Monday, March 6, 2017

Fine Cuts and Quality Naan: Tandoor Chop House, Covent Garden

Occasionally, there's a restaurant that really blows me away: one with impeccable decor, great staff, an inspired menu or concept, and - of course - stellar food. Tandoor Chop House is my most recent discovery of this kind: a marriage of North Indian cuisine and a classic British chop house, it won me over before we even entered the restaurant with this bold proclamation:

For those of you who don't know (I didn't), chophouses first appeared in London in the late 17th century, serving "chops", or individual portions of meat. Indeed, the first photo that appears on Tandoor Chop House's website is a juxtaposition of two very different groups of men gathered around a table, across the world from each other: on the left, four Indian friends perched on benches, with food being prepared behind them; and, on the right, a coterie of British gentlemen with flat caps and pipes at a pub or (more likely) a chop house, pints filled to the brim.

It's no surprise then, that the tandoor section of Tandoor Chop House's menu features proudly and prominently in the middle of the menu, suggesting mouthwatering variations-on-a-theme such as masala boti rubbed ribeye and black pepper chicken tikka. For those wanting a slightly lighter (or vegetarian) option, there's also lasooni paneer and green masala pollock.

We chose the amritsari crispy lamb chops. The spices used in the marinade made the tandoor-cooked meat lip-smackingly delicious, and the meat was so tender, it easily fell away from the bone.

It seemed silly not to try the house tandoor chicken, so we ordered that too. I half expected the chicken to be dry and tough (as with my previous experiences with tandoori chicken), but it was exactly the opposite: moist, flavorful, and wonderfully smoky. Like a high octane Sunday roast. A squeeze of lemon and swipe at the sauce (which I'm dying to know the ingredients for) completed each bite.

We also ordered "snacks" and a side of butter naan: Dexter beef 'dripping' keema naan with green chilli and yogurt and Keralan raw tuna tartare accompanied by coconut and fried curry leaves. Most noteworthy item on the menu, in my opinion? The bone marrow naan - and one to try next time.

The Keralan tuna tartare is one for fans of ceviche: little cubes of fresh tuna sat like jewels amongst pearls of pomegranate seeds (it's a beautiful dish) drizzled in yogurt, while the lime and coriander cut through the sweet flavors of both, immediately transporting us to coastal India.

But the keema naan was my favorite, indulgent and naughty, with the spiced ground beef offset by the fresh cherry tomatoes and mopped up with the crispy, but chewy naan.

More than the food itself, I loved the laid-back, yet smart, vibe of the restaurant. The brasserie-style chairs, marble tabletops, vintage crockery and copper accents show off the food beautifully well, but it never feels fussy or "done" or too try-hard. It might be hard to grab a window seat (because there are only two), but try, if you're dining during the day. The light is beautiful and it feels more intimate dining in that space.

Reluctant to leave, but remembering we were only on our lunch breaks, my friend Rachel and I consulted our watches before ordering a portion of the malted kulfi to share as soon as our plates had been whisked away.

Topped with caramelized banana and salted peanuts, the kulfi had no sooner melted on our tongues before my jaw dropped and I emitted a rather emphatic, "WOW." So glad we stayed for dessert. That sweet - almost too sweet - appeal of kulfi, with a texture denser than ice cream and a flavour more intense than milk, is one of my favorite things about Indian desserts.

That first mouthful brought me straight back to the wedding reception banquet John and I attended in Bangalore last fall, where one-third of a hall approximately the size of three, no four, (American) football pitches long was devoted to serving Indian desserts. There, a man with a chef's hat made kulfi lollipops for guests, scooping the dense, creamy substance into small paper bowls and plunging a stick into the middle. John and I went back for seconds and thirds until, high from the sugar rush, we stayed awake late into the night.

The kulfi at Tandoor Chop House brought me back to that very moment and the manager, who came to check on our progress, admitted that he couldn't take more than four bites before he started to shake from the sugar rush. Not one for diabetics, perhaps, but definitely one for the bucket list.

Situated between Covent Garden and the Strand, Tandoor Chop House is the perfect location for a date night - or a weekend lunch with friends. John practically swooned when he spotted photos of my lunch on Instagram, asking petulantly, "Why didn't you take me?" as I described in exciting detail the keema naan, so it looks like I'll be making a return trip.

See you there?

Our lunch at Tandoor Chop House was complimentary. All opinions are my own. Bookings and walk-ins welcome: Tandoor Chop House, 8 Adelaide Street, London, WC2N 4HZ.

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