The name had me curious from the start. There is an explanation, however. Joe is a ‘regular Joe’ indicating a casual inclusiveness and he could be from anywhere and going anywhere. That just about sums up London. The restaurant describes the Talli element thus: “Talli /T-uh-li/ tipsy (adjective), a happy intoxicated state of being, often rendering the legs useless.” I would say that there is a balance here between drink and food. This is far more than a cocktail dive – although the mixed beverages are noteworthy at Talli Joe.
Shaftesbury Avenue is coming up in the world, with more and more reputable eateries bordering that bustling thoroughfare. Shaftesbury Avenue in the city’s famed West End runs for over a mile in a north-easterly direction from Piccadilly Circus to New Oxford Street. Named after the 7th Earl of Shaftesbury, the street was built late in the nineteenth century. Although a parliamentary act authorising its construction was passed in 1877, it took 10 years or so before the street was finished. Its position at the heart of the West End means that many of the city’s most celebrated theatres can be found here. Hermione Granger mentions Shaftesbury Avenue in Harry Potter: “Shaftesbury Avenue; I used to come to the theatre here with Mum and Dad.”
Talli Joe is an all-day establishment. They use the term ‘half plates and full drinks’ to convey their ethos, although that rather puts the emphasis on the booze instead of the food, and that is somewhat of a shame as their menu, although small, is interesting and the dishes well executed. It could more accurately be described as a creditable bar and an equally creditable casual restaurant associated with it. The concept allows the diner to enjoy much of that bill of fare at one sitting and perhaps with a different cocktail for every course – if you can stand the alcoholic pace.
Kerala Banana Wafers with citrus salt seasoning are great to nibble while ordering some more substantial offerings. These are rather unique and architectural and should be sold by the bag-full …big bag full!
Kale Chaat is a starter and a must-try here. The texture is crispy, the presentation attractive and these little fritters will likely persuade even the most sceptical to the merits of what is so often a rather iffy vegetable.
A dish for the serious lover
Rasam Shrimp Shot was well-spiced as was the Bohri Chicken and Chicken 21 – said to have taken that number of attempts to perfect this recipe. The Banana leaf-wrapped Sea Bass was outstanding. The fish was some of the most succulent and delicate I have tasted in a while. Messy Thokku is an egg pickle and that might not sound too appealing, but trust me it’s good enough to be a signature dish here. It’s tangy and fresh, and deserving of a place on this menu. Kochi Beef Fry was flavourful and well balanced, and substantial.
Nihari Nalli might also be a little challenging for the untutored. It’s a veal bone split to reveal the marrow inside. This is creamy and rich and after this dish diners will understand why bones are so prized when cooking roasts and casseroles. This is almost decadent and thoroughly memorable – a dish for the serious lover of the good things in life.
Berry Malai is the light dessert you will likely be craving after a meal of such tempting and flavourful dishes. The yoghurt is thick and creamy with the fruit adding freshness. Black Gaja Halwa is for those with a sweet tooth. Gaja Halwa is a traditional dessert and often found on Indian restaurant menus, but here the carrots are black and that does add aesthetic drama to this confection.
Yes, dear party-loving reader, I know you want to hear more about the libations at Talli Joe’s. I tasted several and they were well-matched with the aromatic and robust plates here. The whimsical Paan Aam Tequila-based cocktail is well worth ordering. I have never been a fan of tequila in anything other than a Margarita but this Paan Aam has made a believer of this doubter.
Madras Gimlet is another cocktail that truly works. Gimlets are classic cocktails and date from the 1950s in the USA, and made with gin and lime juice. Joe has that spirit infused with turmeric for some added sub-continental charm.
I wasn’t sure what to expect from Talli Joe but enjoyed the buzzy ambiance, with many of the diners/drinkers being young well-heeled Asians, who were evidently smitten with both beverages and plates. The location couldn’t be better but it’s the food which will encourage me to return; well, that served with perhaps a Holy Basil cocktail …or that intriguing Day in Delhi.
152-154 Shaftesbury Avenue
Phone: 020 7836 5400
Restaurant review by Chrissie Walker © 2018