Tamarind opened in 1995, and was the joint-first Indian restaurant to gain a Michelin star back in 2001, along with Zaika. Tamarind closed for most of 2018 for a major refurbishment, and has reopened at almost twice the size, now spread over two floors and serving over 150 customers at one time. When Tamarind gained its star the head chef was Atul Kochhar, handing over to Alfred Prasad from mid 2002, followed by Peter Joseph, who was head chef from 2012 until the 2018 closure and refurbishment.
With the reopening there has been a change in the staffing of the kitchens too. To go with the doubling in size, there are now twice as many head chefs too: executive group head chef Karunesh Khanna and Tamarind Mayfair head chef, Manav Tuli. Mr Khanna was head chef of Amaya for thirteen years before moving here. Mr Manav was previously head chef of Chutney Mary from 2012, overseeing its move from Chelsea to St James. The downstairs dining room has an open kitchen and a preparation counter along one side, with bare, closely packed tables. The hard surfaces mean that the noise levels are moderately high (up to 83 decibels on my meter). The menu is quite lengthy and has some interesting and unusual dishes as well as familiar favourites. There are “small plates” as well as grilled dishes and then curries, but the small plates we tried were anything but, so you could easily have one of these as a starter.
The wine list had 141 bottles ranging in price from £35 to £4,700, with a median price of £95. Sample references were Umani Ronchi Villa Bianchi 2017 at £35 for a bottle that you can find in the high street for £8, Tamboerskloof Viognier 2017 at £57 compared to its retail price of £17, and Marcel Deiss Riesling 2015 at £88 for a wine that will set you back £28 in the high street. For those with the means there was Chateau Pichon-Longeuville Baron 1995 at an extortionate £650 (plus service) compared to its retail price of £150, and Penfolds Grange Hermitage 1980 at £1,050 for a wine whose current market value is £612. The average markup was more than 3.9 times retail price, which is very high even by the demanding standards of Mayfair. One particularly grotesque example was the Louis Martini Sonoma County Cabernet Sauvignon 2016 at £74 (plus service) for a bottle that retails at £13, so over six times its shop price.
The meal started well, with a beautifully balanced chaat, served on a popadom base and featuring mint, peanuts, coriander chilli and pomegranate seeds as well as the usual puffed rice, yoghurt and tamarind chutney. The spicing level was just right, the sweetness of the tamarind spot on (15/20). A lotus root chaat was also very good, the lotus root itself properly crisp and the accompaniment also nicely balanced (14/20).
Peppercorn chicken tikka was classy, the chicken having been marinated with yoghurt and spices before being cooked in the tandoor, the result extremely tender and having absorbed the flavours of the marinade, served with blobs of mango puree and also fennel (15/20). Quail tikka was also good, the bird plump and carefully cooked, served with a kumquat chutney, whose sharpness was a good pairing to balance the richenss of the meat (14/20).
The only real misstep of the meal was tandoori monkfish, which was rather mushy, but to be fair they quickly swapped this for a prawn curry, which had properly cooked prawns and a rich, buttery, gently spiced sauce (14/20). Black dhal was rather on the watery side to my taste (12/20) but cauliflower and ginger was lovely, the florets having retained their texture and the ginger coming through nicely (15/20). A seasonal dish of spiced Brussels sprouts also worked well, the sprouts lightly cooked and standing up well to the spices (14/20). Naan bread was soft and supple (14/20). I really enjoyed a chicken biryani, served in a dish covered with a pastry seal, which to me is how it should always be: I like the theatre of his, and also the aromas released when the seal is broken are lovely. The rice was delicate and the chicken entirely avoided dryness (15/20). On the side throughout the meal were additional chutneys of mango, tomato and aubergine.
Desserts were by no means an afterthought. Gajar halwa was given a fine treatment by being served as a soufflé. This worked really well, the sweet carrot flavour coming through well, the soufflé light and evenly cooked, served with a superb guava sorbet. This would not be out of place in a top French fine dining restaurant (17/20). Also good was a modern take on gulab jamun, the milk-solid sweet balls here accompanied by orange segments and mandarin granite, an excellent idea to balance the sweetness and richness of the gulab jamun (15/20). Coffee was Musetti, but I am sure that can be fixed.
Service was excellent, led by a former manager of Amaya. The bill came to £134 including an excellent bottle of Marcel Deiss Riesling and cocktails. If you ordered less freely than we did and shared a modest bottle of wine (if you could find one) then a more typical cost per person might be around £85. This is of course more than your local curry house, but then the food is classy, the service silky smooth and the Mayfair setting suitably grand. This was exactly on the borderline between 14/20 and 15/20 but I am inclined to be kind here, since the best dishes were very good indeed. I was never a fan of the old Tamarind, but the new version is impressive if you try and blank out the wine prices from your mind.
Further reviews: 01st Sep 2007