The last time I came to Tamarind I literally stumbled over Michael Douglas, which is testimony to its star power. This extends to Michelin, who give it a star, a rarity for an Asian restaurant. I never really understood this, and so thought it was time to try it once more. The basement dining room has mirrors on the walls and a partial view into the kitchen. The service is impressive, with drinks effortlessly topped up or replaced and dishes arriving promptly. You begin with good mini-popadoms, crisp and served with three home-made chutneys (4/10).
Our starters were aloo tikki and padi channa chat. Aloo tikki is Indian street-food, pan-fried potato cakes: in this case cooked with ginger, lentils and a stuffing of spinach and toasted cumin. You could view it as an Indian version of rosti. In this version the potato seemed rather too soft inside, though the spices were nicely made (1/10). Better was the channa chat, crisps made from gram flour mixed with tender chickpeas, mint chutney, sweetened yoghurt and (the key ingredient) tamarind chutney. The components were nicely balanced, the spices lively but controlled (3/10). The best dish of the night was achari pudina tikka, chicken tikka marinated with yoghurt, coriander, spices and mint, then cooked in the tandoor. The chicken was very tender indeed and the spices again well-judged (4/10).
Pleasant but no more than that was sea bass fillet (farmed fish) which was pan-fried and then served on a bed of spinach, baby corn and beans with a tomato and coconut sauce. The fish was cooked correctly but the sauce was rather bland, and this dish seemed hardly Indian at all (2/10). Yellow dal was rather sorry for itself, much too watery, though the lentils had at least a little texture left (1/10). Bhindi was reasonable, the okra cooked a fraction too long but not soggy, tossed with chilli, ginger, cumin and tomato (2/10). Tragically they no longer serve romali roti, my favourite Indian bread and one which is difficult to find in London (the Brilliant in Southall, Haandi in Edgware and the Tandoor in Kinsbury are the only places I know of that do it). Plain naan was fine, reasonably fluffy in texture (2/10). Plain rice was also OK, though at £3.75 for a small bowl of rice, so it should be. Desserts were good. Kulfi is home-made and had plenty of mango flavour and good texture (3/10). Halwa was served as a tiny portion but was very good, the carrot fudge having raisins and melon seeds, topped with reduced milk, a garnish of pistachio and even a little silver leaf (3/10).
Overall this was somewhere between 2/10 and 3/10 level cooking, which is all well and good until you get the bill: £120 for two with three small beers between us. To add insult to injury there was a £2.75 supplement. When we had ordered our starters we were asked: "will you be sharing these?" - and the affirmative answer was taken as a license to give us two aloo tikki cakes each (apparently there are usually three to a portion, which there was no way of knowing from the menu) and charge extra for the additional one. Now bear in mind that at no point when ordering was there a suggestion of an extra charge, or even a hint that by "sharing" we were implying we wanted anything extra, and this is basically a tiny potato cake whose ingredient cost must be about 10p. Moreover the dish costs £6.95, implying that each little cake is £2.32, yet the supplement was £2.75. They did at least take it off the bill after I complained, but to me this is very sharp practice, and leaves a bad taste in the mouth; this is hardly a place that stints on its prices, with a prawn dish at £22.50 and even achari gosht (lamb curry) at £19.50. I'm sure the average Mayfair clientele would not notice or care about this sort of thing, but I found it quite irritating.
Value for money is the big problem here. Over £60 a head is twice as much as we pay at Haandi in Knightsbridge, which serves better food. The cooking is good, but I am baffled as to why Michelin have elevated it to stardom when places like Haandi, Deya and Mintleaf are ignored. Michelin understand French food so well yet their Asian choices are frequently baffling. At half the price Tamarind would be fine, but unless you are being taken on expenses then why come here when there are much cheaper alternatives that actually have the edge?