On The Block
Somebody thought a lot about Tandoor Chop House. That name, for starters: you could go mad unpicking it. Tandoor – Indian, obviously, at once rugged kitchen equipment and technique; promising authentic deeply of-the-moment cooking over hot coals or real wood. Tandoor Chop – a weird juxtaposition, but a strangely appealing one in its commingling of Indian and British culinary traditions. Chop House – a cheeky riff on Shaun Searley’s gaff up in Clerkenwell, calling up the same associations with a bygone era when men were men and called a spade a spade and washed down a bloody, bloody good hunk of meat with a bottle of Burgundy at lunch time and didn’t bother with vegetables or garnishes or presentational flim-flam, just ate good, demotic, uncomplicated food in an unfussy, unfucked-with room. Tandoor Chop House, then: a good name, an intriguing name, an outwardly straightforward, Ronseal-like mission statement that cannot help nevertheless being quietly disquieting in its summoning of Victoriana, the golden age of chop-eating which doubled as the golden age of pitiless conquest of the Indian subcontinent. Plenty to chew on, you might say – and you haven’t even sat down yet.
But wait just a second longer before you do – look around the room. Let the walls and floors and tables speak to you of the thought that has gone into their genesis, the heritage and pedigree they are desperate to signal: equal parts Quality Chop (mosaic floor; benches), Karam Sethi design workshop offcuts (a lot of hard wood), and oh-so-2017 flourishes (exposed industrial venting; expensive muted lighting). Every metallic surface shimmers brassily; a small bar in the corner groans with exotic-looking gin bottles; a semi-exposed kitchen flashes you a seductive glimpse of hot tandoor action.
And now the menu – an immense amount of thought has gone into that, too. If there is a bill of fare more precisely calibrated to give a male late millennial food dork an overwhelming case of the FOMOs, I can’t imagine it. Dexter beef ‘dripping’ keema naan, green chilli & yoghurt is poetry: note the tasteful name-dropping of the breed, the nose-to-tail dedication to the best of animal fats, the Black Axe Mangal maximalism of pairing beef with lamb with creamy-tart-fatty yoghurt, with a promised blast of heat to cut across it all. Other entries are perhaps slightly less lyrical but no less enticing: bone marrow naan, anyone? Bhaji onion rings, burnt garlic chutney? Black pepper chicken tikka? Amritsari crispy lamb chops? Gunpowder fries? Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes.
It’s a bit of a shock, then, to realise that the formidable brains behind Tandoor Chop House have thought not one iota about what the food tastes like. Permit me to come on all archly Truman Capote after two martinis (or in this case, Punjabi Sours) too many – I don’t think much of it, either. That keema naan is an insipid riff on a Sloppy Joe, a claggy dollop of underseasoned meat on an undercooked disk of OK bread, the yoghurt a bland poultice, jarringly unseasonal cherry tomatoes an unwelcome garnish. A Keralan tuna tartare tastes only of the messily cubed fish, which in this case is not a good thing (surely it can’t actually be from Kerala?). The lamb chops are not crispy, and are leagues inferior to the ones you can get around Whitechapel; the House tandoor chicken is utterly forgettable; the Gunpowder fries are (sorry) a damp squib. The nadir is some tandoor broccoli, which tastes purely of oven – not lingering smoke and char, just the grim patina of grime and industrial cleaning products that accrues down the back of your Russell Hobbs at home. Shining in the midst of all this is an outstanding, beautifully cooked masala boti rubbed ribeye – one of the best things I’ve eaten this young year – which just goes to make everything that comes alongside it even more frustrating, or baffling.
Tandoor Chop House is an eyecatching name and winning concept in need of a good kitchen. As others have remarked, perhaps the concept will be enough to draw in enough curious first-timers to keep it afloat, but I’m not sure that would count as success for the restaurant’s backers. Its every focus-grouped detail – its pinpoint pricing, its democratic menu, its blandly agreeable decor – screams roll-out. It is owned by shadowy cabal called Ennismore, which has fingers in a bunch of hospitality samosas (including golf-porn Dracula’s Castle Gleneagles); the consortium would doubtless like to see many more Tandoor Chop Houses springing up across the country. The shouty mission statement on the team’s website is “TO MAKE EVERY NEIGHBOURHOOD WE ARE IN A BETTER PLACE TO BE”; once you have scoured the battlefield of that sentence for the corpses of prepositions it’s a worthy enough cause. But thinking about other places near to me where I can get a heightened version of this food, or something like it –Delhi Grill, Tayyabs, even (sort of) Berber&Q – I can’t help but wish they’d approached things differently. Like thinking a little less about their location’s ontology, and a little more about making it just a better place to eat.
Originally published by Civilian Global