Tamarai is a nightclub set in a dimly lit basement, with low-slung ceilings and black walls. It is not somewhere I would normally think to go for a Friday lunch and apparently not somewhere that had thought of offering lunch at all, until last month. It appeared, when we first arrived, that they had forgotten to let anyone else know. We entered the wide expanse of the club with beautifully laid out tables, and realised that it was just us and the seven or so waiters wandering around.
The drinks are what it’s all about down here. We began with non-alcoholic cocktails, thinking perhaps it was too early to start the weekend, but these were so good and were finished so quickly that we decided to check the real drinks list for another. All the cocktails have been designed especially for Tamarai with a pan-Asian feel to match the food menu, athough you can order ordinary cocktails (but why you would want to?).
Bee Pollen is the house special, with fresh berries, pineapple juice and real bee pollen (an incredible super food), topped with lemonade for a good fizz. A virgin pear, pomegranate and cinnamon concoction was equally refreshing and delicious. From the alcoholic list we chose “Mon cherrie” with an ingredients list that included cherry liqueur, bitters, Grand Marnier and chocolate liqueur. It arrived in a small bowl, nestled inside a larger one filled with ice, to keep it chilled without diluting the taste of this sweet and delectable cocktail.
The “Lunch Therapy” offer at Tamarai runs to six plates of dim sum, with a massage and an Elemis goody bag for £12 – a pretty special deal. You’ll return to work well fed, with aches and twitches soothed, and possibly a little tipsy. If you remember to return, that is. It’s easy to lose track of time down here, and makes for a cosy and appealing way to ignore the ever-worsening weather outside.
Despite the great dim sum offer we decided to choose just three from the list of ten because the a la carte menu looked so interesting. From this we choose a mud crab and pomelo salad, caramel pepper prawns and Malay yellow beef curry.
Like all good dim sum places, the dishes here come when they’re ready. The first arrival of golden crispy cups (dim sum pastry) filled with peas, corn, water chestnuts and goji berries (another super food), were delightful morsels full of flavour and texture. Less impressive were the steamed vegetable and chive dumplings, as the overly-sweet pastry overwhelmed whatever flavour was vying for attention in the centre. Duck spring rolls were crisp and meaty, and not padded out with vegetables or noodles, much to the appreciation of my partner.
The sheer size of the caramel prawns was impressive and, like every other dish we ate, they were beautifully presented. They were smothered in sweet sauce and too chewy for me to enjoy properly, but my partner demolished his - so each to their own.
By now more people had arrived and they all seemed to be enjoying themselves, including a group on a “working lunch” that was set to go on into the afternoon. Despite the arrival of extra people, we were still well attended by our waiters who sweetly and discretely refilled our glasses after every sip.
But back to the food. The mud crab salad was fresh and perfectly prepared, mixed with a sharp, sweet and slightly spicy Asian dressing and dotted with chunks of red grapefruit. This dish practically sang. In contrast to its light, refreshing taste, the beef curry was rich with coconut cream and slices of succulent high-quality beef.
I didn’t really need a final course but I had been deliberately restrained so I could try the chocolate fondant with caramelized figs and five spice ice cream. The caramelized figs were gorgeous, both to look at and to devour, part-coated in gold leaf. The ice cream sat beautifully on a meringue nest, though I largely ignored it, as the chocolate fondant wasn’t quite intense enough to need its partnership.
So what of Tamarai? Well, just clear your afternoon of meetings (or better still, move them to Tamarai), and then go and relax over a long lunch in this chic nightclub. The only downside might be that work is the last thing on your mind as you make your ascent back up to street level. But isn’t that what Friday’s are for…?!
Tamarai: 167 Drury Lane, Covent Garden, London.
Reviewer: Jennifer Earle