Talli Joe, SHaftesbury Avenue
10th October 2016
Approx £25 a head
I spent almost two months in Mumbai this year, and all I did was eat.
I was amazed by how often I was forced to eat the same things over and over again in different settings. Mumbaikers really have a thing for eggs kejriwal. I started to dread seeing it on menus.
They're also developing a fetish for a style of decor that elevates kitsch and bubblegum colours to an iconic status, something we've had kicking around in our city for many years. You've definitely seen it. "Horn OK please" signs, decorative Thumbs Up cans, pop art featuring Amul butter adverts are classic examples. I call it Indian mimicry. It's Indians mimicking themselves.
It works just fine here in London. NRIs (Indians that have settled abroad) created this aesthetic, bring back hints and suggestions of the homeland in places like Dishoom. I prefer it to that colonial Willingdon Club-style decor that you see at Gymkhana, purely out of principle. But it's totally weird to see it in Mumbai because that's Indians mimicking NRIs mimicking Indians.
Are you lost? Go find Talli Joe. It's a perfect, almost cartoon-like example of mimicry, situated on Shaftesbury Avenue opposite a dying cinema. They're serving half plates, pauwas (quarter bottle cocktails) and chaukas, all of which are obsessively hashtagged on the menu.
It's Chef Sameer Taneja's baby, his first solo pursuit after leaving his position as Head Chef at Benares. It's worth noting that he got his start at the Oberoi Rajvillas, a luxury Jaipur resort with a strong culinary discipline and some of the warmest and most personalized service I've ever experienced. His roots show through - the door service and table service were notably good, and he has produced a cultured menu for the masses.
We tried a Nizam's Punch cocktail because biriyani oil was listed as an ingredient. It came with Charminar Chana Jor Garam hashtag hashtag, and I felt like a bit of an uncle for eating 'cher', the snack that housewives would serve their husbands after work with a whiskey. We felt the cocktail flavours were imbalanced. Perhaps you could say the same for ourselves, given than we'd ordered a biryani flavoured cocktail at noon.
A puneri missal salad appeared. Turns out there's no salad in the salad - it's chaat with a crisp upper and soft, damp underbelly. No worries, we're happy with that.
Then came the kulcha, buttered and stuffed with paneer in perfect proportion, with that oh-so-desirable chargrilled, tandoor oven taste. We savaged it, unable to hold back until the meats came. The dough had just the right amount of elasticity, but there was no truffle flavour. This is not a drawback. Why did they feel the need to add truffle in the first place? It doesn't need to be any sexier than it is.
We took a risk and ordered the Sarportel and Sanna. The word offal brings out my squeamish side. This peppery, sweetened curry was like dragon breath - fiery and pungent. I loved the silky rice and coconut pillows (sannas) it came with. This is a three-dimensional dish, with flavours achieving the completeness of a whole meal. It reminded me of the food at Hoppers. Get it.
Lamb was indeed on the bone, but a little fatty. That's ok - for the price it's still tender and well flavoured thanks to solid preparation skills in the kitchen. I was surprised it was that good.
The Raghorghari sea bass was perfectly cooked, soft and fragant, achieving complexity with a very mild amount of chilli. We ate the fish last and regretted it. It was muted by the strong meat flavours we'd just eaten. It's worth asking for this to be brought out first.
A heritage carrot gajar halwa was the closer. Littered with peanut brittle shards, the natural flavours stood out, and won us over.
We were happy campers at the end of our meal. It's worth a visit if you like Hoppers food and a bit of Indian kitsch. A small amount of tables are available to book in advance, but it would have been easy to get a table as a walk in at lunch on the weekend too.