The name is somewhat familiar but the celebrated Imli has now graduated to a rather urbanly sophisticated Imli Street. Both the menu and décor have changed but the assured quality remains the same. It’s part of the Tamarind Collection and its illustrious parent, Tamarind of Mayfair, sports a Michelin star.
Imli Street occupies an enviable plot on Wardour Street in Soho. This corner of that colourful neighbourhood still offers clues to its cinematic past, with a ‘Film House’ just along the road. There will be few of my readers who will remember the ubiquitous ads between the B and the A film; that promoter had an address in Wardour Street and its productions represented the face of the ‘swinging 60s’.
That thoroughfare has changed and now shows a different facet of vibrant London life. We have a restaurant scene that is considered to be the most exciting, eclectic and vibrant in the world. Imli Street is at the forefront of a new breed of Indian restaurants that are dedicated to making culinary and design statements. It presents good food that happens to be Indian, in a space that is distinctly urban.
The new-look Imli Street has a broad focus on Indian food, which includes:
Coastal Shacks: Celebrating India’s vast coastline and beaches
Food Carts/Dhabas: found on roadsides and streets, creating urban culinary legends
Railway Cuisine: In India food is a big part of long trips, and most railway stations have become famous for their iconic and varied dishes
Beyond Borders: Sub-continental influenced food – the cuisines of neighbouring countries
We were looking for breakfast at Imli Street and it was bound to be noteworthy. People have, in the past, joked about English food but we do in fact have a number of dishes sporting the additional moniker of ‘English’. We have English mustard, English muffins (although these are also crumpets or pikelets), sauce anglaise (custard if you are from this side of La Manche), zuppa Inglese (trifle to the British); …and then there is the ‘Full English’, for which we are famed.
Imli Street is unapologetically Indian but its location allows it to include some British favourites, and one of those is the traditional breakfast, here called the IS Breakfast. It is a spread to gladden the heart of any ‘Full English’ aficionado. Tourists will appreciate the chance to graze on this iconic meal at a price far lower than their hotel might demand: Eggs, Sausage, Bacon, Mushrooms, Beans, Toast, available from 8am – the plate is bound to be popular.
If the Full Monty is a bit too full-on then there are other traditional grilled options at Imli Street. Open Toasted Sandwiches of Bacon and Poached Egg with Hollandaise Sauce, Bacon and Melted Chilli Cheese with Chutney, Sausage and Fried Egg with Chutney. The addition of chutney adds a hit of Anglo-Indian to this breakfast bill-of-fare. There are the usual baked goods and cereals for the less adventurous, and then there are some sub-continental departures.
Warm Rice Pudding with Goji Berries makes for a sustaining breakfast that takes advantage of an old-fashioned dessert staple, which works well even at an early hour. It has a soft and comforting texture and it’s perhaps a surprise that it’s not a regular part of morning menus across all ethnic persuasions.
Pancakes have long been popular, and in particular with those visitors from across the pond. Perhaps they would be tempted by Imli Street’s Banana Pancakes with Cashew and Coconut.
In contrast to Indian Railways, British Rail and its descendants never has had a positive culinary reputation, and actually gave birth to the ‘curly sandwich’ of dry bread and scarce filling. Imli Street offers morning diners a taste of delicious exotica in the guise of a Railway Omelette, with a slice of bread tucked inside its coriander-flecked cooked eggs. This is distinctly Indian; the flavours and filling are well-balanced and this homage to Indian railway catering is far more interesting than a European version.
Bombay Toast can be ordered either sweet or savoury and is a take on the more usual French Toast. Chilli Cheese Toast Soldiers is deliciously mildly spiced and a real winter warmer; it would be a substantial breakfast if one added some Crispy Potatoes and Fried Onion Bits. Committed carnivores could have some sausage or bacon on the side.
The new Imli Street is retaining those faithful Imli diners of its first incarnation and attracting new regulars who appreciate its fresh city-inspired look and broad menu. Tamarind quality continues, but Imli Street stays unique and confident.
Monday – Friday 8:00 – 23:00
Saturday 9:00 – 23:00
Sunday 9:00 – 22:00
167-169 Wardour St,
London W1F 8WR
[Now called Tamarind Kitchen – visit here
Restaurant review by Chrissie Walker © 2018