20 Queen Street,
London, W1J 5PR
Tel. 020 7629 3561
Food type: Indian
Nearest tube: Green Park
I have walked past Tamarind many times when popping in to Murano. I have always been curious about the restaurant – a Michelin starred Indian restaurant which caters to the Mayfair crowd. Michelin are not the most reliable when it comes to the awarding of stars to non-European cuisine. For example, I find Michelin’s rating of Chinese restaurants both in the UK and in Hong Kong all over the place. Similarly, the Michelin starred Indian restaurants in London while tasty all share a similar trait – they are all smart establishments and very expensive. Perhaps I am not experienced enough with Indian cuisine, but the food does not seem any more impressive than the less fancy places like Madhu’s or Brilliant. In fact, in most cases, I feel the spicing is often toned down in the Michelin starred places.
Although the restaurant entrance is from the high street, the dining room is located in the basement with no natural light, making it rather gloomy. We dined at dinner. Alongside the traditional a la carte menu, there is also a tasting menu available. Pricing is in keeping with its Mayfair venue with starters £8 – £17, Mains £21 – £40 and desserts £7 – £12.50. Side dishes like rice and naan bread are £4 each. The tasting menu is £75 £65 for the vegetarian option. There is also a cheaper pre- and post-theatre menu for £35 which is excellent value taking into consideration the prices for the rest of the menu. In our case, we decided to order a couple of items from the a la carte menu with the intention of sharing them.
We opened with a trio of starters. First was hara gobi tikki (broccoli and potato cake) which was given a British touch with some gooseberry chutney. The patties themselves were sufficiently light and moist with the subtle spicing coming through nicely. Papdi chaat is a common street food made of boiled chick peas and crispy wafers. Here there is the addition of blueberries which while an unexpected and surprising twist, actually added a nice burst of sweetness and acidity to complement the sourness from the tamarind and richness of the yoghurt. This is a humble dish which tasted great. Finally, we tried one of their tandoori dishes, peshwari champen – lamb chops marinated with raw papaya and cooked in the tandoor oven. The lamb was cooked more towards the side of medium well than medium rare which was a shame because the spicing here was bold and complex. Admittedly cooking in a tandoor oven is tricky but I have had perfectly timed lamb chops at Gymkhana and Madhu’s (where they cook on a robata grill) so I know it can be done.
Moving on to mains, we adopted the same approach of each person ordering an item and sharing them. The gwei lo wife decided on the predictable murgh tikka masala (chicken tikka masala) which is a world away from the bright orange stuff you get in your local takeaway. Tender chunks of chicken tikka were cooked in a complex, rich sauce flavoured with plenty of dried fenugreek leaves with the subtle smokiness of the chicken came through nicely. Malabar prawn is a a South Indian (Keralan) style curry which immediately reminded me of home. Huge tiger prawns were gently simmered in a mild curry sauce made with coconut. The first waft of this curry is the heady perfume of the curry leaves, a smell that reminds me of home. A lamb biryani is presented with a traditional pastry crust which was opened at the table to release the beautiful aroma of the biryani. The rice was fluffy with distinct individual grains, and the lamb chunks within moist. Finally, pindi chole, a traditional Punjabi chickpea dish, had chickpeas with excellent texture that had been cooked with Assam tea leaves. Little bursts of pomegranates provide an interesting bite.
Although we were very full by this point, I could not resist the temptation of desserts. Shrikhand is an Gujarati dessert made from ‘hung’ yoghurt (yoghurt that is strained through a muslin cloth to achieve a thicker consistency). Here, the version is similar to a ‘fool’ with the yoghurt replacing the whipped cream. This was a light, but unremarkable end to the meal.
The food at Tamarind is all very tasty. The level of spicing here is complex and the little twists added to the dishes are interesting. The only problem here is the pricing, which, as mentioned above, is in keeping with its Mayfair address. The cooking here is pleasant, good in fact. But when there are minor slips like the overcooking of the lamb, it makes the high prices just that little bit harder to swallow.