Bibi, London W1: “Genius and subversive” – restaurant review | Food
Bibi is a new high-end opening in the capital, which is currently not lacking. The ‘high end’ is a shy way for hoteliers to communicate the notion of imported chandeliers, four-ply toilet rolls, complex cocktails, tiny portions on beautiful tableware, and, on the outside, a Mercedes-AMG wagon being blocked by Westminster Council. These restaurants survived the Covid maelstrom.
In Knightsbridge, a small pandemic was not going to end the juggernaut Nusr-and rolls into town, imposing its grotesque, steaks wrapped in gold leaf with crooked brains, while more to the Savoy, Gordon Ramsay is about to open a second restaurant serving caviar on nori waffles. The list goes on, but Bibi – a modern Indian restaurant on North Audley Street, where rows of Bugattis, Bentleys and Rolls-Royce Phantoms park to buy a few pieces of groceries from the Selfridges food hall – proves that all the top restaurants range are built in equal parts.
It is supported by the JKS group, which also owns Gymkhana, as well as many other popular restaurants such as Hoppers, Lyle’s and Bao, although Bibi reminds me the most of the endlessly reserved and undoubtedly revolutionary Gymkhana. Since my dinner at Bibi on a recent Friday, I have recommended this weird, experimental and beautiful restaurant both for date nights and for those who need to love customers. Yes, it’s not cheap and cheerful – a dainty little plate of raw Highland pepper beef fries with Tellicherry Fermented Peppercorns costs £ 14, while five chunks of okra will set you back £ 8 – but the fragrant okra is unlike anything I’ve tasted elsewhere. I would happily bathe in its peanut sauce, splashing it under my armpits and behind my ears, before dressing without showering.
Bibi’s boss, Chet Sharma, is a physicist by training who worked at Ledbury, Gymkhana and Moor Hall before becoming responsible for menu development at JKS. He’s part great and clearly part subversive, as are all the best people to let your dinner run. You’ll know it from the moment you walk into its new restaurant, sit at the counter, admire the sparkling Rajasthani design and decor, mango wood furniture, and order a plate of sweetcorn. Kurkure, which are absurdly convincing fried almond balls rolled in at least 20 spices and served hot and crisp. They go perfectly with a kulukki sharbath, a cloudy Indian lemon juice with a touch of green chili pepper and garnished with sabja seeds, which give it a delicious texture of frog spawning. Sharma’s other bar snack is Wookey Hole cheese dad, or heavenly luxury oversized croquettes with a cultured cream dip topped with mango jam and green chutney.
Bibi’s pretty polished floors, ornate ceiling, gloriously obsessive menu (it details where all the spices come from on the subcontinent) and precise, professional, and skillfully drilled service all add to the feel of it. from a place that takes hospitality very seriously. And maybe that’s another reason why I liked it so much, because there are a lot of headless chickens running around right now. The Bibi team is certainly not one of them; JKS has put their best players here, and now is the time to take advantage.
The dishes are undeniably rather small and meant to be shared, although your average fork-wielding heffalump like me can easily finish them on their own. Don’t get me wrong, say, chukh masala tikka for a tasty bowl of crimson chicken; it’s more of a small portion of marinated boneless thigh, a succulent and spicy version of Vesuvius from the house classic in curry – Charles has been raving about it for days and days, and has been pestering me to go back so that he can try the Lahori chicken with cashew nuts and the yogurt whey. The Buffalo paneer is just as brief and meaningful, barely bigger than a credit card, but I still remember its delicate milky texture and the taste of charred onion and fresh pepper from the Sigree grill that titillates with many dishes from Bibi, while I suspect that the achari The Swaledale saddle of lamb, at £ 16 for two chops, will become one of the venue’s signature dishes. I mostly grazed around the vegetal side of the menu, dipping many roomali rotis in oozing puddles of rich, grass-fed ghee dal and finishing the kaima yakhni pulao rice simmered in chicken broth.
Each dish was unusual, unexpectedly presented and a playful reimagining of a classic, which is exactly how I felt about Gymkhana all those years ago. JKS has a habit of creating puzzle and obsessive dishes, while rewriting the playbook in an erased way; it’s the antithesis of Salt Bae and his £ 100 burgers that will change your life (spoiler alert: they won’t). I rarely eat dessert in Indian restaurants, because I’m never disciplined enough to leave room for a last hurray, but at Bibi they have even thought about it and offer tiny candied kulfi mango popsicles, a bit like Mini -Magnums, and all silky and soothing.
Bibi made 2021 bearable. I don’t have a Bugatti to get there, but when I’m sitting upstairs in front of Number 73, I feel like I’m driving, and that’s just as good.