The new Tamarind Kitchen takes simple dishes and serves them up with a classy spin for relaxed eating at affordable prices.
Tamarind Restaurant in Mayfair was one of the first Indian restaurants in the world to win a Michelin star, a star it still holds today.
It’s also one of the most expensive Indian restaurants anywhere, although a few years ago I noticed that the carpets were fraying in places. What were they doing with the profits?
Anyway the new Tamarind Kitchen, on the site of what was once Imli, has not only substantially cheaper food, but is a brand new fit out. Intricate wooden ceilings, fancy seating and a penumbral, moody, light even at lunchtime. This makes sense because, as my guest S points out, it does feel rather wrong to be eating Indian food in daylight.
Once through the reception, we’re taken so far into the nether regions of the restaurant that I suspect a comedy moment will soon occur. We’ll go through a door and find ourselves in a back alley with no way back.
We’re actually seated at a cosy, classy table. Russell Sage Studios apparently did the design of the furniture, as well as the interior, but one has to wonder who they designed it for? S who is over six foot tall finds himself too low to the table while I, a bare five foot five, am sat on a bench that puts me level with his head.
The lunch menu contains no real surprises, nor is it intended to. It’s supposed to be unpretentious everyday style cooking, but with a classy edge as befits its provenance. The menu’s been designed by Chef Peter Joseph, who is Head Chef at Tamarind of Mayfair, so it should be good.
So we choose posh scallops pan-seared and with ‘textures of parsnip’, the latter a 1970s prog-rock band from Lancashire, as well as tandoor-grilled smoked quail, duck and guinea fowl on vermicelli.
We can share these as there are two scallops and two pieces of each meat. The scallops are plump, perfectly cooked - i.e. barely- and the parsnip’s earthy sweetness, as puree and roasted, a good foil. Gone in a few bites.
We like the quail; it’s nicely singed yet still properly moist, while nibbling around the bones pays dividends in extra flavour.
The duck and guinea fowl are also equally tender and all benefit from the warm breath of smoke and a dash of the minty sauce. We find ourselves picking up the softly crunchy vermicelli with our fingers as tasty nibbles.
It’s all basically your favourite kind of Indian tandoor kebab but, as the kids like to say, kicked up a notch. Familiar yet fancy.
If there’s one dish I really can’t stand in any cuisine it’s a lamb shank, I just hate the look of the things, especially when they’re so large you have to wonder how the chef defines a lamb; small child or hulking teenager?
Well S likes a lamb shank and his main is a good size and, I am pleased to see, doesn’t have the bone waving in the air like a cat having a wash. For S the first test is how easily the meat comes away and he reckons this is ‘almost perfect’.
The browned onion sauce clings to the meat in a loving embrace and is flavoured with andhra chilli and dusky cardamom. An andhra chilli is a very hot chilli I advise S who nods in agreement, it’s all he can do as he’s just discovered the heat for himself. It comes from Guntur District in India, I explain sententiously as I wait for my lamb biryani to be cracked open.
It’s come to the table with its pastry intact; some restaurants cheat a bit by using pastry only to form an airtight seal between lid and pot.
Here the pastry is the whole lid, a more visually pleasing way to serve it and possibly more efficient too. As it’s broken open fragrant steam is released and I do my impression of a happy Bisto Kid.
The rice is always the star of any biryani; the meat is really the flavouring, along with ginger, garlic and green chili. The grains must be separate and fluffy, so it’s quite a test for the kitchen as they never know what will be the result until it’s served.
Well there’s no problem here, it’s a delicate and delightfully aromatic dish. Just the right amount of tender lamb for my taste too and the small pot of accompanying bone marrow sauce is deep and rich.
With these dishes we have a good, not too oily, selection of plain and stuffed nans, a standard saag paneer with generous lumps of cheese and also my personal nemesis, slow-cooked black lentils. I say nemesis because I do love this dish wherever I have it, but it plays havoc with my digestion for hours after.
Desserts were good too, a spiced tea brulee with rose biscotti and sweet ginger jelly was very smooth and creamy, but I’d have liked a bit more spice. Mango and pistachio kulfi gave me immediate brain freeze, they usually do that to me, but again I’m a bit of a masochist.
Tamarind Kitchen is the kind of cooking that’s not designed to show off or challenge, but to stay homestyle albeit with heightened delicacies and subtleties.
We found it reassuring, friendly and just the right level of swanky. A good additional option to Soho and an affordable chance to find out why big brother Tamarind Mayfair has its star.