Have you ever felt like scrapping everything you’ve worked for and going away to live in a cave? As a dental student, it’s something that I’ve considered on numerous occasions, but never more so than a couple of weeks ago. My written papers were around the corner, one of my patient cases had just fallen through, and as the uncertainty grew as to whether I’d qualify to sit the exams in the first place – (yes, that’s a thing), I pretty much lost the plot.
Unable to take so much as another glance at the hospital or the library, I decided to run away to Timberyard and immerse myself in an afternoon of coffee and contemplation. However, as I emerged from my slumber a refreshed and renewed man, I was suddenly ambushed by Steak, who announced that she had some shopping to do. Fearful that she would undo all of the spiritual peace that I had just attained, I quickly made a dinner reservation at the nearby Talli Joe – (so as to add a time limit to the torture), and proceeded to smile and wave my way through an excruciating number of shops – (one), until it was time to head over for our Indian feast.
Note: The chicken, lamb and beef are halal. Pork and alcohol are served on the premises.
Headed by Sameer Taneja – former executive chef to Benares, Talli Joe unites a range of traditional, regional dishes under a single contemporary sharing menu. We first paid them a visit to try their daily lunchtime dabba menu, and ordered a combination of non-vegetarian and vegetarian dabbas to see how they fared.
Fish Mangalore + Vegetable Mangalore Dabbas (£10 each)
The first set of tiers held a couple of soft, doughy bhajis, and these carried a subtle heat that was mellowed out by the accompanying hummus. However, both the fish and vegetable mangalore curries within the next set of tiers lacked a sufficient amount of seasoning, and this nullified the heavy dose of spice that they otherwise had to offer. There was also very little in the way of actual substance within the curries, and this resulted in a rather uninspiring (and rather soupy) lunch experience.
Thankfully, we had also ordered a half plate of murgh malai tikka, and this fared far better. The thick and tender chunks of chicken breast had been marinated with Colston Bassett stilton, and this had imparted a rich and buttery flavour. The chicken was also accompanied by a homemade fig chutney, which was sweet, sharp, and delightfully acidic, and cut through the chicken to provide a wonderful finish.
Murgh Malai Tikka (£9) *Recommended*
Our second visit began with a plate of seafood okra fry – composed of tender seafood encased within a crispy, crumbly batter. If the textural contrast wasn’t delightful enough, the strong hint of lime certainly was, and this dish quickly proved to a surprise favourite.
Seafood Okra Fry (£9) *Recommended*
Equally satisfying was the lamb goli, which possessed a soft, creamy texture, and a fantastic range of deep and layered flavours. Served alongside a couple of soft and grease-free puri, it didn’t take long for us to polish the bowl clean.
Lamb Goli (£10) *Recommended*
Surprisingly, the lamb goli even topped the beef fry – the dish that I had thought would end up being our favourite. Whilst the Scottish rump was perfectly tender and the fry as a whole carried a good amount of heat, its flavours were somewhat muted in comparison to the lamb.
Beef Fry (£11.50)
The bohri chicken on the other hand, carried a subtle, aromatic sweetness that coated the palate. However, the chicken itself was far too dry, and though texturally, this paired well with the crispy methi paratha, it did make it a little difficult to enjoy the dish.
Bohri Chicken (£9.50)
Of the simpler items on Talli Joe’s menu, the truffle naan had managed to capture my curiosity – principally because it sounded like a pompous, colonial appropriation of everyone’s favourite flatbread. This soft, thick (and somewhat diminutive) naan had been filled with cottage cheese and drizzled in truffle oil, resulting in a fairly moreish creation that was complemented by a sharp mint sauce.
Truffle Ghee Kulcha (£5)
When it came to dessert, we simply had to try our hand at the Gajar Halwa. Here, we discovered an artistic blend of soft and sticky black carrot halwa, which sat in perfect contrast to the crunchy chunks of peanut brittle that sat on top. All that was missing was a cold scoop of thick and creamy ice cream to contrast with the hot halwa, but this may just be my childhood nostalgia talking.
Gajar Halwa (£3.75) *Recommended*
Eager to shed some summer sunshine onto our dull and grey existence, we also tried the berry malai – a smooth and creamy baked yoghurt that carried a rather balanced sweetness. However, we felt that the accompanying berry compote lacked concentration, and needed a stronger, sharper acidity to cut through the rich yoghurt.
Berry Malai (£3.75)
Value For Money: 3/5
Given that Talli Joe is a tapas-style restaurant in the heart of Covent Garden, you’d be forgiven for breaking a sweat at the thought of the final bill. Half plates generally range from £5-£12, and whilst they are by definition – on the small side of life, the cost of a meal at Talli Joe isn’t overly outrageous. Expect to pay around £25 each for a fulfilling meal with all the trimmings, and if you’re going for lunch, opt for the regular menu instead of a potentially disappointing dabba.
When it comes to service, it must be said that the Talli Joe team are every bit as welcoming and laid-back as Talli Joe itself. Whether you visit during a quiet lunch hour or a busy dinner sitting, you should find that the service is – (unlike anything else in India), speedy and efficient.
Decor / Ambience: 3.5/5
In keeping with the casual nature of Talli Joe’s tapas-style dining, the restaurant sports a simple, but modern decor, with a handful of vintage throwbacks. There certainly isn’t anything glamorous about it, but it’s a perfectly suitable venue for a fun and laid-back meal. The restaurant can be found a ten minute walk away from Tottenham Court Road or Covent Garden station, and public transport is advised.
With a playful demeanour and a fairly unique sharing menu, it’s clear that Talli Joe aims to bring a certain amount of youth and vigour to London’s Indian food scene. Indeed, as far as Indian cuisine is concerned, it’s a rather different dining experience altogether, but for various reasons, we feel that Talli Joe falls a little short of the excitement it strives to stir up. Whilst one can appreciate the creativity invested into the menu and the diversity to be found within it, the truth is that there are only a handful of items that manage to stand out. As a result, it’s rather difficult to recommend Talli Joe for any other purpose than “giving it a go”, and with so many contemporary Indian restaurants popping up around London, one can’t help but feel that there are slightly more exciting experiences to be had elsewhere.
Address: 152-156 Shaftesbury Avenue, London WC2H 8HL
Telephone: 0207 836 5400