Friday, 19 August 2011

Worth Its Weight In Michelin Stars?

By Sophie Atkinson.

Can't. Write. Blog. Must. Eat. More. High-end. Indian. Cuisine.

As I type this, I'm dreaming of peshwari naan; of monkfish marinated in ginger; of spiced chickpeas and chutney; tender lamb cutlets; and slow-cooked black lentils. The thing is, I can't decide if my cravings have more to do with the research I've been doing on Tamarind’s website (reading the a la carte menu, the pre/post-theate menu, the lunch menu, the Sunday lunch menu, the dessert menu...), or the actual dining experience I had there last week.

Since its inception in 2005, Tamarind - the Michelin-starred Indian restaurant in Mayfair - has been lauded for its authentic Indian haute cuisine. Gordon Ramsay once even named this surreptitious basement restaurant as his favourite place to eat. But Tamarind’s Michelin star was earned for its authenticity and inventiveness in its early days, back when Indian restaurants of such a high standard were still a rarity in London. Things have moved on a lot since then (including superstar Head Chef Atul Kochhar who upped and left to set up on his own in the nearby - and frankly outstanding - Benares). And although Executive Chef Alfred Prasad's cooking is still excellent, some of Tamarind’s novelty has worn off. In fact, there is some debate whether it is still worthy of the aforementioned star. The restaurant's lavish decor alone - all dark wood, gold hues, oversized flower displays and white tablecloths - sets it miles apart from its cheap and cheerful counterparts over in Brick Lane. But the prices are also very high, which may lead to unrealistic expectations.

Now, don't get me wrong, with its chic-chi location, underground glamour and discrete but highly attentive service, Tamarind is still a restaurant that packs a punch. The luxurious, seasonal menus feature dishes which are an eclectic mix of breads, meats, game, fish and shellfish; all cooked in a North West Indian style, centred around the native tandoor ovens.

Alfred Prasad – originally from Chennai (formerly Madras) and the youngest Indian chef to receive a Michelin star – ran a series of five-star hotels in southern India before moving to the UK in 2000 and he and his team take regular trips back to the sub-continent to source
new and exciting ingredients and research cooking-techniques. The passionate chef - who has remained loyal to Tamarind, having cooked here for almost a decade - puts a contemporary spin on traditional dishes, such as his spiced chickpeas served with whole-wheat crisps and sweetened yoghurt topped with blueberries, or the carrot fudge and mango and basil sorbet.

On the night that I visited, we feasted on the sumptuous lunch menu which included potato cakes and lamb cutlets; tiger prawns, monkfish, chicken tikka, lamb masala, smoked aubergine pulp, slow cooked black lentils and divine date and toasted almond naan. All of the dishes were delicious, well-flavoured and delicately presented. And had I been served these dishes at my local curry house, I'd have been rather impressed.

But having returned home to peruse the menu online, I personally deduced that Tamarind is a tad on the pricey side. A winner, I'm sure, if you are looking to impress with a glamorous setting in an even more glamorous location and overall a very enjoyable experience. But, in my humble opinion, the food at Tamarind is a little more impressive to read on the menu than it is to actually eat.

If you’re ready to splash the cash on a visit Tamarind, book yourself a table right now using this handy widget thingiemabob

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