There’s a reason why I have never written about Tamarind of London. It is not because I’ve never visited, quite the contrary actually. Through the years, with every chef change, and then some in between, I’ve always come and left, always feeling underwhelmed. Meals have been bland — yes, something that’s somewhat of a mystery when you think of Indian cuisine — and has never inspired me to write anything, that is, until now.
I entered Tamarind like I have always done so in the past, with a bit of skepticism in my gut. I have been reluctant to come back, but my friend — an Indian food enthusiast — on the other hand, was rather excited. After sitting down, she quite eagerly perused the menu, while I skimmed through it expecting to find some new items to jump out at me. Quite frankly, I’ve tried a good number of the dishes and was not really sure what to order.
Our server Frankie was delightful. In fact, he was amazing. His attentive and friendly demeanor made for a very welcoming intro to this, possibly my fifth or sixth visit to Tamarind since its inception. On top of that, the promise of a new chef, Imran Ali, gave me a glimmer of hope that this time, it would be different.
Before we even ordered, a basket of complimentary pappadums arrive at the table accompanied by a trio of sauces: the restaurant’s namesake, tamarind; mint and cilantro chutney; plus an absolutely stunning roasted tomato chutney.
We started with Hara Bara Palak Kofta ($13) a duo of potato dumplings if you will. The potato pancake with bits of carrot was lovely, however, the ‘croquette’ was definitely my favorite. Seasoned potatoes are mashed and coated with breadcrumbs and deep fried. It was soft on the inside and crispy on the outside.
If you’re a fan of lamb, then Lamb Seekh Kebab ($16) is just your thing. These ground lamb kebabs are cooked in the tandoor oven and are reminiscent of kofta kebabs you find in Mediterranean cuisine. Seared on the outside, while remaining moist on the inside, they are too good to share.
I was stumped when it came to ordering our main courses. We all agreed on Dakshini Jhinga ($28), a coconut prawn curry in a traditional sauce using ginger and coconut milk — which by the way was so good even my son devoured it and he isn’t all that keen on prawns. The heat level is mild, but it is packed with a complex blend of spices layering flavor upon flavor.
We just could not decide on our second entree, but Frankie came to the rescue and suggested Lamb Vindaloo ($31) — it’s not on the menu, but is a special they often prepare for guests who are looking for something different. The chunks of lamb are tender and the sauce, savory and piquant. Vindaloo may be spicier for some palates, but was perfect for mine. This is a dish I will most definitely order again.
I am not able to sit through an Indian meal without Bhindi Masala ($15). I absolutely love okra, and here, it is prepared in a tangy tomato paste with onions and tomatoes. The okra links are slightly charred on the outside giving a caramelized finish to the vegetables. Simply superb!
Dal (lentil stew) is another side dish I always order. I couldn’t decide between the two offered and once again, but luckily, Frankie made an executive decision and suggested Dal Makhni ($15), slow-cooked black lentils with tomato and butter. It was splendid.
I like to add a few dollops of Cucumber Raita ($4) to the mix, which will help if you find your mouth burning. Not only does the yogurt cool your mouth down, but it also adds a touch of richness to the curries without the heaviness of cream.
I was really pleased that everything possessed strong, robust flavors which I expect with Indian cuisine. Tamarind of London needs to stay true to itself and not tweak its dishes to what it thinks the local population wants. With Chef Imran Ali at its helm, I hope Tamarind can finally find its rightful place within the realm of stellar Indian fare in Orange County.
Tamarind of London
7862 E Pacific Coast Hwy
Newport Coast, CA 92657