I can’t say I was terribly impressed with Talli Joe the first time I visited, on the second day of the soft launch back in May. I wrote maybe half a blog post on it before deciding that such a scathing review was perhaps a bit unfair when it’d barely been open 48 hours and was still finding its feet. Also, restaurants on Shaftesbury Avenue have a unique knack of being really crap and all closing within six months, so in any case I figured it wouldn’t be around for long.
Six months later Talli Joe is still here, and, as I discovered last Thursday lunchtime, things have improved dramatically. I still wasn’t sure about Kale Chaat (£5.00), a dish of fragrant, yoghurt-drenched potatoes topped in deep-fried kale that shattered vexingly at the slightest touch. The potatoes were good, but the kale just made a mess. And if you’re going to follow in the footsteps of Dishoom, Gunpowder, Kricket et al, your chaat had better be up there with the best of them.
Almost everything else we ordered was bloody good though, served on gold plates that would have been gimmicky had the cooking not been so assured. I was quite taken with the Deviled Quail Egg (£5.75), which consisted of a luscious mantle of creamy crab meat and a paper-thin crust of batter that crunched most satisfactorily when I bit into it, like a Ferrero Roche. Made of crab. And with an egg in it. It came with a pot of sweet and spicy mayo that I proceeded to eat with pretty much everything else.
‘Everything else’ included the Kochi Beef Fry (£9.00), which I had last time and remember chiefly because it came with a scrunch of puffed rice that did nothing except go everywhere and give the casual bystander the impression that the dish was crawling with maggots. I do remember that the meat itself was very good – tender, flavourful and very spicy – so it was nice to see that they’d dispensed with the stupid maggot rice and let the beef do the talking. That kick is real so Chicken Tikka Masala types might be better off choosing something else…though the tumeric and saffron tonic water does a fantastic job of quelling the burn.
My absolute favourite dish was the Talli Macchi (£8.50), a grilled red mullet in a silky liquid negligee of orange juice and rum. It’s not a combination that immediately appeals – I like my orange in chocolate, my Muji aroma diffuser and that is literally it – but the flavours together were all at once exotic and Christmassy and decadent (boozy food almost always is).
Like all of these trendy Indian ‘half plate’ restaurants, basic carbohydrates are a bit thin on the ground, presumably so people don’t fill up on the cheap stuff. I personally find this intensely irritating. The only individually sold carb on the menu is the Truffle Ghee Kulcha (£4.00), a miniature naan – a naanette – which some lunatic had decided would benefit from some truffle shavings.
Now, I love truffles. My sister bought me a gift set for Christmas, and I’ve been adorning almost all my food with truffle salt and truffle carpaccio and truffle honey ever since. But it has no place on a naan. Naans are for butter and garlic and, sorry, I just don’t believe that the Indians are loading their bread with expensive fungus that grows almost exclusively in Europe. Don’t get me wrong; it’s not bad, it’s just…odd. (I am apparently the only person who thinks this though, so if you like the sound of it, crack on!)
We wrapped up with a little pot of Berry Malai (£3.75), thick, tangy baked yoghurt with berries, which both cleansed the palette and rounded the meal off nicely. (There isn’t much going on, pudding-wise, so if you’ve got a sweet tooth, head out to Soho for dessert. I wrote a piece awhile back on the best places for a late-night pudding pit stop. Some might call it essential reading.)
So, Talli Joe has come a long way in a short space of time. But, with a few tweaks and some rice on the menu, they could have another Dishoom on their hands.
Talli Joe, 152-156 Shaftesbury Ave, London, WC2H 8HL
Author: Emily Gibson
Emily is an urban adventurer, blogger and
glutton foodie on an epic quest to uncover the best things to eat, drink and do in London. She lives in Islington and loves ceviche, cycling and magic shows. Lifelong nemeses include beetroot, beards and wine served in tumblers.