20 Queen Street, London W1J 5PR www.tamarindrestaurant.com
Tamarind Mayfair has reopened after a major refurb and the results are as welcome as seeing an old friend come back from the dead.
I dislike change. Change has never been good news for me, from office environments to home decoration, I usually end up out of pocket and dissatisfied with the results.
I especially don’t like familiar restaurants changing. I want them preserved in a bubble, exactly as they were when I first discovered them. Same decor, same staff and same food.
Clearly, I’m being unreasonable.
Tamarind Mayfair has now changed massively but it needed to. The last time I went there it was like visiting an elderly relative, you couldn’t help but notice the ‘lean and slippered pantaloon’, or in this case threadbare carpets, the scuffed and worn furniture and a general air of lassitude amongst the staff.
Well what a difference a long refurb makes. Not only is it totally changed inside, with the addition of a new upper floor with windows, but the menu is very different too.
New chefs - Executive Group Head Chef, Karunesh Khanna from Michelin-starred Amaya and Head Chef, Manav Tuli, once at Chutney Mary, have seen to that Gone are the rather old-fashioned, but always good, range of classic Indian dishes. Instead the menu now is as light-filled and airy as the refurbished space.
We went to the new upstairs dining room, the original basement dining room is usually closed at lunch, and what a space they’ve got. Light roars in from two sides sparkling off the posh cutlery and fresh linens.
A bar on one side radiates bonhomie and there are glass fronted wine fridges around the walls hinting at the richness of the wine list.It is Mayfair chic, there is no doubt of that. The colour palette one of international wealth with the perfume of quality materials recently installed. No aroma of food though, as the kitchen is downstairs and now with open to view tandoors.
These tandoors are important because the menu focuses a lot on grilled meat, fish and vegetables. Yes, there are still curries and biryanis, but these are a small island of the menu and not the main map.
The idea is to give people food they can go back to work after, or onto something else, and not feel the immediate need for bed. I know that feeling well, the ‘post curry remorse’
Usually I reserve the word vibrant to describe London postcodes where it’s a bit dangerous walking after dark, but here with the Papaya, Mango and Cucumber Salad with mango dressing starter, it’s very much the word to use.
Fresh, crisp tangy ,and a little bit fiery, it’s a palate cleanser and I suggest sharing it between two because you’ll want to keep some space to wander around the menu.
Posh places do like to reboot street food, and here the Rajasthani Churi Chaat Tamarind does a good job. Multi flavoured, tangy and sour with tamarind and sweet with yoghurt it has varied textures from the puffed rice, pomegranate seeds and a crispy papad at the bottom. We share this too, clashing forks over last messy bits.
Vegetarians and vegans don’t miss out with the new menu; Nutty Yoghurt and Corn Kebab crusted with almond and panko is a real find. Sweet and cheesy at the same time, it’s well-supported by the chutneys and proves to be one of my highlights along with, get this, Caramelised Brussels Sprouts and Chestnuts.
The sprouts have really enjoyed their time on the grill and the spicy Indian sauce turns this Xmas style dish into something I’d be happy to eat all year round.
I still think about the grilled lamb chops at Benares, but Tamarind’s Char-grilled Lamb Chop in a spicy marinade with a pistachio crust comes close. Chewable right down to the bone, which is of course where the best flavour lurks.
We aren’t so struck by Pink Peppercorn Chicken Tikka, yes, we expected it to be quite subtle but not so very subtle, and the charcoal kiss of the tandoor seems missing.
However right back on track is Coconut and Chilli Seabass with coconut and fresh red chilli glaze. This is three good sized pieces of fillet with crisp skin and a delicate flavour perked and spiked by the chili and a cooling coconut that fills the mouth.
Biryanis have always been something I have avoided. At worst, they’re simply rice with meat stirred in, yes I am looking at you various old curry houses around Streatham.
Done (or dum) well means done traditionally with a pastry crust to hold in the steam that’s only released when at the table.This allows the aromas to waft out and for diners to imitate the Bisto Kids, although perhaps that’s just me.
Tamarind’s Chettinad Chicken Biryani excellent, the rice is the star of the show with the curry leaf spicing and the chicken the main supporting acts. Which I think is how it should be.
Alongside we have a rich Kathiyawadi Lamb Curry, a spicy lamb osso bucco curry. The meat drops off the bone and the sauce is thick and clings to each forkful. This is classic stuff and classically filling and we begin to feel the strain.
We’ve been ably served with wines by the glass from the sommelier, Riesling features of course, as it always does with Asian food, with a 2015 Tesch, "Unplugged" Riesling. Nahe, Germany but also one that’s not from Germany a 2016 Chateau Ste. Michelle "Eroica" Riesling. Columbia Valley, WA, USA . The heavy tannins of a 2015 Pago de los Capellanes, Crianza. Ribera del Duero work well in the later, meatier stages of the meal.
Dessert is for one, as one of us is now laying back panting a bit. It’s Gulab Jamun with fresh oranges, orange puree and mandarin granita, finished with red amaranth and burnt orange pieces. A classic dessert done very well.
And Tamarind Mayfair is a classic that has returned revivified. The service is back up where it belongs at this price point, and the decor too.
But the main thing is the food is rebooted and delicious. Change is good, embrace change.