‘Sophistication, style and ingenious dishes’ insideKENT reviews Shampan at the Spinning Wheel, Westerham
For 34 years, Shampan has been redefining Indian fine dining. A commitment to creativity, classics reimagined and a focus on flavour await at this Westerham jewel. By Olivia Riccini
1989. A turning point in political history which saw the fall of the Berlin Wall, the election of Nelson Mandela and the surfacing of the internet. It saw Technotronic’s Pump Up the Jam and Madonna’s Like a Prayer top the charts, The Simpsons first appear on our TV screens, and Indiana Jones venture on his last crusade at our cinemas. Optimism, faith in the future and a sense of shared humanity defined a year, and this, it seemed, had filtered down to our Kentish corner of the UK and into the dreams of a man that was to change the concept of Indian food and fine dining in Kent forever.
That man was Sufian Miah, who along with his father, their passion for dining and the cultural flavours of India, opened the very first Shampan in Bromley, 1989. Over the next two decades, Shampan impressed hoards of diners, and in 2011 Sufian’s hard work and determination led him to embark on his biggest and most ambitious project yet, opening the doors of Shampan at The Spinning Wheel for the very first time. It was here, one warm September evening exactly 34 years after the first Shampan opened, I found myself, ready to embark on a journey of intense flavour and inspired Indian cuisine.
A place with an exterior that suits its Kentish setting, any newcomer to Shampan that had no idea what lay behind its doors, would like me, be wowed upon entry. A tiny two-bed thatched cottage sits model-village like at the front of the restaurant, showing that although proudly Indian at its core and in concept, Shampan is undoubtedly connected with its local community and Kentish surroundings. Just six miles from Sevenoaks, Shampan has identified the area’s requirement for luxury, the interiors beautifully juxtaposed with an original exterior. As I step inside, I am immediately greeted by sleek, contemporary surroundings. Low-lighting illuminates chic furnishings and decor; velour seating underpins the laid-back allure of the cocktail lounge to my left, while statement pieces and arty, architectural features adorn the walls that lead to the rest of this large restaurant.
Although Shampan is a fine-dining establishment, it is far from stuffy or pretentious, achieving this identity with slick confidence, while upholding its seriousness for food and respect for the formality of finesse. It is this unwavering confidence that gives Shampan its persona, something that becomes apparent to diners as soon as they engage with the staff. Unflustered, expert and friendly, our waiters float around the establishment – the ultimate guides to help navigate the menu and meal. But this comes as no surprise – Shampan in itself is a well seasoned veteran when it comes to style, service and food having had three decades to perfect and polish its sincere and expert offering.
We start with cocktails, which Shampan takes just as seriously as food. A well-defined yet eclectic menu lists a mixture of classics with Shampan twists, I, a lover of a good mocktail, select a ‘banana colada’, a deliciously creamy concoction – tropical, tempting and the ideal way to ease into a meal that promises to be bursting with flavour.
Opening the menu, my mind is full of preconceptions about the dishes it will include. Upon examination, these transpire to be utterly incorrect. Instead of the staple curries that immediately come to mind when one thinks of Indian food, I am instead greeted with a carefully curated, neat menu consisting of ingenious dishes unique to Shampan – the creations of culinary marvel and head chef, Sadek Miah. We pore over the menu and select some appetisers, our waiter advising us with sheer conviction, eager to recommend, showing his own passion for the food and venue. Our array of appetisers are placed upon the table top, each beautifully presented and promising even more upon first taste. The first dish I opt to try are the griddle-seared king scallops with cumin peas and cauliflower puree. Cooked to perfection, the scallops sublime in their buttery texture, their distinctive flavour far from overpowered by the cumin peas and spice of the cauliflower puree, which instead only enhances their flavour. Next up, I try the hariyali garden green kebab with cumin; a patty of leafy spinach and mixed vegetables ground with a homemade spice blend. A veggie wonder, it’s packed with flavour, the complimentary spices bringing out the best of the spinach.
After our empty appetiser plates are cleared from the table, Sadek himself appears from the kitchen to greet us. A warm, welcoming and humble chef, we immediately hold him in even higher regard when he talks us through the dishes and his concept for the menu. “As well as the much-loved original dishes, we’re now also embracing the healthier options at Shampan. We are striving to be more forward-thinking with regard to healthy food and ingredients. That’s why there are now more options for people that still want the full flavour and heartiness of Indian food, while being health conscious and prioritising the benefits that this food will bring to the body. Despite the healthy aspect of certain dishes, we make it our priority to maintain all the original flavour – it is important that although these options are healthier, none of the flavour is lost.”
Our mains go to further prove that Sadek’s passion for flavour is far from lost and instead remains precedent in all his dishes. Opting for a vegetarian main of tandoori cauliflower, broccoli and paneer with labadar peas and lachha paratha (crispy, flaky-layered flatbreads), I am once again impressed by the depth of flavour and use of spice within the dish. The heat of the spice is beautifully offset by the creaminess of the paneer, which itself is marinated with cream cheese and served on a bed of green peas and chopped onions. Heightening the flavour all the more is the freshness of each ingredient, with beautifully crunchy vegetables promising all the goodness that Sadek was striving to incorporate while being sensational for the taste buds, too.
Ever a generous bunch, I also sample my fellow diners’ dishes. A particular standout was the seared sea bass with Bengali ‘do piyaza’ sauce: a gorgeously spiced and marinated fresh piece of sea bass seared on a griddle and served with onion and mustard sauce. Buttery and meltingly soft, this was a sensationally cooked piece of fish made all the more delicious by an original, perfectly balanced sauce with rich cream and spices. Another must that comes in the form of a side is the okra – crispy, fresh and adding that little bit of extra crunch and spice to the meal, this came under passionate recommendation from our trusted waiter as a sworn favourite of his that quickly became one of ours.
Feeling comfortably full after an array of tantalising dishes, our waiter recommended that we at least take a look at the dessert menu. However, after proving his expertise throughout the meal, we ask him to choose just one dessert for us. Without any second guessing or even the slightest hesitation, he replies “the chocolate samosa”. A lightly fried samosa pastry pillow encasing a centre of melted chocolate, a scoop of vanilla ice cream sitting melting temptingly at its side, and a couple of strawberries and raspberries scattered on top. This proves to be a divine ending to an incredible meal – one led by flavour, quality of ingredients and some ingenious takes on traditional recipes by Sadek Miah. If you are searching for the ultimate blend of fine dining and authentic Indian cookery made into masterpieces by modern twists, then Shampan is your place.
Shampan at the Spinning Wheel
The Spinning Wheel
Westerham TN16 2HX