Following years of chicken tikka masala, lamb vindaloos and dodgy wall paper, the Indian restaurant scene has seen something of a shift in attitude. More and more restaurants are promising all manner of ‘authentic’ Indian cuisine in all sorts venues. One such restaurant is the popular Wardour Street based Imli, offering small ‘tapas’ style sharing dishes at accessible prices.
Imli’s ethos is ‘traditional meets modern’, with the promise authentic regional dishes from all over India in a modern, quick-dining style. Furthermore, with the much lauded Tamarind as it’s sister restaurant, the omens were good. Our table was booked at 7pm and the vibrantly decorated venue was positively heaving.
According to the blurb and as expected in a tapas style restaurant, diners are encouraged to order three dishes each. However, for some bizarre reason our waitress forcibly insisted that we only order two dishes each – not very ‘tapas’! Anyway, looking around at the smallish portions, we quite rightly declined her advice. The food itself was a little hit and miss. For starters, our Papdi Chaat (wheat crisps and bean sprouts with vermicelli, sweet yoghurt and mint chutney) and Ragda potato (crispy potato cakes topped with yellow peas and tamarind chutney) were both wonderfully punchy and flavoursome. The Chennai Fish was similarly good, providing lightly battered fried tilapia fish delicately spiced with paprika and curry leaf.
Unfortunately, when it came to the mains, the food had lost its way; it was almost as if someone had told the chef to turn the volume down on the flavours. Chicken Makhani (chicken cooked in smoked tomato and cashew nut sauce) and Southern Lamb (lamb sautéed with chillies, coconut and south Indian spices) promised so much yet offered a very average experience. Better were the Matar Paneer (cottage cheese with peas) and in particular, the Pav Bhaji (seasonal vegetables in a tangy cumin sauce served with bread). Desserts picked up again, and we greatly enjoyed their home made ice creams, especially the chocolate with orange and the fig with ginger.
The restaurant offers a simple drinks menu which also features the de rigueur lassi selection and the prices are reasonable. However, we also felt very rushed in our meal; mains arrived as we had just finished the last bite of starters and a waitress who asked us 3-4 times during our mains whether we had finished. I understand that it is supposed to be quick-dining, but the restaurant had largely emptied out by 8pm, so there was no rush. Overall, whilst the concept is good and a regularly packed restaurant suggests that they are doing something right, it just needs a little fine tuning to match its ‘authentic’ Indian food aspirations.
Cuisine type – modern Indian
Dinner for 2 (ex. drinks) – £40
Wine – £4
Beer – £3.65
167-169 Wardour Street