Just where do you get a decent Indian meal in California is a question that has been bugging people for ages. Sure you can get nuts and berries, power foods, juices and macrobiotic blowouts, but a proper Ruby is out of the question surely?
Not anymore. Tamarind, the posh Indian restaurant in Mayfair, has decided to end the spice drought in Arny Schwarznegger’s California and open Tamarind of London in Newport Beach, Orange County one of the best beachside cities on the Pacific Coast.
It intends to showcase Indian favourites, as well as new ideas and flavours based around traditional Moghul cuisine. To give FP a taste Tamarind Mayfair invited us round to Mayfair where Executive Chef Alfred Prasad, the youngest ever Indian chef to win a Michelin Star, was in the kitchen with Shachi Mekra head chef of Tamarind California, who had flown over specially to help create a lunchtime taste sampler
Shachi Mekra was born in India but grew up New Jersey (or Noo Joysey as she charmingly pronounces it). She has visited India every summer since and the flavours and diversity of her native country left a lasting impression, which eventually led to her decision to become a chef. In 2005, she was head hunted to join the opening team at Junnoon, a highly acclaimed modern Indian restaurant in Palo Alto, CA, where she worked as Executive Sous Chef until 2009.
More recently, as the consultant chef at Mantra Restaurant in Palo Alto, she helped revamp their menu to include light, modern interpretations of time-honoured favourites.
Shachi’s unique perspective enables her to create dishes that marry tradition with modernity. In November 2007, Shachi was named one of five ‘Rising Stars’ by Gentry Magazine, CA
And so we ate great canapés such as a Chilled shot of honeydew melon and mint with toasted cumin and chaat masala, Smoked aubergine pulp on toast with burnt chilli and garlic, Tandoor grilled shiitake and portabella mushrooms with plum tomatoes and curry leaf dressing, Seared scallops with mixed peppercorns and fennel with tomato and nigella seed chutney and a Skewered ground lamb kabab with cheese, basil and spices with mint chutney
It was all nice and light and lightly spiced so as not to scare the Yankees. This delicate touch continued with the main dishes: Quinoa salad with grilled prawns, roasted beetroot and kumquats was very Californian with the wonder grain quinoa, the health-giving beetroot and the acidity of Kumquat so appropriate for a dish to be served in Orange County.
Monkfish chunks marinated with ginger, fresh mint, lime-leaf and green chillies also spoke of sun and sea, while a more classic Grilled lamb chops marinated with raw papaya, garlic, ground spices and cream was very gnawable, all the way down to the bone.
Of course you can’t export Indian to California without taking Chicken Tikka with you. It may not be authentic Indian, but it is definitely authentic British. Adding puréed fresh tomatoes flavoured with ginger, honey and crushed fenugreek leaves made it special while still being recognisable.
I personally loved the Slow-cooked black lentils, a speciality of the Northwest frontier that I often have at Tamarind. Hopefully the Americans will get to have a taste of it too, as lentils still suffer from hippy stigma.
Who knows what the Americans will make of it? They should love it if they have any taste buds left after all those burgers. With a bit of luck Tamarind in Mayfair may bring some of the dishes back home to lighten our lives under our leaden skies.