Bibi is a new high-end opening in the capital, which is currently not lacking. “High-end” is a cozy way for hospitality people to convey the notion of imported chandeliers, four-layer loo-roll, complex cocktails, teensy portions on beautiful tableware and outside a Mercedes-AMG wagon clamped by the Westminster Council. These restaurants have survived the Covid maelstrom.
In Knightsbridge, a little bit of pandemic would not stop the Nusr-et-juggernaut from rolling into town and refining his grotesque, leafy steaks at the cerebral slant, while Gordon Ramsay was about to open another restaurant serving caviar on nori waffles . The list goes on, but Bibi — a modern Indian restaurant on North Audley Street, where rows of Bugattis, Bentleys and Rolls-Royce Phantoms park to pick up a few groceries from Selfridge’s madhal proofs that not all upscale restaurants are built alike.
It is backed by the JKS group, which also owns Gymkhana, as well as numerous other beloved restaurants such as Hoppers, Lyle’s and Bao, although it is the incessantly reserved and undoubtedly groundbreaking Gymkhana that Bibi brings to mind most. Since my dinner at Bibi a recent Friday, I have been recommending this strange, experimental, beautiful restaurant for both date nights and those who need to love bombing clients. Yes, it’s not cheap and cheerful – a small, delicate plate of raw Highland beef pepper roasted with fermented Tellicherry peppercorns costs £ 14, while five okra sets you back £ 8 – but the fragrant okra looks like nothing I have tasted elsewhere . I bathed happily in its peanut sauce and sprayed it around my armpits and behind my ears before getting dressed without taking a shower.
Bibi’s chef, Chet Sharma, is a trained physicist who worked at Ledbury, Gymkhana and Moor Hall before becoming JKS’s head of menu development. He’s a lot of genius and obviously a lot of subversive, like all the best people leaving the responsibility for your dinner. You will know it from the moment you step into his new restaurant, sit up at the counter, take the mock-Rajasthani design and shiny mango wood furniture and order a plate of sweet corn kurkure, which are absurdly convincing, deep-fried balls of kernels rolled in at least 20 spices and served hot and crispy. They pair perfectly with one kulukki sharbath, a cloudy Indian lemon juice with a green chili kick and laced with sabja seeds, which gives it a nice, frogspawny texture. Sharma’s second bar snack is a Wookey Hole cheese papador heavenly, luxury, superstore Quavers with a cultivated cream dip layered with mango preservation and green chutney.
Bibi’s beautifully polished floors, ornate ceiling, wonderfully stocked menu (it describes where every spice comes from the subcontinent) and precise, professional and deftly drilled service all add the feeling that here is a place that takes hospitality very seriously. And maybe that’s another reason I loved it so much, because there are a lot of headless chickens running around at the moment. The Bibi team is certainly not one of them; JKS has put its best players in here and now it’s time to take advantage of them.
The dishes are undeniably rather small and supposed to be shared, even if your average, fork-swinging heffalump like myself could easily finish them on his own. Make no mistake, say, chukh masala tikka for a bowl of crimson chicken; it’s instead a small serving of marinated boned thighs, a juicy and Vesuvius-hot spin on the curry house classic-Charles has been enjoying it for days and gnawed at me to go back so he can try the Lahori chicken with cashews and yogurt whey. Buffalo paneer is similarly short and meaningful, barely bigger than a credit card, but I still remember its delicious, milky texture and the taste of the charred onion and pepper fresh from the Sigree grill that titillates many of Bibi’s dishes while I suppose that achari Swaledale Lamb Hall, for £ 16 for two chops, will be one of the venue’s signature dishes. I grazed mainly around the vegetable side of the menu and dipped several roomali rotis in lush puddles of rich, grass-fed ghee valley and finished kaima yakhni pulao rice simmered in chicken broth.
Each dish was unusual, unexpectedly presented and a playful re-enactment of a classic, which was exactly how I felt about Gymkhana all those years ago. JKS has a habit of creating dishes for puzzles and obsession while rewriting the playbook in a self-effacing way; it’s the opposite of Salt Bae and his £ 100 burgers that will change your life (spoiler alert: they will not). I rarely eat dessert at Indian restaurants because I am never disciplined enough to leave room for one last hurray, but at Bibi they have even thought about it and offer tiny preserved mango charcoal ice cream sticks, a bit like Mini-Magnums, and everything silky sweet and calming.
Bibi has made 2021 bearable. I do not have a Bugatti to get there, but when I sit upstairs in front of number 73, it feels like I’m driving and it’s just as good.