When you hear that ex-Roti King executive chef Prince Durairaj and general manager Glen Leeson are going into partnership, expectations are high. What I didn't expect to find was somewhere that has rocketed straight into my list of favourite London restaurants. I'd decided on the dishes for my next visit before I'd finished my beer; you, however, are going to have to make some very hard choices.
These are the Chicken Lollipops with sweet chilli chutney and the Onion Bhaji with mint chutney from the small plates section of the menu; if you drew a Venn diagram of perfect starters and bar snacks, they would sit happily in the intersection of the two. Tender chicken, crunchy coating and clever spicing which develops as you eat, deliciously, gently warming. Generally, whilst I love the flavour of onion bhajis, I am often disappointed by the texture; not so here. These are crispy and ethereally light without being at all dense or oily.
Believe it or not, this Pulled Beef Masala Uttapum with chilli coconut chutney is also from the small plates section. Again, it's about the most perfect thing to soak up a few beers but frankly I would eat this all day given the chance. It's so moreishly addictive that you find yourself tearing off little pieces mid-conversation without realising, until the burst of flavours hits your tongue: fluffy dosa base, deep umami beef, tomatoes, a lively chilli hit and cool, fresh coriander.
This, and the giant prawns below, are the rock star dishes: the ones that swivels heads as they get carried through the dining room, the ones people look for on the menu, the ones that will become Instagram regulars. This spectacularly puffy bhatura (like a giant puri, but leavened) is served with a dish of fragrant chickpea curry and yogurt.
Next time I eat at the Tamil Prince - and there will be many, many next times - I will photograph these Grilled Tiger Prawns in garlic masala again and add something for scale so you can appreciate their size. They are huger than huge and even more delicious than they look (let that fact sink in). They are split along the back so are easy to eat, but served with heads intact for fans of all that intense goodness. They are the kind of prawns you expect to find being served from a luxury beachside grill in the Maldives (so I'm told), but here they are in a pub in Islington. Life is good.
The prawns and these buttery, flaky roti remind me how eating with your hands can add a whole new level of sensory reward to a dish. Tearing the soft, yielding roti apart and scooping up a vibrant, spicy mouthful of the chickpea curry, or wrapping the warm layered bread around a sweet, juicy, lobster-like chunk of prawn meat then placing it in your mouth is so deeply satisfying. Maybe I was just being seduced by the flavours, but there is a connectedness to it that just doesn't happen with cutlery.
One thing I really want to highlight here is the supporting cast; the dips and chutneys. They are little jewels themselves, each one surprisingly complex but expertly balanced and of course perfect with its accompanying dish. Put these in jars and they would fly off the shelves.
I love that food at this ridiculously high level is is coming out of a pub kitchen - because this is still a proper pub. I love that it's affordable enough that you can grab a table with your mates, pick some plates to share and be eating food that could easily be served on a starched linen tablecloth in Mayfair for three times the price. I always avoid reading any reviews before I eat somewhere, so while I knew reactions were universally positive I really hadn't appreciated quite how good the Tamil Prince is. It may well be tricky to get a table for a while, but persevere; you'll be very, very glad you did.
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Deputy Editor, Chatting Food London: Amanda David
Amanda David is a freelance food writer specialising in London’s restaurants, bars, exhibitions and events. She is the Events Editor for London Cheapo and a regular contributor to Palate Magazine.
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