Having kept the Mayfair set wined and dined for over 15 years now, Tamarind is a true institution. More than this, it’s been at the forefront of a revolution in London’s Indian restaurant scene. Chef Alfred Prasad played with the fusion of British and Indian flavours, and created a fine-dining alternative to the curry house well before such a thing was commonplace.
In 2001 Tamarind had the honour of becoming the joint first Indian restaurant in the UK to receive a Michelin star, along with Kensington’s Zaika. It’s fair to say that the hype has quietened a little since the formative years, but when the restaurant’s website claims to still be able to “change your perception of Indian cuisine”, it really isn’t lying. From the moment of entering and being shown to a table, there’s a slickness about the place which makes the experience feel special, albeit in a very understated way.
The menu matches the mood, with intricate and inventive flavour combinations sitting alongside North West Indian staples of kebabs, grills and dhals. As dishes begin to arrive at the table, nothing shouts with too loud a flavour, but rather everything hums with a content balance of spicing and sings of the skills involved in creating such subtle but deep-rooted tastes. Kingfish chunks with ginger, mint, saffron and lime leaf set the tone, with aromatic flavours that dance on the tongue, while the simplicity of a meaty venison kebab and chutneys is just as well received.
A wildcard dish of paneer with red onions and green peppers simmered in a sauce with melon seeds and tomato exceeds expectations to become a highlight, with the piquant sauce showing off the creamy cheese. A vegetable side of smoked aubergine pulp with garlic, red chilli, turmeric, cumin and coriander tingles with freshness, and another of morel dumplings pairs the earthy mushrooms with a creamy, sweet tomato sauce for an addictive combination.
Back to flesh, a slow-cooked lamb shank with turmeric, yoghurt and rich, sweet browned garlic melts seductively into its spiced gravy sauce, and slips down like silk. The necessary chicken tikka is expectedly well executed, too – rounded spicing, char from the tandoor and soft, moist meat. These guys know what they’re doing.
From popadoms as an appetiser to white chocolate-coated mint leaf petit fours via a bulging wine list and a selection of Indian spiced cocktails, Tamarind has it all in gusto, with the service to match. Yet although this is about as high-end as dining can get, there’s not the tiniest pinch of pretension. There are set menus to keep the price down and if you choose carefully it’s possible to get off fairly lightly by Mayfair standards. That said, there’s serious scope for a blow-out here, and what better place for it?