After being a South West London girl all my life, I decided to pack my bags and travel afar – well, not that far, South East London to be true. But despite keeping the S at the beginning of my postcode, it’s very different around here. It’s much, much quieter, the people are kinder (including the Post Office staff, which says a lot) and the restaurants? Well, I can’t get enough of ‘em. But one place I had, until recently, yet to try was Babur, an upmarket Indian restaurant in Forest Hill. Having gained almost legendary status among my friends for its gourmet dishes, I decided I couldn't wait any longer to try it.
On this frosty Friday evening, I headed over to the Brockley Rise restaurant which, from the exterior, showcased tall glass windows and a large tiger sculpture peeking over the roof. As I entered, I was immediately met with the warmth and smells of glorious Indian cooking. Then, while we made our way to our table, I took in the interiors; bare-brick walls adorned with subtle yet unique artwork, intimate lighting and atmospheric music twinkling in the background.
We scanned our eyes over the cocktail menu, arguing over who would have what (we’re always jealous of each other’s orders). I opted for a Black Spiced Old Fashioned (£9.95) which arrived in a little corked bottle on a bed of cloves, accompanied by a glass of ice. Though it was made up of Woodford Reserve Bourbon, clove bitters, Grand Marinier and burnt orange syrup, it didn’t taste too dissimilar from its classic counterpart – sweet and heady - but yet with a more spiced, smoky finish. My partner went for the intriguing-sounding Pink Onion Daiquiri (£8.95). A mix of Bacardi Carta Blanca Rum, salted red onion syrup, root ginger cordial and fresh lime juice, it was a perfect balance of sweetness and acidity (the ginger and lime really complemented each other) – a bit like an Indian twist on a pisco sour. I was also informed that all cordials, syrups, chutneys and sauces are made by the team on-site, which made these tipples even more impressive.
As we knocked back our cocktails and eyed up the food menu, we were delivered a basket of freshly prepared poppadoms with some of the best darn dips and chutneys I’ve ever eaten in my life; pickled chilli, garlic mustard and two others I didn’t catch the name of. I know you’re not meant to fill up on the pre-dinner snack, but I couldn’t help but almost lick the whole thing clean. We decided to share all of our orders (to prevent any more arguments) and kicked off with the lamb beetroot momo (£9.50). I absolutely love momos, and always have to get them if I see them on the menu, and this one did not disappoint. A big, juicy, delicate dumpling in a pool of almost-clear vegetable broth, with a strong taste of lamb and cumin from the filling, it was the perfect winter dish. Our other starter was the swordfish tikka with onion and radish pickle (£8.95). The fish was thick and meaty, fried without being greasy, and had a subtle, delicate flavour. Another winner.
While we waited for our mains, we decided to wet our whistles with another round of cocktails. My partner ordered the Mumbai Negroni (£9.50), another pre-mixed delight, made up of homemade Indian spiced sweet vermouth, Audemus Pink Pepper Gin, Campari and pink clove bitters. But I went for the Charcoal Sour (£9.50), a gorgeous, frothy concoction that combined Johnny Walker Black Label Scotch Whisky, charcoal bitters, almond syup, pine oil, sour mix and egg whites.
My dinner date had ordered the safed murgh (£18.50) – cornfed chicken supreme cooked in yoghurt, white pepper and green chilli accompanied by a side of pulao rice. Though the meat cookery was excellent, as it was incredibly succulent with a hint of lemon, I thought the sauce itself was slightly lacking in flavour (though my partner gobbled it down heartily). I was very happy with my own choice, however - the Rajasthani khargosh (£19.50). The saddle of rabbit was super tender and wrapped up in pastry, a bit like a Wellington, drenched in a rich, moreish sauce. Dahl makhani (£6.25) is something of an addiction for me, so we had to get a bowl of that too – the slow-cooked lentils came in the usual creamy, unctuous sauce, and was quickly mopped up by our fluffy garlic and onion naan (£3.25).
Though stuffed, I couldn’t say no to the desserts – they just sounded too good. So I went for the cumin chocolate fondant with salted caramel gelato and a glass of the Recioto Classico Giovanni Allegrini (£12.75 for both). Everything paired together like a match made in heaven and, when attacked by my spoon, the fondant oozed a gorgeous, chocolaty sauce. My friend chose the pistachio kulfi paired with the Orange Muscat Essencia (£9.95 together), which was beautifully presented like a work of art and tasted as good as it looked.
The DesignMyNight Digest
My friends weren't wrong - Babur is an absolute delight. From the service and quirky cocktails to the dishes and even the toilets, this babe had all the fixings of an upmarket eatery but without the exclusive pretence and price tag. Yes, the dishes are a little more expensive than your average spot, but compared to many other fine dining Indian restaurants in London I've visited recently, I felt this place offered great value. It was also warm, welcoming and had a lovely local vibe to it, so it's somewhere that'll I'll keep in mind for date nights and birthday celebrations.
💰 The damage: £126 for two, including cocktails and dessert wine.
📍 The location: 119 Brockley Rise, London SE23 1JP.
👌 Perfect for: Birthdays, date nights or even just a catch-up with pals.
⭐ Need to know: You can actually buy the chutneys - yes, I will be getting some myself.