London is teeming with Indian restaurants. Kolkata-style Indian restaurants, not so much. Fatt Pundit and Darjeeling Express (set to return as a pop-up at the Pembroke this autumn) are notable exceptions. They've built up avid fanbases for their delicious takes on the multi-cultural heritage of Kolkata (formerly known as Calcutta), with its Chinese, British and Portuguese influences. But they're dwarfed (in size, at least) by hefty, high-end Marble Arch restaurant Chourangi. It's the latest project from Speciality Restaurants Ltd, which runs a whopping 130 sites, most of them in India.
It wears its chain-y origins lightly. Yes, the giant photo canvases of beaming chefs on the wall are a bit naff, but the ceiling fans, limestone floor and rattan furniture are a nice nod to its home city, adding personality to this giant room. And its extensive menu is packed with dishes you'd be hard pressed to find elsewhere in London, like pickled hilsa (a kind of herring that's popular in Bengal) or a lamb biryani that's scented with rose petals, saffron and vetiver.
Several of the dishes betray their Indian-Chinese roots by unleashing sweet, rich flavours brought to Kolkata by Hakka immigrants. Like the lotus root and sweet potato chaat: its crunchy, deep-fried lotus root slices are a moreish contrast to the creamy sweet potato below, while a dash of soy sauce adds a welcome umami note. The chilli paneer is a delight, too. It has a wonderfully delicate, melting texture that's a million miles away from the squeaky, chewy chili paneer that's typically dished up as a street snack.
Standout main courses include a memorable jackfruit biryani, with delicately saffron-scented rice giving way to rich, fatty, flaky chunks buried in its depths. The grand trunk black dahl is simmered overnight, giving a rewarded creaminess supplemented with actual cream and butter. Other dishes are less successful – the five spice mango mustard aubergine crosses the line from sweet to actively sugary. There's a more welcome sugar hit from the langcha. This gulab jamun-like dessert was tender, and drenched in cardamom-scented condensed milk – something to make room for, however pleasantly stuffed with rice and naan you might be.
This is rich, intensely flavoured food but it still feels like the spices have been dialled back to satisfy cautious Western palettes. And although the prices don't look too outrageous on the menu, these dishes are expensive relative to their dinky size: they're more like small plates than the mains the menu labels them as.
Still, attentive staff, appealingly dim lighting and a well-considered drinks menu make this a lovely introduction to (or reacquaintance with) Bengali cooking. This is food to send you out into the night warmed, and bursting with sugar-high-induced benevolence towards Oxford Street's crowds of tipsy teenagers.
The vibe Classy Kolkata-style dining in an airy space just off Oxford Street.
The food Small, richly flavoured dishes with unusual Indian-Chinese flavours.
The drink A nicely-judged list of wines, spirits and imaginative cocktails.
Time Out tip Save room for pud – you won't regret it.