Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Tap It Up

Carom was a pop up at Meza but due to its success (the concept is ‘casual plates for sharing’) it is now a permanent fixture in the Wardour Street bar-cum-restaurant-cum-nightclub, which includes Meza and Floridita. I’ve never been one for Floridita, mostly because salsa is my idea of hell, but the idea of Indian tapas (my words not theirs) is an appealing one.

As we were seated in a private booth (great for first date snogging) and began to peruse the menu, the rather jolly restaurant manager Pradeep filled us with fun food facts. Booths aside I was apathetic to the interior. As you enter the building there’s a brothel-like lipstick red lounge area to your left, Carom is tucked at the other end of the curving bar by the toilets. Touches of ‘India’ – a few ornate brass lamps, an embroidered strip of fabric on the tables – feel a bit transitory. But interior smeria, as long as the food’s good (which it was) you could seat me in a padded cell and I wouldn’t complain. One thing I didn’t like was the fussy service. To be fair to the staff it was a slow Monday night and I am used to pubs where you have to order at the bar, but door opening and constant water filling just makes me feel uncomfortable.

What makes me feel very comfortable however is cocktail hour, so the arrival of something alcoholic and mango flavoured filled me with cheer (as did the tiny poppadoms with pineapple, berry and tomato chutneys). The ordering of the food was taken out of our hands by the lovely Pradeep who, God bless him, sent almost every dish on the menu. He also recommended a very good Argentinian white (Torrontes, Tilia, Mendoza, Argentina 2010). As I’m a wine spaz I won’t attempt to describe it, but it did go right nice with the spice.

Everything we had to start was good: plump and kicky tiger prawns ‘Dakshin’ and spice encrusted lamb cutlets which covered all the t’s (tasty, tender and tremendous). I loved the puffed rice salad or ‘Bhelpuri’ (a street food snack, served all over India) which looked and tasted a bit like an upmarket Bombay mix and added some welcome texture. The Anglo-Indian fish cakes came with a neat story, apparently in the time of the Indian Empire us philistine English used to get the Indian chefs to cook fish and chips. Once we’d had our fill of home grub, the chefs would take home the leftovers, mix it with spice and make these fishcakes. Well industrias they were.

Mains were as good if not better. Silky salmon ‘hariyali’ (a mint and coriander based marinade) fell apart at the merest poke of a fork and goan beef was thick with heat hinting spice. Sides of bread and rice were exemplary, particularly the South Indian flaky bread (somewhere between roti and naan with added elastic). But best were a coconut-creamed sea bass curry, marrying punchy ginger with syrupy mango and a black lentil dahl which quietly surpassed everything else on the menu.

Ignoring our protests, Pradeep insisted on sending a plate of fruit (is it just me or is dragon fruit pretty but tasteless?) and saffron infused custard to go with our fresh mint teas, which was a pleasingly light end to a rather big meal.
Soho is notoriously full of brilliant restaurants which cater to every whim. You want small plate buzz? Go to Spuntino or Polpo. Great noodles? Koya. Beruit street food? Yalla Yalla. The list goes on and on. And now, if you want a good plate of Indian tapas, a cocktail and a smiley, story-spouting restaurant manager, you have Carom.

100 Wardour Street

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