Heritage Dulwich, London SE21: ‘Sometimes strange, sometimes as familiar as a cuddle’ – restaurant review

Heritage in Dulwich is my favourite sort of review – a restaurant I didn’t plan to write about, but somehow it ambushed me. This new-ish modern Indian neighbourhood restaurant just happens to be a short saunter from Charles’ south London home, where he flees when he can no longer bear life with me in east London, and particularly my inability to replace lids on jars, my festooning of all flat surfaces with abandoned hair clips and the manner in which I stack the dishwasher so everything ends up “clean”, but smashed and covered in silt.

Most relationships benefit greatly from regular bouts of separation, followed by a rendezvous for a good dinner. I noted some time over lockdown that Dayashankar Sharma, the chef behind Grand Trunk Road in South Woodford, was opening a new spot, but then forgot all about it. It pains me how many people’s great business endeavours were trampled by Covid. Restaurants tried to open, then closed, then opened again, and with no chance to gain buzz or momentum. Sharma’s Grand Trunk Road, 然而, has long been a top tip of mine for anyone heading out to the far east London/Essex borders. It’s a celebration of the foods on offer along the route from Kolkata to Kabul, and is genuinely unusual, with the jackfruit dumplings and applewood-smoked cheese naan being especially marvellous.

Sharma is an Indian chef who dances a fine line between high-end, crowdpleasing classics – butter chicken, lamb biryani – and more unexpected delights such as paneer-stuffed figs, spice-rubbed griddled venison or steamed stone bass with shaved fennel. Grand Trunk Road is part of one of my favourite genres of Indian restaurants – namely: fancy, but very much still feeding you until you are sated and woozy. I’ll add to this list the reliably gorgeous and always booked-up Gymkhana in Mayfair and the posh-but-worth-it Chutney Mary in St James’s.

Heritage in Dulwich, 另一方面, is presently relatively easy to book and marginally cheaper than both of them. It’s the sort of place to have up your sleeve for a last-minute booking if, 例如, you have made your partner spend an afternoon in the men’s holding area outside a fitting room while you tantrum over your resemblance to a Shetland pony in the new season’s leather culottes. And in circumstances such as these, you need an excellent cocktail list serving a Rajwara old fashioned made with bourbon-soaked cherries, bay leaves and bitters, and a Bhojpura Cutting chai mixed from Baileys, chai vodka, masala, cinnamon and saffron.

Heritage, you see, is serious about its cocktails, and the outdoor seating area lends itself nicely to a few small plates and a session of getting elegantly tipsy. 反而, we ordered plates of glorious, Goan-style stuffed tilapia coated in semolina and coriander pesto, and an excellent Jodhpuri tawa chicken fried in green spices and served on weirdly moreish mashed potato spiced with tamarind and cumin. Sharma’s creations are available Tuesday-Thursday as a £68-a-head tasting menu, but it’s much more fun to range willy-nilly across the menu and go à la carte.

The moment I knew I’d made a grave error in taking so long to get to Heritage was when the humongous, fiercely seasoned, dark crimson shatkora jhinga king prawns arrived, marinated in lemongrass and shatkora, then grilled in a clay oven. I took a photo of these wondrous, bulbous, heavenly super-shrimp, which I keep on my phone and look at during sadder moments in life.

Next up came murgh makhani – a smoked chicken supreme cooked in tomato, fenugreek and oceans of cream, which may lead you to think: do I really need the black lentil dal makhani, 也? Is it maybe too samey? To which the answer is yes, you do. True, they are of a similar vibe, but they are completely different and both unmissable. 除了, the staff will let you take the rest home packed in charming boxes.

Heritage’s Kashmiri lamb is a rich pool of spiced gravy filled with tender, slow-cooked meat of just the right consistency to be prodded and mopped by a sundried-tomato-and-truffle naan. And if you’ve room to move after your third tandoori roti, there’s rose-layered gulab jamun cheesecake with sweet dumplings.

This is hearty food that wants to please; sometimes strange, sometimes as familiar as a cuddle. Mixed-generation families sat eating dinner on a Saturday, and both old and young were fussed over by the quickfire, diligent staff. Heritage had a bumpy start, but by rights it should become a south London classic. There are much more hyped restaurants on the food world’s radar, 但, sometimes, small and beautiful is really where it’s at.

Heritage Dulwich 101 Rosendale Road, London SE21, 020-8761 4665. Open lunch Sat & 太阳, noon-2.30pm, dinner Tues-Sun, 5.30-10.30下午 (9.30pm Sun). About £40 a head, plus drinks and service.