By Claire Williams.
Okay, I’ll admit it. I love Christmas. I love everything about the festive season: the twinkly lights that adorn every shop window, the fires that crackle in cozy local pubs, the one-click ordering on Amazon that sorts everyone out their presents without me ever having to leave my dented spot on the sofa, and the beauty of Sky+, saving me ever having to miss a single corny Christmas movie whilst I party the nights away at various festive events.
One thing that signifies Christmas to me the most is our annual trip to see a show in the West End. Every year my friends and I traipse through the crowds in Leicester Square and queue up with everyone else in front of one of the variety of neon-lit theatres that decorate the streets. The only thing that lets it down? The less-than-great drudge of restaurants offering numerous variations on, let’s face it, the same congealed pizza and pasta rubbish over and over again.
So as it’s the festive season, the season of good will and giving, I’m going to let you into a little secret. There is a little place hidden away in Covent Garden that serves delicious Pan-Asian food by the plentiful and is the remedy to all your West End eating woes. And with their new £15-a-head three-course menu, there couldn’t be a better way to begin, or finish, a night chock-full of musical delights.
I visited Tamarai last Thursday to sample the £15 menu, expecting rushed greasy food and unsympathetic-to-my-tight-schedule waiters. What I got was a full, exciting menu, with waiters that understood we had somewhere to go. There was no compromising on the food, however; I had looked up the restaurant online beforehand and noticed that this wasn’t just any restaurant, this was a restaurant hailed by critics and customers alike, but there is something about set-price menus that makes me suspect the food won’t be up to scratch. However, I had nothing to fear at Tamarai.
The restaurant was relaxed and moodily lit. We ordered quickly, taking heed of the suggestions from the attentive waiters. My friend and I decided to share all the plates between us and I’m glad we did, as although the portion sizes were slight they were delicious, and it would have been criminal not to try everything that was served. Starters of tempura-style Thai vegetables and black and white sesame prawn toasts were devoured greedily, slung into homemade plum dipping sauce with wild, greedy abandon.
Without missing a beat and sensing our slight rush, the waiters slipped our plates away and presented us with our mains: crispy fish with a kaffir lime sauce and crispy basil, Duke of Berkshire pork belly, pork crackling and a hoisin onion sauce, and, because I’m a very lucky (and especially greedy) girl, we got to sample the Thai green chicken curry. The green curry in particular was a triumph. So many green curries these days are lacklustre and dull but this, however, was spicy, fresh and zingy, with great chunks of chicken and authentic Thai vegetables. Try as I might (I am a food critic) I could not fault it.
Okay, so not everyone loves Christmas like I do. I appreciate that there are two separate camps when it comes to everything festive. And I get it, there is plenty not to get excited about - the repetitive Christmas songs that pump out of every radio and shop speaker that get annoyingly, frustratingly, stuck in your head; the hordes of greedy, pushy people clamouring for the latest MP3 player, unaware that their elbows are all up in your face; the tacky Christmas specials that have been shown a million times before on every channel – but one thing I am sure of is that advocates of both camps will enjoy the food at Tamarai, regardless of whether or not you love the bright lights, the West End shows and that inescapable Christmas cheer, or whether you’re just a grumpy old Scrooge and proud of it.
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