September 23, 2022 By Vaseline

The Tamil Prince, London N1: “In short, it’s just great” – Restaurant review | meal

Ah, The Tamil Prince: Lo and behold, the rise of the pub, which is no longer a pub but more of a pub-shaped restaurant serving beer. We will see a lot of this in the years to come. The Brits haven’t fallen in love with the sights, sounds or shapes of their natives, but aimless boozing has certainly lost a place in our lives. “Eating is cheating” was the battle cry of the 90s barfly, which sounds so strangely extravagant today when food is the cement that connects us and now more than ever the kitchen profit keeps the light on.

At the Tamil Prince (formerly The Cuckoo), the bar is still intact, serving non-alcoholic pints from Purity, Harbour, and Lucky Saint, among others, but they’ve painted the place a gorgeous, soothing hue of Farrow & Ball Studio Green and transformed it into a rather elegant, unofficial, South Indian reincarnation of the wildly admired Malaysian-Singaporean street food joint Roti King. Prince Durairaj, once the head chef at Roti King, is now cheering up the heart of the Caledonian Road, offering flaky, soft, luscious rotis that are heavenly proof that God’s chosen carbohydrate is bread.

“Beautiful and Feathery”: The Tamil Prince’s Onion Bhajis.

In case you haven’t heard of Roti King, it started life in a basement across from a side entrance of Euston station and has since spread its toes to other venues and food halls across London, and this no-frills cafe has long been a favorite of food addicts, commuters and hungry students. So much so that it’s wildly overbooked, dangerously addictive and the line starts at 11am every morning. After a month in the spice-starved Lake District, I’ve been known to leave the Avanti West Coast, wheel my suitcase off platform 13, and join the wait for a relaxing roti canai.

Durairaj, who is from Tamil Nadu, has found a more distinguished environment for his duties dal Machani and paneer butter masala. He built that vision with Glen Leeson, ex of swanky dining conglomerate JKS, while Simone Pugi’s cocktails are from Soho’s Bar Termini, where top bartenders spend their free Mondays. So Tamil Prince was never meant to be just another seedy pub where bhunas and pilaus are thrown out of the microwave – which I say with no disrespect to Curry Club Thursdays at Wetherspoons, my father’s favorite restaurant, but I never once did prompted to find the chef there, shaking his hand at the skillful seasoning of his shrimp.

The 'sweet tart crimson' paneer butter masala at The Tamil Prince, Islington.
The ‘sweet tart crimson’ paneer butter masala at The Tamil Prince, Islington.

Instead, the Tamil Prince fires up a menu of similar standards to Gymkhana in Mayfair. Intensely spiced grilled king prawns are so huge they resemble and are being pursued by a frightening alien task force Channa Bhaturaa huge pillow of fried dough with a filling chickpea curry.

In fact, about half of the short but telling menu is vegetarian, focusing on delicious things mostly sourced from Durairaj’s home state, and is broken down into the inevitable small dishes and a few larger offerings. Bowls of crispy, lightly spiced fried okra are softened with spiced chicken lollies with sweet homemade chutney to infuse them. My favorite of the smaller dishes was the pulled beef masala uttapum, a thick, soft, spongy dosa that reminded me a bit of a drop scone flavored with shredded meat. It was served with a brutally delicious chilli-coconut chutney that glides into your mouth like a balm, then morphs into something incredibly punchy, yet compelling you to devour the entire pot.

Pulled Beef Uttapum at The Tamil Prince, Islington.
The Tamil Prince’s Pulled Beef Uttapum: “A thick, soft, rather spongy dosa that reminded me a bit of a drop scone flavored with shredded meat.”

In many Indian restaurants it may feel embarrassing to squander your appetite on the humble onion bhaji, but at Tamil Prince it’s worth the risk, as they’re gorgeous, feathery and complemented with vibrant mint chutney and allium tones. We ate paneer butter masala and dipped our rotis in their sweet, hot, crimson sauce before tossing the rest back and forth through kegs of decent thanjavur chicken curry and a dark, creamy dal makhani, what a lentil lover that is pure happiness was .

In short, the Tamil Prince is just great. It’s dog-friendly, and the cocktails are inventive and scented with cardamom, rosewater, and lime. The staff is upbeat and didn’t flinch when I showed up with the vans at opening time to grab a table for two. They didn’t either, as I realized shortly after eating that two rotis would never be enough for all those delicious sauces and that I was going to need more in an instant. Desi pubs have been around for years, of course, but this is a sharp, bold reworking of the concept into the here and now. In the current climate, the desi pub may just be what the industry needs. Curry and a pint: Name a more iconic duo? At the moment that feels impossible.