Tuesday, 31 March 2009

Tamarind – The second best Indian Restaurant in London?

As I did before in my last restaurant review – the context. This is my third visit to a restaurant of this class ever. We’ve been to Benares twice, both on very special occasions, and yesterday for our third anniversary we decided to try Tamarind.

This year’s Michelin Guide left Tamarind without the Star they have held for a good few years. The comparisons to Benares on the reviews we checked while researching the most expensive dinner for two we’d ever eaten were generally favourable, and the Michelin inspectors agreed, Benares retaining theirs in the 2009 guide, but what went wrong at Tamarind?

We have no idea of course – we don’t know how good Tamarind used to be, but based on the expectation that they’d be trying extra hard to impress the customers and any potential inspectors, as well as making sure they offered extra special value, so the time was right.

We checked the online menus, and the prix fixe deal looked just right. Two good looking courses, with all the trimmings, and a bottle of wine per table, (Minimum 2, maximum 6) for £28 per person. How mad is that? If you are heading there with 4 of you – make sure you sit in two tables of two – as otherwise, you’ll have to share a bottle of the finest Viognier we’ve ever tasted – (Viognier is my favourite wine for 2 reasons, one – it tastes great, and two, with its distinctive aroma of apricots, you might actually be able to tell what it is if tested (that’s a wine fact people!) and you wouldn’t want to share something that good.

The prix fixe menu had to be requested (and they ceremonially removed the brass plates we had in front of us in an attempt to shame us into going for the a la carte...) but along it came, and was exactly as on the website (always nice to know that the online descriptions are accurate) so we were easily able to order swiftly – the wife had the veggie option, (Potato cakes, followed by grilled paneer)I had the meat. Chicken thingies – they were kind of like little chicken dumplings, with micro herbs and for my main, (after checking that the three items listed on the more interesting part of the menu were indeed a course, and not a further choice. I was briefly tempted by the chicken tikka masala (sold a bit more interestingly than that, but that is what I imagined it would be) but instead chose the supreme of chicken, lamb kebab, and broccoli kebab.

Coming with naan, rice, lentil sauce (dhal? you can tell I’m not an expert can’t you!) and superb mixed vegetables (I let the wife pick out the cauliflower, but I was happy with the rest) this seemed far more “authentic” than Benares – when I say authentic, I’ve not been to India, but I’ve been to Brick Lane, Tooting, and Birmingham, and this was more like a souped up curry house experience, than a posh restaurant with a spicy twist, which was my impression of the other place (as we carefully referred to Benares under our breath when within potential earshot of the staff...)

Of course – being a two course set menu and not three, we were presented with the desert menu and being careful to not order the selection below the one I did order – mine was an £8 glass of dessert wine, above an £88 bottle of dessert wine – I chose to add to the copious amount of alcohol already consumed, while she had a delicate sweet carrot dish (which we’ve seen referred to as Carrot Fudge on other menus) and we did a small amount of swapping (they bought me an extra spoon – it would have been rude not to use it), and finally, before the bill, petit fours of mint leaves dipped in white chocolate, and cashews dipped in dark chocolate (my non-chocolate eating wife forced a mint leaf down, but I was left to “suffer” the rest – wow!)

As I paid (used the joint account card to pay) the bill, Mrs Evergrowingbrain checked out the little girl’s room, then with a flourish and a pinch of fennel seeds as we left, our third anniversary was duly celebrated.

At £88 for the two of us, including the totally worth it service charge – they were excellent – always there, but never there too much – it still isn’t the sort of thing we’d be doing every week (or every month) but as a special occasion, it was certainly special, which is just what you want from a restaurant, that – in this armature reviewer’s opinion, will not be out of the Michelin guide for long.

Personal taste, and a bottle of wine in place of a couple of desserts, were all that separated the two restaurants, if I was taken out next week - it would depend what I wanted - a curry - Tamarind wins as the best example of the genre, but Atul's flair for "Modern British Indian" will have me visiting Benares again too.

No comments: