Review of Tamarind of London
Indian Cuisine, London Sensibilities on the Newport Coast
The Tamarind brand has been thriving in London for the past several years and was the first Indian restaurant to snag a Michelin star. The restaurant group has three successful restaurants in London. Tamarind of London, is the restaurant groups first push into the United States and selected Newport Coast as their home. The location makes sense for local clientele, as they are serving high-end Indian fare with London-esque sensibilities. I recently has invited to try their food, this is my reaction.
Tamarind has been recognized by Los Angeles Time Food Critic Johnathan Gold as best Indian restaurant in Southern California. Last year, Tamarind brought in a new Head Chef, Iman Ali. When I met Chef Ali, he commanded a strong, yet positive, presence in the restaurant. It was obvious that his influence runs through the entire restaurant, not just the kitchen.
About Cooking on a Tandoor
I chatted with Chef Imran about how the tandoor works, since I had no clue. The restaurant has three tandoors, prominently featured behind glass so you can watch them cook. Each tandoor basically is a cylindrical clay oven. The chef skewers the meat and lowers it into the the oven, the meat is cooked at high temperatures to lock in the juices and sear the seasonings to the meat.
Each of the three tandoors cooks at a different temperature. The lowest temperature Tandoor burns around 350 degrees for the Naan. The second burner is heated to around 1100 degrees and is used to sear the meat, locking in the juices . This high temperature also locks any sauces and seasoning to the exterior of the meat. The third tandoor burns around 500 degrees and is used to slowly cook the meat all the way through.
The interior and exterior of Tamarind is very fancy with the requisite high ceilings, waterfalls, fire pits and swanky bar. The restaurant is split into three distinct sections. The formal side of the dining room has a view of the kitchen through the performance window. I could see having a business meeting in here.
The other side is more dark and romantic; it almost feels a like a Las Vegas lounge. The other portion is an outdoor patio, complete with fire pit, a prerequisite for any restaurant on the Newport Coast.
What we ate at Tamarind of London
Papadum and Chutney
Papadum is made from ground lentil paste that is dried out to form puffy chips. Papadum tasted like a vegan version of cicharons (fried pig skins). The Papadum is served with three types of chutneys: mint and cilantro, smoked tomato, and tamarind & ginger. I went through two servings of these. These are complimentary with your meal.
Small Plates Sampler
Tamarind of London menu, like any other modern restaurant, features a small plates section. The Chef Ali provided us his favorite items from the small plates menu in a sampler format. Below are the sampler items that I tried.
- Tandoori Lamb – The tandoori lamb chop is marinated in Star Anise and papaya, it was very juicy.
- Spiced Masala-Potato Croquete (part of the potato platter) – This is like the English croquette, but made with Masala spice in the potato.
- Tandoori Grilled Prawns – The prawn was beautifully marinaded and cooked int the tandoori. The prawns are deep with aromatic flavors and extremely juicy.
- Lamb sausage – I have never eaten Indian lamb sausage and I really like the seasoning.
- Caramelized Tandori Tikka – Chicken chunks are coated in an herb and cream cheese marinade and blasted in the tandoori. This item is like chicken tikka masala, but without the gravy.
Chicken Tikka Masala
Chicken Tikka Masala is the one dish that is ubiquitously associated with Indian cuisine. Tikka means small pieces of meat. Masala means a mixture of spice made into a paste or powder. The Tamarind of London’s version of this dish is made with makhi sauce, sautéed onions, dried Fenugreek leaves.
As expected, Tamarind’s version of chicken Tikka Masala was very good. I am not an expert of Indian cuisine, although it was one of the better preparations that I have tasted . This dish is served in the traditional Kadai (metal bowl),with a side of Basmatti Rice.
The lamb curry is served as a stew and is made with slow cooked lamb, browned onions, tomato, and Kashmiri red chilies. This dish is deeply aromatic and the flavor layering is very complex. This dish is also served in a Kandai and served with rice.
The night I tried this dish, I thought that it was just o.k. The next day, I warmed it up and the flavors had evolved into something better. The spices had time to permeate deeper into the meat and packed a pleasant punch.
Tandoori Seabass “Saffrani Machi”
This would be my death row meal meal, if the Warden offered me the Tamarind menu. Chilean Seabass is marinated in a Saffron-Gineger and Green Chili Marinade and cooked in the tandoori. It is served atop an Indian style risotto and a delicious apricot curry sauce.
I was literally talking about this dish for the next couple days. The fish was extremely juicy, with natural juices and marinade locked into the muscle. I could literally drink the apricot curry sauce by the mug.
Coconut Prawn Curry
This is the other dish that I would highly recommend if you visit Tamarind of London. Large and plump prawns are swimming in a traditional coconut milk and ginger sauce. I am sure it had many other ingredients in the sauce, but the ginger provide an common note that tied the dish together.
The Cocktails are very Brittish Empire inspired with a nice collection of Gin Cocktails and some fruit infused vodka conconctions. Most menu items have a wine pairing recommendation, giving you the feeling that this is definitely a Brittish influenced Indian Restaurant.
The Tower of London is a very refreshing Gin cocktail, that provided a refreshing note between dishes. It is made with Pinnacle Gin, St. Germain, freshly muddled cucumber and basil, fresh lime, 7-Up.
The Kaffir Lime Pie Stoli was an unexpected fine pairing with Indian food. The muddled limes and pineapple juice created a fruity overtone to the palate and cut through some of the spices in the dish to refresh the palate.
2013 Colome Torrentes, Argentina is a refreshing wine that reminded me of a Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc. The cool and crisp nature of the wine cut through the spices like a knife, keeping the flavors fresh and interesting.
We were presented with a dessert trio that the Pastry Chef described as going from “cool to hot.” The cool dish is the Rice Kheer, essentially an aromatic and refreshing rice pudding. The “warm” item was a spiced chocolate tart cake, laced with warm spices. The third item is a Gulab Jamun, which are essentially fried doughnut balls, served hot in sticky syrup. My favorite of these desserts was the chocolate cake.
My final Thoughts about Tamarind of London.
Tamarind of London made a very good first impression. I will be honest, I did not want to review Tamarind of London, as it Indian is not my “go to” cuisine. I was pleasantly surprised with the food that I tried. I really liked the Chef’s technique of adding a modern swirl to the classic dishes.
If you visit Tamarind of London, I highly encourage you not to order the Chicken Tikka Masala. Why? Although this dish is good, you should try something that you could not find at every other Indian restaurant in Southern California. Ordering the sea bass and coconut curry shrimp is a must.
Tamarind of London is fine dining, so expect to pay between $25-29 for meat dishes. Considering the quality of the food, service and ambiance, I would feel comfortable spending around ~$90 for a full meal consisting of a starter, two entrees and a dessert to share.
I am no expert in Indian food, just a white guy who loves good food. This is one of the better Indian Restaurant that I have tried, even better than a couple I tried in London. Tom’s Foodie Blog Recommends Tamarind of London.