Tamarind of London
This Newport Beach restaurant combines the best of exotic and fine dining.
|Tamarind of London
Crystal Cove Promenade
7862 E. Coast Hwy., Newport Beach
Indian food has finally made it in OC!
Well, sort of. A short history:
It helps to be aware that the significance of the “of London” part of Tamarind’s title may not make sense until one discovers that Indian food is heavily woven into the fabric of British cuisine. Along with fish and chips and the British roast, dishes like chicken tikka masala and lamb korma roll off the British tongue as easily as a well-poured Guinness goes down the hatch. So it’s a fair bet to say that, at least where Indian food is concerned, a British-based restaurant specializing in the flavors of India is likely to excel – especially when that restaurant has a Michelin star to its name.
Of course, the “of London” addition also does wonders for Tamarind’s prestige, noting the restaurant’s origins from one of Europe’s most sophisticated and aristocratic cities. It’s the perfect enticement for OC diners to venture from their California-fresh, fairly America- and Western Europe-centric diets to try something slightly more exotic and palate-awakening. And in fact, Tamarind’s mission is to make that transition as smooth as possible.
One of the first things our server tells us is that Tamarind is not necessarily interested in authenticity – that is, its primary purpose is not to clone native Indian cuisine or to present new and obscure flavors to American tastebuds. What Tamarind is interested in is showcasing Indian flavors that are daring but not too daring, and familiar without being boring – a kind of Indian fusion, to a certain degree. But make no mistake – the ingredients, spices, preparation, and presentation are all Indian, with a Newport Coast twist.
Perhaps the best way to illustrate this point is with the restaurant’s cocktail list, which reads like a textbook example of how to combine east meets west with panache. The Ginger Sutra, for example, mixes Hangar Kaffir Lime Vodka with jaggery (unrefined cane sugar), fresh ginger and lime to produce a cocktail that is both refreshing and a bit spicy, with an Indian flair. The London Underground pays tribute to Great Britain’s storied past with gin, blending the fragrant Old Raj variety with fresh lemon, homemade honey and coriander syrup, which enhances the herbal characteristics of the drink.
But don’t expect any other British cuisine influence to spill over onto Tamarind’s menu. The selections read like a typical Indian restaurant, notwithstanding the occasional clue that speaks to westerners (quinoa, goat cheese, etc.). Starting with the steamed PEI mussels swimming in coconut milk, fennel, toasted coriander, and curry leaf, the flavors at Tamarind commingle not only Indian cuisine but also those from other southern Asian countries. This dish was drink-the-broth-out-of-the-bowl delicious, but a preparation we have seen before, and will undoubtedly see again. Chicken tikka took a more traditional Indian route, with cilantro stems, yogurt and ginger adding flavor to emphatically seasoned pieces of tender chicken meat.
While the starters were perfectly good, it’s in the main dishes that Executive Chef Shachi Mehra really excels. Butter chicken with tomato-honey sauce and cardamom is creamy and gently spiced with a – dare we say it – buttery, silky texture. We paired it with goat cheese and scallion naan fresh from the tandoor, an earthen oven that sits within view of diners behind a large glass window, and where chefs expertly craft each flatbread before sticking it to the curved sides of the oven’s surface. Lamb curry with turnips is prepared using Colorado lamb, caramelized onions and coriander, and has all the depth of flavor that a dish of this nature and caliber should have, and creates a sauce perfectly mopped up with an order of garlic naan.
Dessert at Tamarind is where things get really interesting. Indian desserts (apart from basic rice pudding) haven’t exactly received a warm reception in western countries given their very sweet makeup and often strongly flavored syrups and sauces, but Tamarind chose to embrace that cultural divide by offering one very traditional dessert – carrot halwa – along with a variety of others that incorporate Indian spices and aromas. Combining carrots, sugar, milk, and ghee (clarified butter), the carrot halwa was as expected – very sweet – but also pleasingly textured and delicately flavored. More traditional American palates will appreciate the seven-spice molten chocolate cake served with ginger gelato, or the coconut rice pudding with Frangelico and jaggery caramel. The former was flawless as far as sweet endings to a meal go, while the latter could use some tinkering to create a less dense and more creamy rice pudding.
Indian cuisine has been taken to a new level. That’s not to say that OC doesn’t have other fantastic Indian restaurants (it does), but Tamarind pulls you into its comfort zone of fine dining meets exotic food without any of the discomfort. And to that, we say: Namaste.