Change. It can be as scary as anything or it can be the best thing you can possibly do… it must have been a leap of faith for Tamarind Mayfair when they decided to close their doors for a complete refurbishment and then open again at the end of last year with a new look and new menu. Tamarind Mayfair was the first Indian restaurant to be awarded a Michelin star, back when Atul Kochhar was Head Chef in 2001 and having maintained that star ever since a total revamp would mean the loss of the prized star and starting again from scratch. But *spoiler alert* the change was worth it!
The new space is set over two floors with the lower ground floor containing an open kitchen focussed around a Tandoor oven. Mr S and I arrived on a Saturday lunch time and were led to the first floor space which has a beautiful yet classic design. Cosy pink booths, wooden tables and floors with neutral tones are intended to created a soft and relaxing environment. A beautiful bar at the back is the centre piece with gold and bronze fittings that are luxurious yet subtle.
And speaking of which, our server suggested we kick off with some of their signature cocktails… I knew mine would be a work of art as I watch the precision and care that the barman took over creating it. My Rose Coupette with Belvedere vodka, rhubarb, vanilla, rose, lychee and jasmine foam was absolutely delicious and not overly sweet. Mr loved his Sharbat Mule with Belvedere vodka, kumquat, mango and turmeric shrub, ginger, curry leaf, soda which had a great hit of spice.
Carole Brown is responsible for the cocktails list and was previous experience as Bar Manager for eight years at Hakaasan and fouryear at Park Chinois. On the list are some Indian cocktails and some classic cocktails prepared with Indian ingredients. Each is beautifully styled to reflect the food and the restaurant interiors – mine garnished with a rose and red powder and Mr S’s topped with a kumquat.
Our server suggested we opt for a selection of their best dishes, as selected by the chef – and we were happy to leave ourselves in his hands. With the restaurant’s new look comes a whole new menu from two new chefs. Executive Group Head Chef, Karunesh Khanna (previously at Michelin-starred Amaya) and Tamarind Mayfair Head Chef, Manav Tuli (from the legendary Chutney Mary) have united to create a new and innovative menu which we were very excited to try.
Starting at the small plates section our first dish was avocado salad with micro leaves and chilli dressing – our waiter explained that salads aren’t usually served in India so chef created this dish as a light and refreshing starter that would still fit beautifully with the menu. A trio of dips (spicy, aubergine and mango chutney) came along side and were a great accompaniment to the rest of the dishes.
The Rajasthani Churi Chaat was one of our favourite dishes of the day – it’s got that oh-so-satisfying crunch, combining a poppadom base with peanuts, puffed rice, chilli and pomegranate seeds. A must order! I’ve never been to India so my knowledge of Indian food is somewhat limited but our server explained that this is the sort street food commonly eaten in the Indian subcontinent. Chaat can come in different forms but should be positively ‘craveable’ combining those desirable tastes and textures – sweet, sour, tangy, spicy, and crunchy.
The chefs at Tamarind have become best known for their grills so we moved on to that section of the menu. A nutty yogurt and corn kebab came in the form of a patty encrusted with almonds and panko crumbs. It’s one of those things that you might see on a menu and think that sounds kind of ‘meh’ but actually is an utter taste sensation especially mixed with those moreish dips.
Pink peppercorn chicken tikka perhaps sounds like your bog standard ‘British-Indian’ dish but here it’s actually one of the signature dishes as it’s cooked on the tandoor. The chicken is utterly succulent and so perfect flavoured – it comes with a little mango puree and a salad.
The Tandoori Konkan prawns were perhaps my one disappointment – they were beautifully flavoured and marinaded but I personally found the texture a little mushy.
Much better was the rabbit seekh kabab again cooked in the tandoor and stuffed with dried tomato and raisin which could have so easily been dried out but instead was succulent and juicy. The chefs have stuck to their roots but provided a modern twist and the food is lighter than the Indian food us Brits are used to.
I love brussel sprouts so I was very happy with the side dish, beautifully caramelised and served with chestnuts.
Chettinad chicken biryani was another huge highlight for me, the dish comes covered in a pastry shell which our served removed with ceremony and a flourish – but there’s no style over substance here again the curry leaf flavour chicken was so so tender and the slow cooked rice was utter perfection.
Our other curry was Murgh Kandan Kaliya – a ‘golden chicken’ curry including saffron and nuts was equally spectacular and a side dish of wok spinach with tomato and garlic. Of course I had to have naan bread (it’s my favourite thing) and here it’s light, crisp and non-greasy not overpowering any of the other rich flavours.
After such an epic feat, could we manage dessert … well obviously. Our choice were the Makhan Malai which is appeared to be quite heavy and creamy but was actually light as a feather with lychee jelly surrounding raspberry sorbet, topped with saffron milk foam, candied almonds and rose petals. You can’t go wrong with a warm chocolate fondant and I loved the fact that this one had a Indian twist with a liquid cardamom caramel centre, pistachio sabayon, milk sorbet.
Our meal at Tamarind was close to faultless and I have no doubt in my mind that the restaurant will be regaining that prized star!
20 Queen Street
(0)207 629 3561
I was invited to review.