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Thursday 8 December 2011

London Restaurant Reviews - Tamarai (Pan-Asian Cooking in Covent Garden)


Few restaurants have challenged my prejudices as much as Tamarai. From the moment I walked through the door, I was ready to dislike it. The restaurant occupies the basement of a nightclub on Drury Lane, in London's West End. For a moment I wondered whether I had come to the right place, until I perceived some fellow diners through the dim lighting.

As soon as I entered, I also noted that service was impeccable - indeed, before we entered the restaurant, a waiter rushed out to warn us we were parked inadvertently in a residents bay, and gave us a voucher for a free bay in an underground parking lot nearby.

The menu, devised by head-chef Manish, is influenced by Japan, China, South-east Asia and the Indian sub-continent. To blend such an array of influences in a single menu is an ambitious task in which many fail. "Pan-Asian" cuisine can be a term of abuse (Jack of all trades, master of none) but I think otherwise - if sympathetically done, it can bring together the finest authentic dishes from different countries into a coherent whole.

Starters range from £6.50 to £16, while main courses start from £15 going up to £24. The wine list is comprehensive with a few New and Old World options priced around £20 and upwards. Cocktails are all priced at £9. While we perused the menu, Dr G and I ordered a couple of cocktails - "Tamajito" - a deliciously refreshing drink made from Japanese shiso leaf bruised over crushed ice with sugar, lemon juice, gin and a dash of absinthe, and "Punch Essential" with Pernod Anise aperitif, vanilla liqueur, passion fruit and grapefruit.

We decided to go for the Chef's Tasting Menu @ £52 per person with a tasting flight of 5 wines @ £17 per person to accompany the menu, including some great choices such as Knappstein Riesling from Clare Valley, Australia and a sweet Beaumes de Venise.

As the first dishes arrived, my initial doubts about the restaurant, Pan-Asian cooking and the varied menu were assuaged. Even the dodgy decor was forgiven. Dish after dish, Manish proved to be a truly accomplished chef - his food was delicious, well balanced and elegantly constructed. Much thought had obviously gone into each dish and I was astounded by the myriad flavours, textures and combinations of Asian ingredients that he demonstrated.

I cannot fault the food or service at Tamarai that evening, on the contrary, I can only praise it. These are the dishes that we had as part of the Chef's Tasting Menu, plus a couple of other small dishes I asked to try:

Smoked Salmon Thayar Satham (curd rice)

Corn-fed Chicken Spring Roll

Soft- shell Crab, Flame roast Coconut and Masala Mayo - I loved the combination of toasted coconut and soft shell crab in this dish.

Sweet Chilli Lotus Root - this was one of the simplest but also one of the most delicious dishes of the evening.

Beef Satay, Peanut Glaze and Wasabi Yoghurt - I really enjoyed the wasabi yoghurt with the beef satay, a well thought out combination of Asian flavours.

Caramelised Szechuan Pepper King Prawns - this was the most sensational dish of this meal, I would love to return to Tamarai to have this again (or even better - learn how to make it!).

Sweet Pomelo Salad - deliciously fresh and very well made, this was perfect with the Caramelised Szechuan Pepper King Prawns.

Black Tiger Prawns - chunky and delectable.

Thai Green Curry - the green curry tasted as authentic as all the ones I tried in Thailand, beautifully spiced and very warming.

Roasted Sesame and White Chocolate Semi Freddo - impeccable presentation of this dessert, which tasted refreshing yet  creamy.

Seasonal Fruit Satay - another beautifully presented dish that brought a smile to my face. I loved the sweet, perfectly ripened fruit served satay-style, smothered in a lovely passion fruit syrup and topped with small green shoot-leaves.

Cost: £52 per person for the Chef's Tasting Menu and £17 per person for the matching wines.

Likes: the entire menu was fantastic, particularly the Caramelised Szechuan Pepper King Prawns. Very comprehensive wine and cocktails list.

Dislikes: the nighclub decor is rather challenging for a restaurant experience.

Verdict: Chef Manish cooks the best Pan-Asian food I have ever tried. I enjoyed every course of his tasting menu, and the wine matches were also perfect. Very highly recommended.

Tamarai on Urbanspoon


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  4. Yum - those lotus root chips look amazing! Great photos - they have got me salivating so I think I'll heave to give this place a try sometime soon! Thanks!

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    Luiz @ The London Foodie

  7. We actually stopped in here after an evening tour and the food was amazing. Anyone who is a fan of satay will love their food... note though, you might well need to book as we had a 20 minute wait.


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