At Goila Butter Chicken in London lunch is served with a sumptuous helping of hyperbole. According to chef Saransh Goila, it’s not just butter chicken, but “simply the best butter chicken in the world”. I scanned the website for a hint of tongue-in-cheek, but also discovered that Mumbai-based Goila had “single-handedly turned butter chicken into a religion in India.” Similar to Noel Gallagher believing the 1997-era Oasis was “greater than God”, Goila’s Butter Chicken is now an omnipresent deity. That’s huge, if that’s true.
What is certainly true is that Goila is a name on the Mumbai culinary scene, hosting shows on Indian cooking channel Food Food and appearing on Australian MasterChef. In 2014, it entered the Limca Book of Records for “the longest road trip by a chef”, a title unmatched by the wild antics of Gordon, Fred and Gino through Mexico. Goila is a smooth operator: its butter chicken is available via a meal kit, recently appeared on BBC1’s Saturday Kitchen and there are Goila Butter Chicken cafes in Mumbai, Pune and Bengaluru. This is its first London opening: a 12-seat strip along a seated bar in a busy restaurant thoroughfare near Oxford Street.
With the preamble to Goila Butter Chicken being so wordy, eating there was bound to be a disappointment. These are not the Hanging Gardens of Babylon; it’s an anonymous-looking cafe, next to a pop-up food court called Carousel. To the unpretentious eye there is nothing of interest. It’s a white, undecorated space with a few friendly people serving bowls of butter chicken – which were cooked elsewhere, not behind the counter – with sides of dal makhani, jeera rice and sourdough naan. Saransh Goila himself was too busy to make an appearance in the first few weeks, although he describes the space as “very, very laid back”. It’s a fancy way of saying, “You’d be more comfortable at home.”
This space isn’t ideal for eating butter chicken, unless you’re in love with tall, unforgiving bar stools and don’t have much wiggle room in choosing your pickled shallots and her coriander chutney. While I ate the takeout customers lingered for the other offerings such as the GBC Fried Chicken Burger or the Cauliflower Bites.
Deciding whether Goila’s butter chicken is world class is another matter because, in my opinion, even a mediocre butter chicken – murgh makhani – is bliss. Mild chicken, mashed tomato, some kind of cream, or yogurt, or even evaporated milk, with an overabundance of ghee or butter, plus sweet spices like garam masala, turmeric, and cumin; on any table, butter chicken is a comforting dish in extremis; a vision of sunset-colored joy, moppable and retrievable. It’s the dish least likely to become a “leftover” at a mixed gathering.
At Goila, they claim to elevate the concept by using only good French butter and cooking free-range, slow-growing, herb-fed Yorkshire chickens over eco-friendly charcoal from FSC-certified forests. . They use no colourings, no sugar and an 80:20 tomato-to-dairy ratio, making it a darker, healthier and more refined dish than British or even Indian palates can crave. wait. You might just miss sugar, ghee, oils and dyes because, ultimately, they give dishes a certain zest that natural products don’t have. Goila’s chicken certainly didn’t leave me as bloated or full as the less refined versions, but it had little real impact. I wanted to be moved and enlightened by this dish, but on the contrary I found it “enjoyable”.
More dramatic was the naan: small, soft, steamy, and possibly microwaveable. The pickles were delicious, pink and vibrant and the black dal makhani perfectly edible, but not as deep, filling and wowish as the chain restaurant Dishoom’s, which I ate near the tank. I can’t comment on the cilantro chutney, as it didn’t arrive.
Goila’s butter chicken isn’t bad. It’s smoky and buttery and rather out of proportion – however, I felt no urge to declare the chef my new spiritual leader. Not over a squidgy naan and lunch where I balanced my purse on my knee. Leaders are special animals: some appear on the stage modest and withdrawn, simply hoping that someone will like them; others arrive like a whirlwind, full of hilarious claims, promising earth, wind and fire, delivering very little and not even being there to cook it. The whole thing is really very stupid. But then I put on lipstick and shoes, and rushed into a restaurant waving money, because the chef had announced that his butter chicken was a new religion in the second most populated on the planet. So who’s the idiot here? It’s me, isn’t it? Again.
Goila Butter Chicken, 23 Charlotte Street, London W1, 020-3002 0411. Open Tuesday to Sunday, 12pm to 10pm. About £25 per head; Fixed meal at £19.50 for one person or £35 for two, all plus drinks and service