I was always a little bit confused by the concept behind Italian and Indian restaurant Duetto in Wan Chai. But take away the Italian chef, replace him with Thai chef Amoo and you now have Tamarind, serving Thai, Vietnamese and Indian cuisine instead!
The same great space in the Sun Hung Kai Centre has been revamped to provide an elegant minimalist design with neutral earthy colours; however, the main highlight is Tamarind’s sprawling terrace with a gorgeous view of Kowloon. Now that evenings have started to get cooler so that it is actually possible to sit outside without getting disgustingly sweaty, this terrace is clearly the place to be; there was barely an empty table on the night we went.
Still leading the Indian side is Chef Ravilal Bhandari, who has been working in the same kitchen for 15 years. You can take the chef out of India, but you can certainly not take India out of Chef Bhandari; both he and his food are so authentic that, despite having lived here for so long, he can barely speak a word of English, let alone Cantonese, and gets by mostly in his native language.
Our meal began in the streets of India with a Pani Poori trio: little crispy puffs with a spiced potato filling, served beautifully atop shot glasses filled with three flavours of water – beetroot, tamarind and mint. The water is poured into its respective puff, completely altering the flavour of each one and making a really delightful treat; I can understand why this is such a popular street food in India.
The grilled pork neck was wonderfully tender and had a lovely smoky flavour to it. It was tasty on its own, yet the spicy tamarind sauce it was served with made it even better. This sauce is Chef Amoo’s family recipe and consists of a blend of ground toasted rice, chilli and tamarind amongst other things, creating an incredible medley of sweet, spicy and sour flavours.
Chef Bhandari executed his salmon tandoori perfectly, making it beautifully tender and light. Marinated in a blend of yoghurt, dill, fennel, honey and mustard, it had a lovely delicate sweet glaze that enhanced the fresh flavours of the fish.
Looking at the menu, the ‘Tamarind fish’ is perhaps not something I would normally order. Having now tried it, I would order it every time. The black cod is marinated overnight in tamarind sauce, coconut sugar and fish sauce, allowing the sweet and sour flavours to fully infuse into the fish. It had a lovely crispy outer layer that gave way to super tender and delicious flesh beneath, served alongside fluffy aromatic garlic rice.
Apparently one of Tamarind’s must-try dishes was the stir-fried tiger prawn in egg cream curry sauce, and I wholeheartedly concur. When raw, the prawn measures the length of two hands. When cooked it was about the size of my fist – probably the biggest prawn I have ever seen! It was amazingly tender and fresh, bathed in a delicious and flavoursome curry sauce, made with beaten eggs to make it smoother. I could have eaten this sauce on its own with a spoon.
The curry beef brisket with lemongrass yellow curry, a Vietnamese take on the regular beef brisket curry, was a very interesting combination of flavours and textures. Each component of the curry was served separately: curry sauce, chunks of lightly battered beef and baguette for dipping. While the texture of the beef was spot on, combined with the sauce it was a little too salty for my liking.
To end on a (very!) sweet note, we were served a plate of Jalebi. These traditional Indian treats are not actually on the menu, and need to be pre-ordered. Fortunately for us, another table had put in an order so they had all the ingredients ready for us. These thin coils of deep-fried batter soaked in sugar syrup and sprinkled with saffron strands may have seemed simple, but they proved hard to resist.
Prices are very reasonable, with starters from $48 and mains between $68 and $200. Apart from slightly confused service, Tamarind has all the right tools in place to be a success, and it appears to already have a very loyal following of Indian clientele from its Duetto days (even our That Girl Payal mentioned it!), further supporting the fact that the food is as authentic as it gets. If you’re craving tandoori, Thai green curry and beef pho all in one night, look no further than Tamarind.
Tamarind Pan-Asian Restaurant & Bar 2/F, Sun Hung Kai Center, 30 Harbour Road, Wan Chai
2827 7777 www.facebook.com/tamarindhk
Check out more from Ale on her fab blog, The Dim Sum Diaries!