Ahh, Clapham Common. I knew I’d reached this Chelsea outpost when just about everyone walking past me was wearing a Gieves and Hawkes suits or a Boden coat. The streetlights twinkled prettily between the autumnal leaves, and all was well with the world. Well, in south-west London anyway.
Zumbura is situated right on the triangle made by joining the Common and Old Town road. The room is great: long and lean but they’ve used the space well, and the bar – a single piece of roughly finished wood – is hugely appealing. The rest of the room offers plain walls and bare bricks, grey banquettes at the front and Tom Dixon-esque lights in brass cages. The food arrives on thick stoneware from the nearby North Road pottery, glazed in attractive colours. It’s all nicely rustic with a London twist.
The cuisine hails from the Purab (Varanasi) region of India, courtesy of chef Raju Rawat (of Benares, the Michelin-starred restaurant). The food is wholesome, earthy and very ‘now’ – there’s a real move away from the tikka masala, mix-different-cuisines-in-one-menu style of Indian restaurants – as evidenced by the success of places like Gymkhana in Mayfair.
The menu is based upon simple, straightforward dishes: we started with delicious chapli kebabs (essentially burgers spiced with garlic, ginger and more) and patties (spiced mince pastries in puff pastry). We moved onto machli ka salan – pollock with mustard seed and fenugreek – which was fabulous, offering complexity, depth and richness. I could have eaten it twice. Bhindi (braised chopped okra) was delightful too, as was the paratha – rich and flaky with just the right melt-in-the-mouth texture.
The only disappointment for me was the kullia, which is being trailed as one of their signature dishes. This lamb and turnip stew said has promised meat which was slow cooked on the bone for a meaty smoky flavour, and while the meat was exquisitely tender and the dish had a wholesome friendliness, it lacked intensity of flavour and it just wasn’t… sexy. While I welcome a move away from the technicolour masalas and towards authentic home-cooking, I’m not sure lamb and turnips is going to entice the Claphamites.
My other grumble is that it’s another tapas-style menu. Ugh, I’m so bored with sharing dishes. I know it’s absolutely not Zumbura’s fault: this food is from a culture where many dishes are offered and dipping in here and there is the point. For Zumbura it’s totally authentic. It’s just a pity sharing plates have been done so often and so badly by lesser restaurants, and have been used as an excuse for too high a price mark-up.
But one menu item and personal sour grapes aside, I left happy. The stand-out dishes were simply excellent, the room is convivial, and the location just right. I think it’ll grow into itself, and I think it’s well worth your time. The ultimate test is, would I go again? Yes, I absolutely would.
36a Old Town
Tel: 020 7720 7902