Tamarai – as the newest restaurant in Rohit Khattar’s stable is called – has one thing in common with its country cousin in Delhi: Chef Manish Mehrotra, for it is he that is the driving force behind both brands. He is thus, in the singularly fortunate position of having worked in two continents, yet within a single group. So, what has his experience been like?
Because of the members-only format of Oriental Octopus in Delhi’s India Habitat Centre, price is a prime concern, because of which the kitchen cannot experiment with premium ingredients like scallops and soft-shell crabs. On the other hand, Tamarai in London’s Covent Garden has customers who would throw up their hands in horror if confronted with a menu comprising only lamb and chicken options: the most politically correct offerings in a restaurant in India.
The Tamarai menu may be small, with the famous ‘small plates’ that is finding favour all over the fashionable world, rather than the stodgy ‘meat and two veg’ of yesteryear. What adds excitement to the menu is the range of ingredients: quail, foie gras, Scottish lamb, Scottish beef and oysters, but even Mehrotra is envious of the likes of Joel Robuchon and Nobu Matsuhita who somehow manage to procure lamb from a particular village in France and ginger flower buds respectively.
One glaring difference between the cities is the public’s attitude to descriptions on menus. In Delhi, anything labeled as organic is taken at face value. In London, on the other hand, there was a high profile court case against a well-known restaurant that had marked a couple of entries on the menu as organic. When the health inspectors came calling, they failed to find invoices from any organic suppliers and fined the hapless restaurant £11,000.
When Mehrotra used to make menu suggestions for private parties in Oriental Octopus, it was a challenge to juggle ingredients based on religious sentiments: invariably there would be a couple of people who wouldn’t eat seafood, one or two people who couldn’t eat garlic and onions, besides several persons who were vegetarian. In London, the sheer number of customers with one food allergy or another reminds him strongly of his days in Delhi. Nuts, grains and milk and dairy products seem to bring on allergies in droves of guests.
Nobody in Tamarai complains about small portions or high prices the way they do here. In fact, there are comparatively few complaints overall. The scary part is that no customer who has a below average experience will ever walk in again.
Fun Fact: Pan Asian is the hottest formula for restaurants in London, with the best-known being Nobu, Hakkasan, Zuma, Yuatcha, Gilgamesh and Cocoon. Tamarai is the only one that does Chettinad food instead of Japanese that all the others do.