Talli Joe opened in April 2016, the name roughly meaning “tipsy Joe” in Hindi. It is an all-day restaurant seating eighty customers on the ground floor, with an overspill room downstairs that apparently may become a bar in due course. The place has a casual feel, with bright colours and no tablecloths.
The head chef here is Sameer Taneja, originally from Delhi and who cooked at the Oberoi Rajvilas, a deeply civilised hotel in Jaipur that I stayed at on a trip to Rajasthan many years ago. Later he worked in European restaurants including The Waterside Inn and Koffmann, and most recently was head chef of Benares (editor's note: Mr Taneja has since moved to Kanishka) An interesting feature of the menu is that they serve “half plates”, so sharing-sized portions rather than the vast family-sized dishes that feature in Southall – about three dishes per person is the recommendation. The menu skips around Indian cooking styles, from Punjabi through to Goan and beyond, plucking interesting dishes from around the country.
There was a short wine list ranging in price from £19.50 to £75. Example labels were Freedom Cross Chenin Blanc 2015 at £22.50 for a bottle that you can pick up in the high street for £7, Vina Amate Reserva 2011 at £35 compared to its retail price of £12, and Pol Roger NV at £75 for a wine that will set you back £38 in a shop.
Channa chaat was an excellent rendition of the savoury snack, this one with tender chickpeas and enough tamarind chutney to avoid the dish being too dry (14/20). A crabmeat devilled Scotch egg used a quail egg, soft inside when cut open, and with plenty of flavour from the brown cab meat, enlivened with gentle but effective spicing (13/20). Kale chaat was a variant of a spinach chaat street food dish – the chef reckons that kale works better. Certainly the fried kale had good texture and the sev with it was a pleasing complement to it; another nice dish (13/20).
Sorpotel is a dish I have only ever seen in Goa. Pork and offal pickle is flavoured with vinegar and spices and served with spongy coconut rice cakes called sanna. This at its best is a gloriously deeply flavoured dish, the vinegar an essential element in order to balance the richness of the meat. The version here was spot on, the level of sourness just right, the flavour of the meat and spices a hearty, complex affair – terrific cooking (15/20).
“Chicken 21” is named because the chef went through 21 iterations of the recipe before he was happy with it. The meat was stir-fried and tossed with curry leaves and south Indian spices, the chicken tender and the spicing suitably multi-layered and lively (14/20).
Wild mushrooms were served with wild rice (technically a type of grass), the combination working nicely and the mushrooms lightly cooked (13/20). Sea bass was flavoured with coconut and spices, combined with rice and then steamed in a banana leaf. Unwrapping the leaf is always a nice theatrical aspect of the dish, and the spicing was balanced, the fish carefully cooked (13/20).
Nihari was a slow-cooked veal shank curry served with a hollowed out veal bone along with its marrow, with a roti bread that was a touch dry. The curry was good and the marrow was an unusual touch, but for me the bread was not optimal (13/20). Parathas as a side order were superb, freshly made to order, hot and avoiding greasiness – one of the best parathas I have tasted for ages (easily 15/20). Pea-stuffed bread and potato came with red pumpkin curry. This was another enjoyable dish, the potato retaining its texture and the pumpkin an interesting and seasonal touch (13/20).
Halwa was made with heritage black carrots and peanut brittle. I was not entirely convinced by this dish – the carrots were fine, but peanuts are a strong flavour and were quite dominant compared to a classic version made with pistachios (12/20).
In general the spicing was pleasingly bold, the different spices vibrant and distinct, not toned down for perceived delicate western palates. Service was friendly and the bill came to just £22 a head, albeit with tap water to drink. If you shared a modest bottle of wine then your cost per head would still only come to around £38, which seems very fair to me given the amount of work going into the dishes. I was impressed with Talli Joe, whose cooking today included some genuinely classy dishes, and with a generally high skill level that belied the seemingly casual décor and atmosphere. I will happily return and try even more of its interesting menu.