Nick puts his misgivings about restaurants with themes aside, and finds Talli Joe has all the character it needs in the food.
It’s an axiom that you don’t look for decent restaurants near railway stations or theatres, the owners know they’re likely to never see you again and so serve up food of which the best that can be said is that it doesn’t leave you hungry.
If anyone asks me for a recommendation in London’s Theatreland I’d usually always direct them to a chain steakhouse; foodies may sneer, but those places can be at least relied on to do a half-decent job.
So, pushing past hordes of peculiar, over-excited, semi-children, half-adults, queuing to get tickets for Harry Potter The (I presume) Musical at the Palace Theatre, I have some misgivings about Talli Joe, a new all-day Indian restaurant and cocktail place serving (sigh)’sharing plates’ or’Indian tapas’, particularly as it appears to have a jokey theme thing going on. I don’t much like themes.
But first impressions are promising; the staff aren’t dressed in costumes and while the decor is a bit quirky it’s nothing to set my teeth on edge. And I know for a fact that the chef is Sameer Taneja, who comes from Benares, a CV entry that can’t fail to reassure.
There is a bit of faffing about with a pre-dinner cocktail concept first, drinks in bottles paired to a nibbles-sized dises arranged by region, but these were good curtain raisers with careful, considered spicing.
There are about twenty main dishes on the menu, all very fairly priced and many I’m not familiar with but which the staff are happy to explain. We order six, which is about average we’re told, and they come out in no particular order.
Kale Chaat finds the so-called superfood given a good battering then deep-fried and glooped, in a good way, with potato and pomegranate in a sweet yoghurt. It has to be eaten with the hands and gets us gloriously messy and is impressive.
The next dish is Messy Thoku, a piquant egg pickle served on excellent roti bread.’Eggs and curry?’ says M raising his eyebrows. I know what he means, this could come back to haunt us but it’s so tasty with the puffy roti we don’t care. Bitter melon stuffed with lentils and served with a fennel salad next is’challenging’. I kind of like it but the bitterness is too much for both of us, even with the pleasant fennel salad, but it did what it said on the menu so we couldn’t complain.
I’d heard the Truffle Ghee Kulcha was one to definitely order and it is good, a billowy soft naan stuffed with cottage cheese and brushed with that truffle ghee. The aroma alone is enough to wake any appetite.
The Nihari Nalli is another dish that’s getting talked about. It’s a veal bone, split to reveal the unctuous marrow, served alongside a meat curry and a kadak roti, a blackened twisted bread that’s just the tool to get stew to mouth. It’s a fierce and flavoursome plateful and we fight over it slightly. We order beer now, cocktails are all very well but I’m froma generation that likes a cold beer with an’Indian’, but the cocktail choice is very tempting all the same.
It’s hard to share the kolhapuri chaap – a tandoori lamb chop served with potato salad and a mustard dressing so we order another, it’s that good. Perfectly pink meat so good that you want to gnaw the bone down to your own knuckles.
And with M feebly protesting that he couldn’t possibly eat another thing, I go for the Halva, here made with heritage carrots, so not orange but dark purple verging on black. A much less sweet concoction to the usual and so more enjoyable, but the salted peanut brittle is seemingly designed to jam in the teeth immovably. I fear for my crowns, never safe at the best of times.
We liked Talli Joe, the theme is not irritating and even if it were the food would blot it out it’s that good. Each plate was a new experience and reminded me of why I liked Dishoom when it first arrived, the novelty and the full-on flavours.