What: A progressive Indian restaurant on Mayfair’s North Audley Street. Bibi is a landmark for Subcontinental food in the capital, taking a contemporary, development-led approach while ensuring the result is always recognisably Indian. There’s also a strong focus on top-quality produce, with an unusual level of effort going into securing ingredients from small-scale UK suppliers as well as artisan produce from India, including chocolate, coffee, semi-dried spices, pickled chillies, and heritage grains.
Who: Former Moor Hall and L’Enclume development chef Chet Sharma. He has been working in restaurants since his teens but also found the time to study physics at Oxford and go onto to do a masters and a PHD. Towards the end of the latter he realised he wanted a career in kitchens, and has been in hot demand as a scientifically-minded development chef ever since, working with restaurants including Moor Hall, L’Enclume and The Ledbury. Bibi has been launched in partnership with Gymkhana and Trishna-owner JKS Restaurants (Sharma has been working behind the scenes at the group for the last few years as a site for Bibi was secured).
The vibe: Eyebrows were raised at Restaurant towers when Sharma outlined his plans to launch with an old school hip-hop focused playlist. Would JKS Restaurants really sign that off given the Mayfair location? It has, and it works a treat with Bibi having a more relaxed and trendy feel than most other places in the area without being lifestyle-y. Bibi translates in Urdu as ‘lady of the house’ and is used as a term of endearment for grandmothers. The restaurant is inspired by Sharma’s paternal and maternal grandmothers, and therefore has a feminine feel that is the antithesis of the gentlemen’s club, colonial-inspired aesthetic favoured by many Indian restaurants, not least JKS Restaurant’s own Gymkhana and Brigadiers. Modern Indian art hangs on the walls and the fabrics are inspired by one of his grandma’s collection of pashminas.
The food: Bibi offers a tight menu divided into snacks and a selection of dishes that reference the sweet, spicy, sour and salty flavours of chaats before moving onto more substantial hot dishes, the majority of which are cooked on a sigree grill. Bibi offers a ‘chef’s selection’ menu priced at £35 at lunchtimes and £55 at dinner, a surprisingly affordable price tag given Sharma’s pedigree, the quality of the ingredients and Bibi’s location. But the focus is on a la carte, with the kitchen taking each table's selection and pacing it out to create a coherent meal with dishes coming in complementary waves. Dishes include Orkney scallop ‘nimbu pani’, raw Highland beef pepper-fry, buffalo milk paneer with fenugreek kebab masala and lamb belly galouti with coriander and mint chutney.
To drink: Bibi offers a tight selection of cocktails, which like all JKS Restaurants are deftly pre-mixed off site. There are a few beers available but the focus is on wine. The list is surprisingly accessible for the area starting out at roughly £30 a bottle and topping out at just north of £100. As at most of the group's restaurants, there is a focus on less obvious, contemporary producers that offer good value.
And another thing: Chet Sharma and JKS Restaurants was always going to be a winning combination. The restaurant has already bagged a glowing review from the Evening Standard's Jimi Famurewa and a visit from at least one national critic looks likely given how singular Sharma's approach is.