This new London restaurant is inspired by the notion of an English traveller with an appetite for culture and, of course, Indian cuisine. Katie Pathiaki reports
There is an enchanting story running through Talli Joe. The restaurant's namesake is a fictional character who inspired everything from the food to the decorations. He is an English traveller who, while in India, fell in love with the culture and cuisine. He also enjoyed getting talli (or 'tipsy' in Hindi). And therefore Talli Joe has a casual and exotic atmosphere, with hearty, flavoursome Indian dishes infused with British ingredients.
After walking through the vibrant restaurant, I was seated in a cosy corner next to a mural of the Bullet Baba's temple. Every wall references some aspect of Indian history.
"Our logo is a flying lion. You are a lion when you have eaten and drunk well, because then it's time to roar and be happy!" Taneja says. "We wanted to create a product not only to cook and serve, but to make diners happy. It's all to make people happy."
Taneja started his career in India, where he gained experience in top establishments around the world, including the luxury Oberoi Rajvilas hotel in Jaipur, the three-Michelinstarred Waterside Inn in Bray and, more recently, the Michelin-starred Indian restaurant Benares in Mayfair.
He opened Talli Joe in April, armed with the knowledge and skills from Michelin-starred kitchens firmly under his belt. "I have always wanted to cook food closer to my roots. I loved cooking French food, but always had a vision that one day I would open a restaurant that would translate the originality, ethics and culture of India," he says.
"I consider Michelin as a guideline, so have always kept to that standard and my team know that. We follow the recommendations and know that we will never come below those - especially when choosing the ingredients."
At Talli Joe, the cocktails are just as important as the food. They are designed to match the menu and each drink reflects the unique spices in an individual dish - a far cry from the usual beer and curry combination.
The spices used are not imported, but sourced in England and ground in the Talli Joe kitchen by hand. Garam masala "doesn't exist" in Taneja's kitchen. Instead, a dedicated team member blends up to six spices a day before service to correspond with the dishes. This way, genuine flavours aren't compromised. "If I'm translating a message, it has to be authentic. We don't substitute anything, we just combine classic flavours with new techniques. I combine together all of my previous experiences and travels to India to get the best of both worlds."
One of Taneja's favourite dishes is the devilled quail egg (£5.75). It's a fusion of cultures, taking inspiration from the British Scotch egg and combining it with Indian flavours. A softpoached quail's egg is wrapped in crab meat
and served with Tadka mayonnaise. "I brought the cooking techniques from my previous experience in French food with me. Although, I don't want to break the dish - when you close your eyes your palate should still be able to taste classic India," he says.
The Nihari Nalli curry (Lucknow-style nihari on veal bone marrow and kadak roti, £7.50) brings influences from Taneja's experiences with Michel Roux and Pierre Koffmann. From his training, Taneja was able to remove the bone marrow from the shin and cook it separately. Taneja brings bold flavours to Talli Joe without compromising the British palette. An example being the stuffed karela, a bitter melon dish stuffed with home-style lentils (£5).
"Only 3%-4% of Indians eat this because it is very bitter. I fought to have this dish on the menu because it's not food you normally find here. We took the risk and not only do we get good feedback, but people tell me they will come back just to have it again."
I was served the Talli Macchi (grilled red mullet with orange soaked in Old Monk rum, £8.50). "You would never find this in India as it would use lemon. But the rum-soaked orange takes the dish to a different dimension,"
With a brigade of eight turning over 800 covers a week, it's no wonder Talli Joe is looking to expand. "There's a lot more to come - this is only the start," he says.
From the menu
Halfplates â- Kale Chaat - crispy kale, potato, pomegranate and sweet yogurt £5
â- Truffle Ghee Kulcha - naan stuffed with cottage cheese, brushed with truffle ghee £4
â- Chicken 21 - stir-fried chicken tossed with South Indian spices and curry leaves £7
â- Nihari Nalli - Lucknow-style nihari on veal bone marrow and kadak roti £7.50
â- Gol Baari Kosha Mangsho - lamb roast on the bone and luchi £8.50
Sweetplates â- Black Gajar Halwa - heritage black carrots, salted peanut brittle £3.75
Talli Joe, 152-156 Shaftesbury Avenue, London WC2H 8HL www.tallijoe.com
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