QH meets Talli Joe, the newest member of the stylish Indian food tribe …
Small plates may be dying a death (ask any London critic – they detest the things), but somehow the foods of South Asia are dodging the firing line and are instead getting stronger, livelier and more confident in this style.
Perhaps it’s because this food – of India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, etc – is made for sharing; everybody hates the person who orders a chicken korma and a side of jasmine rice to themselves because, as much as I loathe sharing food, that’s very weird and simply not the vibe.
And speaking of, ordering/serving korma and a jasmine rice has become positively archaic – South Asian food and restaurant design has experienced a dazzling reincarnation in recent years, where it’s all about flavour and maybe a bit of fusion instead of filling yourself up, it’s about cocktails and good music and kitsch Indian trinkets and fun, not crappy wine or Singha, napkin art and loads and loads of ghee.
Enter stylish Indian food empire Dishoom, Brixton-based posh Indian small plates at Kricket, Sri Lankan small plates from the Sethi family at Hoppers in Soho, and the newest member of this unofficial tribe, Talli Joe, newly settled into their Shaftesbury Avenue home.
Touting “half plates and full drinks”, it has a buzzy, every-night-is-Friday-night vibe, placing as much focus on their inventive cocktails as they do their list of extended kickass snacks and small plates.
I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a cocktail menu so robust and proudly Indian – divided by region, each drink is its own beast – chock full of authentic ingredients like saffron, betel leaf, turmeric, assam tea, Bengali lime, rose, and tropical fruits – plus double measures of spirits, hence the “full drinks” part…my liver can concur.
The food is punchy, spirited and modern but, again, proudly Indian – we start with a Jaipur Fizz – like a Bellini, but better – with hand-cut Kerala raw banana wafers with citrus salt and cones of masala papad, and then the plates start coming.
Some forgettable, some very good - a rasam shrimp shot is so fun and reminds me of an oyster shot I had on a recent trip to Maui – eat the succulent shrimp then sip the broth, the kale chaat is a lesson in texture – with flaky, crispy battered kale with bursts of pomegranate seeds giving way to a fudgy flavour-dense potato at the bottom, and they don’t half know how cook their meat and fish – a tandoori lamb chop is unctuous and absolutely packed with flavour, their sea bass with rice beautifully moist – a gift in a banana leaf, and their red mullet with rum-soaked orange, though perhaps over-rummed, is perfectly cooked with a tropical BBQ style.
They seriously aren’t short of flavour and texture, but you might find yourself missing your greens. Is that boring? Oh well. I think an Indian slaw, simple dressed and sans mayo or anything too creamy, would pair well. But the point is a good time – and that it sure is.
Design wise, my friend said to me that Talli ‘has the soul of a Mexican restaurant’ and I don’t think that’s a bad thing, I also think it’s clear that they’ve looked to Dishoom for design inspiration – also not a bad thing, but perhaps their own style needs a little developing.
But never mind that – I would go back in a heartbeat…and probably will this weekend. Warm service, punchy, inventive cocktails and some really pretty stellar food. Chef Sameer Taneja asks us if we missed our chicken tikka, our korma and jasmine rice, our saag paneer – I’d forgotten them entirely.
QH RESTAURANT REVIEW:
by Ashleigh Togher, 19 July 2016