Another day another visit to another Indian restaurant in Soho! This time it’s the turn of Imli, which describes itself as offering a “funky, relaxed setting” and claims its speciality as “authentic Indian street food“, served “‘tapas-style’ for sharing“.
I shudder a little when the word tapas is used outside of Spanish tapas joints, though I understand the idea of using it as shorthand for smaller sharing dishes. Since Indian meals are most commonly served family-style – all the dishes in the centre of the table for everyone to help themselves – there’s not really a handy term that springs to mind. One could equally well use meze, which is still not right, but at least a few hundreds miles closer, geographically…
In any case, the menu is confusing, with Cold and Hot tapas sections followed by Tandoor grilled tapas (which, we are told, are actually mains) and then more tapas sections labelled New tradition, Classic Imli and Vegetarian. I can see no rhyme nor reason in the divisions and we’re unable to order without some guidance from our waitress.
While I’m waiting for my friend, poppadoms and chutneys are brought out – something tomato-ey, a mango chutney and a sharp thick beetroot one. I order a sweet lassi, which is delicious made from a lovely tangy yoghurt.
Our waitress suggests a main each from the grills and a couple of tapas dishes.
From the Tandoor grills we choose the Tandoor mixed grill (minimum 2 people) which includes chicken tikka, tandoori fish, lamb chop and paneer tikka and is served with dal makhani and naan bread. We also choose a Seafood Malabar and an Aubergine masala. On the side we have a pulau rice and a cucumber raita.
The Tandoor mixed grill is very tasty. The lamb chop is robustly spiced and wonderfully soft. The chicken tikka is fantastically moist, the herby marinade is fresh and delicious. The paneer tikka is lovely, with a pleasant texture – soft with a hint of a crust. And the fish, Nile perch, is nicely cooked, its lime leaf, mint and fresh coriander flavourings refreshing. The dal is thick and rich. The naans are soft and fluffy with a lovely smoky taste from the tandoor.
It’s all great but at £15.50 per person, i.e. £31 for this plate, it’s hugely expensive for what it is.
The Seafood Malabar (£9.95) is delicious. Full of soft, plump morsels of white fish, squid rings and 4 generously-sized prawns cooked in a coconut and tomato sauce, it’s rich and tasty.
Both of us absolutely love the Aubergine masala (£6.50) and it might be our favourite dish of the meal. Soft, soft aubergine full of smokiness and spices, this is very good indeed. A touch oily, as you can see, but neither of us mind that at all.
Pulao rice (£3.50) is such a simple dish but it’s lifted here by the use of good quality Basmati and deft flavouring.
The Cucumber raita (£1.85) has a great natural yoghurt taste, but is thicker than both of us would prefer, and slightly light on cucumber. Flavours, however, are spot on.
We initially turn down desserts but our waitress is keen for us to try something and insists we could just have a bite each, if we share one. We succumb and order the Gulab jamon with fig and ginger ice cream (£4.65). It’s so good we do manage more than a bite each, though we don’t quite manage to finish it. The gulab jamon is a sweet, syrup-soaked sponge that the Tooth Fairy must surely be a fan of. It’s balanced nicely by the simple fig and ginger ice cream, which holds back on the sweetness.
I’m so full that my stomach probably resembles a giant gulab jamon!
We end the meal with masala tea (£1.95) and an espresso £2.25).
I’m not really convinced by the presentation of the menu as Indian tapas. What we ordered was no different to any other Indian restaurant, where you choose a few starters, mains and sides and share them between the group. The concept makes the restaurant seem gimmicky, which is a shame, as the food is not.
Most of it, with the exception of the Tandoori mixed grill, is reasonably priced.
Service is friendly and attentive, though I’d hope so as we are there for a pre-arranged review visit. That said, it seems good for the neighbouring tables too, with one of the waiters taking a lot of time to translate and describe menu items to a group of French tourists with limited English.
Kavey Eats dined as a guest of Imli Restaurant.