The usual formula for restaurant reviews these days is predictably tripartite: 1, the critic bangs on about his girlfriend/gout/celebrity pals for as many words as the subs allow. 2, the critic mentions the food. 3, the critic returns to his fail-safe subject – himself – in what he thinks is a neat and witty little structural about-turn.
Usually this works fine, and in fact writing about myself is probably my favourite past-time. But with Tamarind – the Michelin-starred Indian restaurant over in Mayfair – it doesn’t seem quite so appropriate. I was going to try and make an elaborately tenuous comparison between the restaurant, Tamarind, and the tamarind tree – which according to Wikipedia (and yes, that is the extent of my research these days) is “a long-lived, medium-growth bushy tree, which attains a maximum crown height of 12.1 to 18.3 metres”. I’m not sure why I decided not to bother with this – perhaps because it’s totally irrelevant – but I’m sure we’ll work it out as we go along.
And so to Tamarind, and not wishing to beat about the medium-growth bush, the food is simply superb. I really can’t fault one single bit of it in any way, which, I’m afraid, is going to make for rather tedious reading. Oh well.
We’re sampling from the spring lunch menu, but this being a press jolly, we get to try everything rather than having to choose. There’s four starters, three of which are delightful, and one of which (a salad of black-eyed beans, cherry tomatoes, chard leaves and pomegranate with a lime and cumin dressing) is merely really good. There’s some excellent little kingfish cakes (with a belting chutney) and some great tilapia and mint chutney rolls; but the highlight at this stage is, for me, a perfectly balanced, zippily brilliant salad of duck breast, grilled courgette, rocket, avocado and – a stroke of genius, this – kumquat. It’s a confidently handled dish of both strength and delicacy: spring, personified.
From here to the mains, and again everything is flawless. We sample an amazing chicken tikka with ginger and honey; paneer with fenugreek leaves; meltingly delicious lamb cutlets; turmeric potatoes and broccoli; a yellow lentil dahl; and the most fabulously sweet-but-never-too-sweet Naan bread, containing a dark mush of date, coconut and poppy seed.
What stands out across every dish is the expert balance and use of spices. The heat brings a backbone – and in places some punchy bite – but it never crushes or dominates. As if with wings, this heat lifts the flavours upwards, taking the more delicate elements to rare new heights. Raw papaya, fennel, ginger, saffron, fenugreek: all these flavours dance around each other, intertwined, but all clean and individually traceable as themselves.
Desserts too are noticeable for the perfection of balance. Carrot fudge with melon seeds, raisins, pistachio and (a bit superfluously) silver leaf – is a firm, gooey delight, while strawberry and mint sorbet is a simple but perfectly apt conclusion.
From here alas it’s back to the office and another little Wikipedia factoid: “the tamarind does flower, though inconspicuously”. Ditto Tamarind – there’s not much show here, from either the décor (all muted golds) or the politely passionate owner, but the food truly sings.
Oh, and sticking to the formula, sadly I can’t think of a way of bringing it back to me. Just go to Tamarind – it’s so good it shuts even me up. And I can’t say much more than that.