Cocktails, Chakhna and Half Plates at Talli Joe:
I’m having something of an Indian feast this summer. Partly down to the enthusiasm of my God Daughter to seemingly try every Indian restaurant in London and partly just because it’s food I enjoy. London has progressed so far from the Chicken Tikka Masala takeaways of my student days and while I’m never too sure what is authentic and what is not, I am enjoying the process of learning a little more. Hence a trip to Talli Joe to find out more from this new Covent Garden restaurant
Talli /T-uh-li/ tipsy (adjective),
a happy intoxicated state of being,
often rendering the legs useless
Talli Joe is a newcomer and, perhaps in an attempt to find a niche they’ve set themselves up to serve what they describe as half plates and full drinks.
We’re greeted by the offer of one of their signature cocktails – ‘Amma’s Special’ a gin and lime mixture with cucumber, coriander and in my case just a little sugar. I am not a fan of sweet cocktails but there is no problem adapting this particular drink to my taste. It’s very good, if somewhat potent. This place is taking its name seriously!
In some attempt to stay sober at least until we’ve tasted the food, I order a house tonic – they flavour their own tonics and there are four options on offer, each offering a delicious, light alternative if you are avoiding alcohol. I like the sound of the saffron and turmeric, but actually pick the betal leaf, which comes with a butterfly cut out of fresh betal leaf as a garnish.
Munching on Kela Wafers made from Kerala raw banana with citrus salt, we watch as eight plates of spices arrive. Head chef Sameer Taneja, formerly of Benares explains each one in turn- demonstrating how important careful spicing is in the preparation of good Indian food.
I’m particularly taken by the story of Chicken 21 – which is spiced with stone fungus and cumin. This dish is a variation on a rather famous Chicken dish from Chennai, Chicken 65. And the stories about the origin of the name vary. Some say it is simply the number of the dish on the menu, others that it was created in 1965. Chicken 21 though is apparently the number of times Chef Taneja had to try in order to get the dish right. We’re shown the dishes that we will be served later in the evening, eight savoury half plates in total. And, we unanimously decide to eat the samples…well, it would seem churlish to waste them.
Meanwhile another cocktail arrives – a Madras Gimlet which is a tumeric infused gin with lime and sugar syrup. I’m happy – it’s light, fragrant and I’m kidding myself that the tumeric must make it healthy.
Then, there’s a Rasam Shrimp shot each, a delicious mouthful of light tomato broth with a plump spicy poached prawn.
The sharing plates appear and we pounce on them. Truffle Ghee Kulcha is a naan stuffed with cottage cheese, fragrant with just a little truffle and dressed with Ghee, the soft cheese stuffing makes for a luxurious dish.
Even I can eat quail eggs and these tiny spicy devilled quail eggs are wrapped in crabmeat and served with pot of mustard spiced mayo. The yolk of the egg is more set than runny but that doesn’t spoil the dish…
I’m not a great fan of the messy thokhu but then I don’t generally eat eggs and this Adnhra style spicy organic egg pickle is just a little too eggy for me. I do like the puff roti with fennel seeds. And, I’d order the dish just to leave most of the egg mixture again and indulge in the puff roti.
I fare rather better with Kale Chaat, a street food dish with crispy kale in a tempura like batter, pomegranate and yoghurt. Heck, it might even be healthy, with all that kale in there.
Chicken 31 though, a stir-fried southern Indian dish, works perfectly for me. I’m quite reluctant to pass the ‘sharing plate’ on. It’s a deliciously sticky mixture of sweet, spicy chicken that I’d happily indulge in again, with perhaps just one of those truffled naans, for a quick lunch some time.
I’m also a big fan of Talli Macchi, the grilled red mullet with orange which has apparently been soaked in Old Monk rum. Of all the dishes this one perhaps best betrays Chef Taneja’s Michelin start heritage – a gastro-styled whole fish encrusted with fenugreek and orange.
Finally, pure comfort food in the form of Gol Baari Kosha Mangsho, a rich lamb dish which depends on bone marrow for depth of flavour and is spiced with black cardomom.
A small teapot appears and turns out to contain our final cocktail, Masala Punch, a saffron infused gin with Assam tea, jaggery, lime and spices.
Skipping dessert here isn’t a good idea. We try Berry Malai, a light and refreshing mixture of fresh fruits and baked yoghurt and a delicious black gajar halwa with salted peanut brittle.
The later is another ‘worth coming back for dish’ and I’ve already promised my god-daughter that I’ll take her. With half plates genuinely at half price (there’s nothing over £10 and plenty of dishes under £5) and cocktails around £8 this is good value without any compromise on quality and a steal for a central London location.
152-154 Shaftesbury Avenue, London, WC2H 8HL