Tamarind has long enjoyed a reputation for excellence and it’s been a deserved but hard- won accolade. Competition is fierce but Tamarind of Mayfair is thriving and has indeed blossomed into a creditable collection, which includes a Tamarind in the US along with Imli Street in Soho; Zaika in Knightsbridge has recently joined the group which now covers every style concept of Indian food.
Executive Chef Alfred Prasad, along with Director & COO Rajesh Suri, presides over all branches of the Tamarind Collection, but Head Chef Peter Josephs at Tamarind of Mayfair is at the sharp end here, and he ensures that day-to-day continuity of quality.
Yes, this is Mayfair and yes, Tamarind is the first Indian restaurant in the world to have been awarded a Michelin star (it remains as one of only half a dozen to hold the accolade), so one would assume that it might take either a lottery win or the generosity of your favourite uncle to facilitate a meal here. Well, actually, no!
Tamarind has done much to elevate the reputation of Indian food in the UK. That glittering distinction has helped, but they still strive to introduce a growing audience to traditional Indian food served with flair, pride and imagination. To this end they offer a remarkable early or late menu with theatre-goers in mind, although you won’t be asked to present your tickets for row B seat 17 to take advantage of this offer.
A menu for £28.50 per person is available between 5.30pm and 6.45pm and from 10:00pm to 10:45pm. (Minimum order 2 people, maximum group size 6 people; tables are limited to 1½ hours.) There is a good selection of dishes on offer which will give the diner a condensed overview of the genre of food here, and at a price that will be just as appealing as the bill of fare.
Many dishes at Tamarind draw on the culinary traditions of the North of India, with tender meats cooked in comforting sauces as well as slow-cooked and rich lentils. There is an extensive menu to appeal to every taste, from the robustly spiced to the mild and aromatic.
The tandoor (traditional clay oven) has centre-stage in the kitchen, although in truth it’s geographically more towards the front with a window onto the restaurant. Meat, fish and breads are grilled to perfection by chefs who have the skill to add a delicate char and tempting perfume to anything on a skewer.
Tamarind evidently upholds the Indian philosophy of Atithi devo bhava, the guest is God. They have retained dishes on the menu simply because they are so often requested, and no request seems too much trouble. Service is attentive but discreet and the staff here understand the food and can offer advice on wine pairing. The restaurant buzzes with animated conversation from the many regulars and all the others, who will likely become just that. The walls are a restful muted gold and tables are well spaced. This is comfy opulence and a non-theatre evening will have guests lingering from early to late, with no pressure from waiters eager for another sitting. You are welcome to stay for the duration.
I can recommend the whole menu at Tamarind as it’s universally delightful, with never a dish that strikes an iffy note, never a plate that disappoints; but I have my favourites. Papdi Chaat – spiced chickpeas, whole-wheat crisps, mint chutney and sweetened yoghurt topped with blueberries and tamarind chutney is a must-try starter to nibble with a glass of something refreshing.
Grilled Scallops seasoned with mixed peppercorns, fennel and star anise, topped with oven-roasted peppers and served with smoked tomato chutney is refined and memorable.
Pudhina Chops must surely be a signature dish. Exceptionally tender lamb chops are marinated and then grilled in the tandoor to produce probably the best lamb chop of any culinary hue in this part of London, and perhaps beyond.
Paneer is an Indian pressed cottage cheese. It’s a mild ingredient that is a marvellous carrier of more vibrant flavours. Tamarind serves cubes of paneer with red onions and green peppers simmered in an aromatic sauce with tomato and spices.
Another vegetarian dish that has long been a favourite with Tamarind regulars is Baingan Bharta – smoked aubergine pulp with garlic, red chilli, turmeric, cumin and fresh coriander leaves. This is addictive with comforting texture and distinctive flavour.
Boneless lamb braised with ginger, browned onions, tomatoes and Kashmiri chillies is my pick of the restaurant. The meat is melting and the sauce rich and silky with plenty of balanced heat from the chillies.
Fish lovers are not forgotten and I can recommend Tali Macchi – pan-fried fillet of sea bass with fine beans and raw mango on a sauce of tomato with mustard, curry leaves and coconut. Sea bass has become ubiquitous and it is a firm sweet fish that tempts those who appreciate all things piscatorial, and doesn’t alarm those who would normally avoid anything that swims. But it’s so often a boring also-ran on a menu, seeming like a high-end necessity, a dish for which the chef evidently had little enthusiasm. Tamarind’s bass is thoughtfully presented and could convert a carnivore. It’s unapologetically delicious, moist and fresh-tasting.
Desserts in Indian restaurants are too often predictable and unimaginative but Tamarind has Stewed Pears; that doesn’t sound very exotic until one adds star anise and cloves and serves that rosy fruit with a Fennel & Ginger ice cream. I might change the name from Stewed to Poached for the sake of literary refinement but the dish itself needs no alteration.
Tamarind is iconic but doesn’t rest on its laurels. It continues to be loved by its diners and respected by its emulators. It remains a significant gem in London’s crown of fine restaurants.
Sunday to Friday lunch: Midday to 2.45pm
Monday to Friday dinner: 5.30pm to 11.00pm
Saturday dinner: 5.30pm to 11.00pm
Sunday dinner: 6.00pm to 10.30pm
Tamarind of Mayfair
20 Queen Street
London W1J 5PR
Restaurant review by Chrissie Walker © 2018