It's not fancy, it's not big and it's not clever, but the scrag end is delicious. For simple, honest opinions on restaurants, recipes, supper clubs and what not, you've come to the right place.

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Tamarind, 20 Queen Street, Mayfair

It’s odd to think that Tamarind is now 16 years old. It's a proper milestone, like taking your first steps, or gaining your 200th Twitter follower (thanks @idso). This Michelin-starred Indian restaurant was one of the first in London to combine the virtues of curry house and haute cuisine. Its unassuming Mayfair frontage disguises an old-school formality in the dining room, pitched somewhere between Le Gavroche and the Bengal Lancer. 

A party of about 20, we went for the set lunch menu. Because of the numbers, the restaurant was happy to provide sharing plates, meaning everyone was able to try everything, rather than confine themselves to a single starter and main. Add in a reasonable deal on price (it’s normally £27.50 per head for the three-course lunch menu, but we paid less as part of an offer), superb, accommodating service, and it seems like all the nuts and bolts of a decent dining experience are in place.

But what about the food? Well, unlike most 16 year olds, Tamarind seems happy with what it’s got. A starter of spiced chickpeas and cucumber with sweetened yoghurt, tamarind chutney, fresh coriander and blueberries was as delicious as the day I first tried it about six years ago. The slight sourness of the yoghurt dominates but never overwhelms the fruity flavours of the rest of the dish, while chickpeas maintain just the right integrity to feel integral. It’s an excellent dish.

Crab and sweetcorn cakes with berry chutney are good too, though lacking in depth. Like most good dishes, it makes a virtue out of recognisable component parts: you can taste every flavour separately and together. But ultimately, it’s a little dull – too conservative in this most Tory part of London.

The third of the starters promises much. The menu has it as ‘salad of spice roasted duck breast with kumquat, peppers, salad leaves and avocado; in an orange and chaat masala dressing.’ While I’m sure this description is technically accurate, it oversells what is at heart some sweetened bits of duck breast on some salad. It’s pretty bland, and disappointing.

After these slightly uninspiring offerings, most of the mains delight. Tandoor-grilled monkfish comes rubbed in coriander, lime leaf, green chilli and (the menu says) gram flour. It’s the dish of the day, stunningly meaty, subtley yet zestily flavoured and sweet, rich and tangy in equal measure. The lime leaf works especially well, highlighting at once the spice of the chilli and textural luxury of the meat. 

A chicken thigh with onion, tomato, ginger and fenugreek is another triumph. Meltingly well-cooked chicken gives a juicy hit, while the other flavours surround and occasionally subdue it. It’s wonderful. 

I’ve always liked the sound of nigella seeds (imagine what you could grow with those!), so I’m delighted to find they accompany baby aubergines in the third main course. This works well and best as a side dish, so that’s how we treat it. Along with excellent yellow lentil daal, surprisingly pedestrian Indian gherkins and a saffron basmati rice, the aubergine is decent enough.

Crispy, light and airy naan are as good as those at Dishoom. That’s very good, by the way.

A final offering of Masala tea and ginger ice cream with stewed prunes is another enjoyable dish, though by this stage, I’ve eaten so much of other people’s lunches that I’m too full to really enjoy it. 

Tamarind is a decent restaurant and, at lunchtime prices, it’s well-priced. But while the food is good, it feels oddly dated, a relic of an era when London diners were happy with less. At lunch on a Friday, there’s almost no one in the restaurant; and in hedge-fund paradise, that seems pretty ominous. It could do with an injection of energy to complement the undoubtedly competent kitchen. Perhaps what it really needs is a healthy dose of teenage rebellion.

Phil Letts’ take: 6/10

Tamarind on Urbanspoon

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