Restaurant Review: Tamarind, Mayfair
I remember 15 years ago going to the opening night of Tamarind, then the first and still one of only a few super-slick Indian restaurants in London. It was being promoted by the crazy Alan Crompton-Batt, the eccentric and no-longer-with-us creator of a business sector which has spawned hundred of businesses in his footsteps, that of the Restaurant PR.
These days quite often people setting out to open a restaurant will find a PR before they find a chef. No kidding. That’s pretty much what happened with Tamarind. The deep-pocketed owners clearly had briefed him to put together a team to create London’s best-looking Indian dining room. A high society designer was brought on board to convert a Mayfair basement space fit for the grand purpose and the room was duly and opulently decked out with gold pillars, big tables and big chairs suitably well spaced out from each other.
Finally a young talent from Delhi was recruited to head the kitchen. Still in his early 20s, Atul Kochar was sighted at The Oberoi Hotel and flown over. Atul did what the owners wanted and got the restaurant ecstatic reviews and a Michelin star before branching off on his own with a string of restaurants, cookbooks and TV shows now under his belt. But he left the kitchen in the more than capable hands of Alfred Prasad, who has retained the Michelin star and Rajesh Suri, the godfather of Indian restaurant managers, was brought in as CEO. They have since spawned a more pedestrian offshoot in Soho, a Tamarind in California and more recently bought the once-famed Zaika in Kensington which they plan to restore to its former glory.
Popular with western celebrities and middle-eastern visitors too, Alfred’s menu retains a traditional north Indian drive tempered with subtle and distinct presentation. Starters from the tandoor include their famed ultra-tender lamb chops and Aloo Tikki – potato cakes filled with a winning combination of spinach, garlic and chutney.
Whilst many smart London restaurant chefs like to deviate from tradition, Alfred sticks to the core and seeks (or shall we say seekhs) to just simply do them better. There aren’t many smart Indian restaurants where you can get what you want rather than what the chef wants you to have and there’s a time and place for both experiences, but here if for mains you stick to a classic Biryani, a kebab selection and black dahl, you will not be disappointed.
If by any chance you have space left after that, there’s a chocolate mousse with cinnamon and orange zest which people talk about, though I am not one of them as I do what you will probably do and see so many main courses you like you haven’t factored in a third course. I’ll leave chocolate mousse for when I go to a French restaurant, where the portions aren’t so handsome.
Iqbal Wahhab OBE