’t get me wrong – this place is a treat. The building used to be a bank, with intricate stone carvings around the huge windows, and high ceilings. Burnt orange drapes at the windows, and one small wooden chest, holding a few sparkly cushions. A  wooden filigree-esque screen, reminding me ever so slightly for some reason of an old haveli (an Indian mansion). The upper walls were painted a shade of murky green or maybe grey (dim lights) and there were statues in each alcove. But I was expecting something more… magical.
Where there could have been a centre-piece jaw-dropping antique chandelier, was a big, plain brown, mildly ugly, fabric shade. Strip-spot lighting where there could have been Mughal-esque wooden lanterns. White table cloths instead of the deep shades of aubergine, forest green, oranges and berry shades that conjure up all the colours of India. Thick backed dining chairs that seemed so very plain in brown matted fabric, which could have been covered in velvets, sari-off cuts; orange-upholstered “booths” which could have been swagged with embossed bolster cushions…
Downstairs, where the toilets were hidden, was a beautiful-tiled double door mounted as a wall feature, painted delicately in blue and white and silver, like something lifted from a Rajasthani palace – the exact kind of feature the upstairs needed. Why was it hidden away from sight?
Now I know a restaurant is more about food than decor, but decor really can add to the whole feel of a place. What I did love about Zaika (food aside) was the intimate space, the hushed feel in the air which lent itself to low voices, slow and unrushed conversation. I understand that somewhere where the food speaks for itself doesn’t need the gimmick of a styled interior – but there is a way that this place could be even more, without being too themed, without being too tasteless, and without being over the top, by injecting a tiny, tiny bit more “flavour” into the scene. 
Which restaurant’s interiors have blown you away?
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One Response to "Does good food always equal good style?"

  1. Imran Q says:

    well my fav restaurant in london is tayyabs , hidden away (well not hidden away given the swarms of people)in london's east end next to the royal london hospital…ok, whilst it doesnt have the glam as Zaika blinging it up in swanky Kensington , Tayyabs has another charm that really blows diners away. with tables crammed in, dim lit lighting and subtle bollywood music playing… the huslte and bustle of waiters shouting over the talking diners , the queue snaking around the tables & the sizzle of the mouthwatering grills makes this a real delight to eat here.

    Its a must for any fan of authentic Pakistani/Indian cuisine…just be prepared to wait but trust me its truly worth the wait !

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