Imli Restaurant, Wardour Street, London | Awesome Indian ‘street food’ tapas
Imli Restaurant, Wardour Street, London
Helen Forrest Reviews…
167-169 Wardour Street,
London W1F 8WR.
Tel: +44 (0) 20 7287 4243
Fax: +44 (0) 20 7287 4245
One cannot help but feel a sense of expectation upon entering Imli; after all it has a lot to live up to: Tamarind, the award-winning parent to this hip Soho child is in its fifteenth year and still cannot be accused of resting on its laurels. The setting might be a lot less auspicious than Tamarind’s Mayfair one but Imli rarely disappoints from the moment you enter the door. With a vast upstairs (dark woods, interesting light fittings, airy) buzzing with a mix of the area’s gay clientele, groups of young professionals and older couples and a quieter cosy basement downstairs; the atmosphere draws you in almost as much as the spicy aromas.
This feeling is enhanced by the friendly and enthusiastic staff who genuinely seem to love the food that they are serving. No doubt this is due to head chef, Samir Sadekar’s vision in creating Indian ‘street food’ tapas with an emphasis on fresh and unique combinations of flavour. It is food worth getting excited about.
The menu is an enticing assortment of hot and cold dishes, ranging from lentil, rice and potato dishes to seafood, poultry and meat dishes with vegetarians also well catered for. The tapas range from 2.95 to 8.95 and are all generous in size.
We started with the crispy papadums and home made chutneys while we decided what to order. The chutneys included a wonderful mixed berry and a zingy version of that old standard, mango chutney, all freshly made.
As recommended my companion and I ordered a few dishes each to share. I spotted the delicate sounding Dahi Pakodi; an interesting combination of stuffed lentil dumplings topped with yoghurt and tamarind chutney and added the Chennai Fish and Masala Grilled Pork to my selection.
My companion, a vegetarian, was unusually spoilt for choice. She finally settled on the oh-so-tempting Aubergine Masala, Spiced Potato Cakes and the Matar Paneer, being a fan of the mild Indian cheese. Our knowledgeable waiter also recommended we try the Daal Makhni side dish, (a smoky black lentil daal containing soaked beans similar to mung beans and finished with cream) and golly, were we glad he did!
We added raita, steamed rice and plain naan to the order and sat back to wait whilst sipping a cocktail or two. Yes, a Kingfisher or Cobra would be a perfectly decent accompaniment to your meal here, but the cocktails are definitely worth trying. My Lychee Delight, was sweet, refreshing and very reasonable at 5.95. Whilst the deliciously different non-alcoholic thyme lemonade is something I will be trying to emulate at home.
Even though the restaurant was extremely busy service was noticeably efficient yet unobtrusive. This is a kitchen that feels calm and under control. The only slight disappointment was that the toilet facilities were not up to the high standards set by the rest of the venue on the evening we went. It was unfortunate and I can only imagine this was due to the restaurant being packed out, and was not the usual state of affairs.
Still, the kitchen’s confidence in the food shone through and was reflected in the overall quality of what we were presented with. Everything was stunningly fresh and beautifully plated. I cannot think of other tapas restaurant where such reasonable prices bring such attractive and unusual food. The restaurant’s name suggest this uniqueness meaning “…a date-like fruit used as a souring agent” and this is reflected in the sweet and sour edge that many of the dishes share.
The most remarkable dishes were the Dahi Pakodi; the fluffy dumplings and sweet sour yoghurt topping, came together wonderfully. The Daal Makhni was rich with smoky, tangy flavours and the Aubergine Masala was oily and tender in texture with fragrant curry leaves adding surprising depth. Lastly, the Masala Pork presented us with beautifully soft and well spiced meat, served with cumin and turmeric mash and a stunning coriander and avocado sauce.
Potato cakes and Matar Paneer were less impressive in comparison; their flavours were slightly bland and more predictable. The kitchen seems to excel with the stronger, more ambitious dishes and this is no bad thing. Come here to taste something different!
We managed to find room to sample a few of the desserts on offer between 2.95 and 3.95, again great value. They were by turn dazzling and more run-of-the-mill. The highlight was the Gulab Jamun (Milk dumplings served with fig and ginger ice cream). Tasting vaguely like syrup pudding the intense sweetness of the dish was complimented by the bite of the ginger to mouth-watering effect. Whilst the Indian Caramel Custard with coconut milk and the Carrot Fudge promised a little more than they delivered, the other winner was the Raspberry and Black Salt sorbet, declared to be one of the best my sorbet-loving companion had ever tasted. The intense flavour of the fruit was taken to a new level by the kick of the salt, creating a memorable finish to a fantastic meal.
Helen Forrest Reviewed