Advertising itself as serving pan-Indian cuisine, Carom at Meza in Soho is one of those places which aims to please the masses of Indian food lovers. Part of the D&D group, the kitchen here is lead by head chef Balaji Balachander, who previously worked for the Meat & Wine Co and Benares, Michelin Starred Indian restaurant. Carom is Balaji’s first opportunity as head chef, and he certainly has the credentials for the job. As for the restaurant itself – its oddly decorated. Huge capacity inside, cheaply decorated – with Latin American restaurant/club Floridita below which had lost its edge some time ago now.We arrived at around 9pm. With half the restaurant empty it took a good five minute to decide whether they had room for the two of us – luckily they found one amongst the other fifty tables unreserved. A waitress quickly came over to ply us with wine – she was extremely friendly and very attentive explaining the choices from the extensive and confusing amounts of menus on offer.
Being the cheap ones we are, we decided to go for their seasonal Travellers set menu. A bargain dinner menu of two courses for £10, or three courses for £15. Wine was also just as reasonably priced. We got off to a fantastic start – some light airy poppadoms were brought out accompanied by delicious home made chutneys. The tamarind chutney was to die for and the mango was fresh and zesty. I think we’d even got to the point of spooning the stuff into our mouths once the poppadoms were exhausted – sickening i know.
Our first course with a shammi kebab, which is a minced lamb kebab, here served with a pomegranate raita and mint chutney. The kebabs were juicy, spicy and full of flavour with a lovely slightly charred and smoky taste. The raita was fresh and great for dipping while the mint chutney was fragrant, traditional and absolutely delicious – they really have the chutneys perfected here.
Chicken tikka with Asian slaw arrived looking a little sad, a nondescript looking slaw (whose flavour was just as plain) and three pieces of blackened chicken tikka. As far as looks go this dish had none, but the actual taste of that chicken and marinade was fantastic. The chicken was a little overcooked but its marinade and smokiness helped disguise it – i only wish there was more of it.
Dipping in to the main courses I couldn’t help to wonder if we were eating Indian, or British cuisine. Chicken kofta, coriander dumpling, yoghurt and tomato rice, the menu read. The dumpling was as expected (even if the menu didn’t say so) and was a chicken dumpling mixed with fresh coriander. The tomato rice was carrying a tomato flavour mostly found in microwave rice packs. As for the sauce, which there was a lot of. It was a creamy blend of tomatoes, yoghurt/cream and subtle spices. Very basic and barely Indian with its almost complete lack of what India does best – spice. The side of naan was excellent.
Our other main of tandoori marinated salmon, daal, and kichidi rice was just as bizarre. The salmon was cooked well, but barely showing signs of any marinade or being in a tandoori oven for that matter. The daal was i’m guessing somewhere in my dish but I never found it. The rice was overcooked and congealed, while the sauce was almost identical to that of the kofta dish. Some rather bland steamed vegetables sat under the fish and brought this plate into the early 90’s – I’m sure the Spice Girls would have loved it.
Dessert wasn’t much of a crowd pleaser either. Mango and cardamom cheesecake, two flavours which go incredibly well together but instead were barely detectable. The white chocolate leaf was a nice touch and the summer berry coulis extremely tasty – its just a shame the cheesecake itself also had no flavour. Carom is cheap and it does fill you up, but for me – that’s about it. Cocktails are good and so were the starters, so if you stick to the street food and order plenty of cocktails, you can’t really go wrong. With so many other great Indian restaurant in Soho and its surrounding area offering much more, I can’t say I’ll be returning to Carom anytime soon.5/10