Editor's note: This was short-lived, closing in September 2014. In October 2014 it was announced that these premises will be turned into a relaunched Zaika.
In the premises of what used to be Zaika, Tamarind Collection (who run Tamarind and Imli) opened, in April 2014, a European rather than an Indian restaurant. The building itself dates back to 1885, originally built for the London and County bank. They have recruited as a consultant chef Massimiliano Blasone, who prior to a stint in California as a private chef had been head chef at Apsleys when it first gained its Michelin star, and had previously had a star in his own right in Tuscany. Starters ranged from £9.50 to £15, main courses £15.50 to £24.50, desserts £ to £6.50 to £9.50. There was a three course set lunch available at £24, and a set dinner at £29. The dining room has been somewhat redesigned and significantly redecorated since the Zaika days. The room has a lot of wood panelling, and the rather modern décor with its turquoise upholstery feels a little at odds with this inherently traditional room; the lighting is at least less murky than it used to be, though still far from ideal in my view.
The wine list had a large section covering France but also a decent coverage of other countries. Prices started at £35 and included choices such as Schlumberger Pinot Blanc Les Prince Abbes 2011 at £40 for a wine that retails at £11, Crozes Hermitage Blanc, Domaine Entrefaux 2012 at a stiff £65 for a wine that you can find in a shop for £14, and Freestone Vineyards Chardonnay Joseph Phelps 2010 at £135 for a wine that will set you back £33 in the high street. These are elevated mark-up levels, even by the standards of London.
We had a tasting menu. A scallop with asparagus and butternut squash involved a scallop that did not have much inherent sweetness, though it was cooked quite well (13/20). Better was a foie gras terrine with rhubarb compote and a crumble of cocao – this was silky smooth and had quite good liver flavour, the rhubarb providing balancing acidity (15/20).
A seafood salad involved langoustine, tuna, scallop, lobster and sea bass, along with some crispy broccoli. This was well put together, the tuna in particular having good flavour (14/20). Beef tartare came with rice “soufflé” and was good, the beef having nice flavour and the seasoning, the rice providing a textural contrast (15/20).
Salmon with Jerusalem artichokes and pea shoots just lacked flavour, as salmon tends to do these days (13/20). The best dish of the evening was gnocchi, served with San Marzano tomatoes, basil oil and Parmesan. This was the chef operating in his natural habitat, and the gnocchi were lovely, light and fluffy (16/20 may be too mean a score). Slow cooked egg with Parmesan cream, amaranth (a grain) and prosciutto powder had a nice mixture of textures, but the Parmesan flavour seemed too dominant (13/20).
Sea bass with chicory and ratatouille featured carefully cooked fish and a pleasant vegetable base, the chicory providing a subtly bitter flavour (15/20). Venison loin with Jerusalem artichoke puree and salsify crisps came with morels and a grain mustard jus. This was enjoyable but was a very rich dish; for me, an acidic element to balance the dish would have been beneficial (14/20).
A lemon tart was very good indeed, with delicate pastry and nicely balanced filling (16/20). Cannoni Siciliano had ricotta, pistachio and kumquat, the latter usefully giving some acidity to work with the ricotta (14/20). A little black forest gateau style dessert had crème Chantilly and kirsch as well as good chocolate and reasonable cherries (15/20).
Service was attentive, possibly too much so in the case of one waiter, who was fussing around more than was necessary. Dishes arrived at a steady, indeed quite speedy, rate, and wine topping up was good. With a moderate wine, a typical bill for a la carte choices would come to about £70 a head. There were clearly some very good dishes here though the cooking was not entirely consistent; admittedly the restaurant had only been open for three weeks. It was doing good business on a Tuesday night already, and I think the main challenge here will be whether the kitchen staff can be streamlined into a more consistent unit; Mr Blasone is a talented chef, but he will not be here forever, and there will then be a further transitional challenge. However, for now you can come here and enjoy some food that at times is very good indeed