26 January 2023: Tandoor Chop House - Oven a good time
It's January which means another year on my curry adventures across London - the 12th now. This was my second outing of 2023 having revisited Hyderabadi Zaiqa in Tooting for some early-year biryani action, and as I write, I'm gearing up for a long awaited return to Vijaya Krishna this weekend.
As for this review, what better excuse than a delayed client Christmas lunch to sample some Indian wares. And what better place to curry favour with our generous contributors than the Tandoor Chophouse, just off Trafalgar Sqaure. The clients in question will remain nameless for obvious reasons, but needless to say they were excellent company and I'm sure they'll be renewing their contracts with us this year.
I've actually visted Tandoor Chophouse previously, a number of years ago, but would it live up to its reputation this time?
DISCLAIMER FOR MY BOSS: I did not choose the restaurant and lots of important things were discussed.
If you frequent Covent Garden or the Charing Cross area, chances are you've walked past Tandoor Chophouse without realising. Sat behind St Martin-in-the-fields, it's smart Georgian facade belies the Indian tandoor flavours within, but lends itself well to the menu. Indeed, as we were reminded by the waiter (and the bistro-esque net curtains), this is not a curry house, but a take on the traditional British chophouse with a North Indian twist.
The decor inside has a Victorian pub feel with dark wood furniture and shaker panelled walls. Hexagonal white and black floor tiles, booths with red banquette seats and painted window signs complete the picture. But that's where the classic interior ends and the fusion begins with a wall-sized glass panel revealing the tandoor and chefs in their kitchen enclosure, like a couple of zookeepers preparing lunch for the residents. Huge Marshall amps hanging from the ceiling corners add a further break from convention, and unfortunately also draw the eye to the slightly shoddy-looking exposed brickwork and ducting above, but nevertheless give a chic edge to the otherwise customary chophouse vibe.
Starters and sides
Bhaji onion rings with smoked aubergine raita
Chickpea chaat, tamarind, pomegranate & green chilli
Seekh kebab roll, green chutney & pomegranate
Cauliflower croquettes, lime pickle mayo
Bone marrow naan
Green chilli, garlic & mature cheddar naan
Butter chicken naan
Spinach & mustard greens saag
Nimbu masala fries
With six of us dining there was a chance to sample the majority of the menu. To start with we sampled four of the small plates: the onion rings, chaat, cauliflower croquettes, and seekh kebab roll.
The bhaji-style, battered onions were chunky, but failed to make a big impression, despite the smoked aubergine raita side. Surprsingly better were the cauliflower croquettes, five deep-fried vegetable bites that were complemented by a superb lime pickle mayo. Less impressive was the look of the chickpea chaat. An even sprinkling of sev atop this street food favourite belied it's crunchy contents, while a host of accompanying crackers gave it the feel of a dessert. Fortunately a dip of the crackers into the tamarind, chilli, onion, and pomegranate depths revealed a typical, if not overly memorable, yoghurty chaat chrunch. The best of the bunch though was the seekh kebab roll. This open bread and rolled mincemeat kebab could've been a meal in itself and certainly packed a punch. A green chilli chutney added the fire whilst a garnish of chopped coriander, onion and pomegranate seeds added a bitter sweet crunch to this delicious dish.
Alongside the mains we sampled three other breads, each with a rather unusual edge. From a previous visit, the prospect of the bone marrow naan was an exciting one, but despite a generous slather of umami flavour, it didn't quite match expectations, possibly due to the addition of caramelized onions overpowering the meaty marrow notes. The other two naans were pretty good but also didn't quite live up to their unique flavours. Both were moist enough, but the butter chicken naan - a little like a poultry version of a keema - fell a little flat, whilst the cheddar and chilli lacked the strength of flavour to being truly of note.
The final three sides also came with the mains and were again solid, if a little forgettable. The spinach and mustard saag was my attempt to get some greens in the mix but didn't prove too popular. Neither did the black dahl which I felt should've have receieved more love, and bettered Dishoom's beloved equivalent. Conversely the fries were consumed in full, and matched the meat mains well, but ultimately were still just spice dusted chips.
So, it was a mixed bag for the Sides and Starters, with the seek kebab the real gem, but all were enjoyable nonetheless, even if they didn't hit the highest heights.
House tandoor chicken
Whole sea bream
Amritsari crispy lamb chops
Black pepper chicken tikka
Tandoori duck breast
There are no curry dishes here, just tandoori and grilled mains in line with the chophouse vibe. As such, the closest comparator is probably the barbecue stylings of the excellent Brigadiers. The Amritarsi lamb chops certainly matched the standard of this lofty competitor, rivalled only by similar offerings from The Tamil Prince, Booma, and Gunpowder. These were thick cuts - tender as you like -and proved absolutely delicious. Likewise, the same could be said of the lassoni paneer, again equalling the very best found at the aforementioned restaurants. Also juicy and succulent, and possibly the best I've had, were the black pepper chicken tikka pieces - a dish that rarely lives up to, or indeed exceeds expectations, like these did.
Conversely, the house tandoor chicken, was more rudimentary. It was tasty enough, but none of the spices really bled through leaving a slight unremarkable impression (even if a well-cooked one). Far less prosaic were the final two mains. The whole sea bream suffered a little of the timorous marination of the chicken, but the quantity and meatiness of the fish more than made up for it. Likewise, the duck breast ( a new one for this blog) was perfectly cooked and, when eaten with the chilli sauce, samphire and yellow pepper accompaniment was one of the higlights of the meal.
So, all in all, it was a very strong showing for the mains, not least in the quality of meat and variety on offer, however, it would've be great if a wider range of sauces were used with each dish given the green chilli chutney side came with most dishes. But that's a minor complaint over otherwise excellent food.
The service here was very competent as you would expect. The style is certainly relaxed, but bar a few friendly exchanges at first, the waiting staff were more seen than heard. It's polite, timely, and professional, but with no memorable exchanges or compaints to mention it's a steady 7 out of 10.
Value for money
Six of us dined out well and had two beers each for close to £300. Dividing equally, £50 a head felt pretty fair, if still on the premium side, and, as ever, economies of scale added value.
Some dishes flattered to deceive a little, and the central location will always add a pound or two, but the highest ticket items never reached the eyewatering price tags of nearby Gunpowder Soho, and the quality certainly matched the prices.
All told, Tandoor Chop house provided us with a veritable feast of flavours to match the concise yet varied menus of the capital's more modern, small-plate-style restaurants alluded to above. It's not quite at the level of Brigadiers, but some of the dishes could certainly reside there, and the overall style of Tandoor Chophouse deserves to be respected for its difference. 37 out of 50 is nonetheless a very respectable score as exemplified by the big hitters occupying this position on our leaderboard and the Sunday Thali has been tempting me on Instagram into a weekend visit for years. So watch this space for that, or try it yourself with a trip to Trafalgar Square and this very decent British-Indian diner.
<<<Read our previous review here
Address: 8 Adelaide St, London WC2N 4HZ
Cuisine: North Indian & British
Alcohol Policy: Licensed
Summary: Tandoori meats are given a British chop house treatment