Kent Life reviews Vari Bar and Restaurant in Newington

It's crisp and cold outside but at Vari the welcome is warm, the decor fabulous and the North Indian Punjabi dishes as delicious as they are imaginative

Spice it up

It’s crisp and cold outside but the welcome is warm, the decor fabulous and the North Indian Punjabi dishes as delicious as they are imaginative  

Appearances are definitely deceptive at Vari, which is set in a timbered Grade II listed building on Newington High Street and looks more like a pub from outside than the chic boutique number that awaits within.

You enter into a stylish little bar with a feature wall of wine, then it’s downstairs to the most inviting of restaurants, where lighting plays a key part in integrating a 17th-century backdrop with contemporary design.

There’s an inglenook turned into an Anish Kapoor-type sculpture by using light as a medium to highlight striking red recesses that contrast with the mainly neutral painted walls.

Colourful, hand-crafted mosaic lanterns hang above each of the six wooden tables in the main dining area, votive candles hang in a rosary of light and there’s a separate room ideal for party groups where on wall is covered in warm brown fabric stitched with big gold leaf shapes that’s then referenced in the exquisite menus with their gold-leaf motif.

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Wildly distracted by our surroundings, My Artist Friend and I were relieved to take guidance from owner Kunwar Sood, whose American-tinged accent is courtesy of his time in hotel operations and management in Switzerland.

Vari (Sanskrit for fresh, flowing water) has been open just over three years after a 10-month restoration period and has become quickly integrated into the village community, for example raising �1,000 for Newington primary school, and attracting many loyal customers from the surrounding area and further afield.

Kunwar and his chefs have made a point of using local produce as much as possible (including locally hunted venison, partridge and pheasant), changing the menus every three to six months to reflect seasonality and using lots of freshly ground herbs and spices.

The cuisine is North Indian Punjabi and it is definitely not your usual high-street Indian fare, with imaginative choices such as my stand-out starter of flavour-packed, almost meaty mussels steamed in a creamy coconut sauce, or the honey and lemon glaze that gave MAF’s nicely dry chicken tikka such a subtle kick.

Vegetarians are well catered for and we noted crispy wheat and lentil dumplings dipped in yoghurt and tamarind chutney followed by vegetables cooked with makhana in a cashew nut curry sauce among typically imaginative offerings.

For our mains we were both drawn to the chef’s signature dishes and my choice was a whole crab infused with mustard seeds, curry leaves, onions, tomatoes and raw

mango pur�e and beautifully presented in its own shell along with a baby naan, coconut rice and Dal Tadka. Messy but delicious!

Across the table Hiran ki Boti, or pan-seared medallions of venison drizzled with chef’s potli masalas and served on a bed of saut�ed potatoes with red apple and beetroot chutney, was much admired, not least for its dark magenta tones as its rich, flavour-packed appeal.

Everything is freshly cooked to order, which means some dishes can’t be hurried, but the delightful young waiting staff are expert at keeping you updated with timings and explaining anything unfamiliar.

Wine recommendations are also worth seeking – we were both happy with the pairing of a glass of light, crisp Pinard Cuv�e Classique Blanc with our starters and a full-bodied Tempranillo from Navarra with the more robust main courses.

And we were glad to pause before dessert – a warm, crunchy and delicious chocolate samosa for MAF and a kulfi matka with multiple layers of flavours including my favourite pistachio – so we could enjoy to the last drop this warm, inviting restaurant.

THE ESSENTIALS

Where: Vari Bar and Restaurant,

53-57 High Street, Newington ME9 7JJ

01795 842 540

What: Chic, exciting Indian restaurant

What’s the damage: Honey chicken tikka �4.95, crab Masala curry �16.95, Hiran ki Boti (venison) �19.95

When: Open Tue-Thu 12pm-3pm and 6pm-10pm, Fri-Sat 12pm-3pm and 6pm-12pm, closed Mon

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