Approximate pricing: hot & cold tapas from £2-8, sides from £1-3 and desserts around £3 – plus they have a number of special offers on at any given time
Wandering around, but not aimlessly
On a pleasant Friday evening, Mrs. LF and I found ourselves out and about in Soho fairly late at night with empty stomachs. As we strolled along, we passed a number of places on my wish list, but after finding that a table at Inamo wouldn’t be ready for another hour, that Flordita was just silly busy, and that Princi was too packed to even consider anything but gawking at the counters (I have been once and sort of wanted to re-try), Wardour Street was coming to an end. St. Moritz was tempting, but it was too late for something so heavy, and we wanted something light and quick. But we were saved. I saw the windows of Imli beckoning (it is the cheaper tapas-style restaurant set up by the people behind Tamarind) and figured we’d give it a go.
A few plates, a few pounds
The restaurant was still fairly busy and buzzy when we walked in, but there were a few tables for two left, and we got one near the front window. It’s not exactly the most attractive place, but is fine for what it is (i.e. a fairly cheap Indian ‘tapas’ restaurant). There are dark wood tables and wooden floors and notes of orange scattered about. Unfortunately, the place could have been cleaner. There was quite a bit of random stuff on the floors, one of the orange floor lights that projects upwards was flickering constantly, and it just didn’t seem spick and span.
Our very charming and eager-to-please server came over, gave us the menus, asked if we’ve eaten there before, and explained how everything works. She said four tapas per person would be about right, and I guessed it would be more than right for their profit margin. I often find that with these ‘small plate’ restaurants that are sprouting up everywhere, their stated number of suggested plates per person is more than you would probably want to consume, even if you were very hungry. We decided to order five dishes in total between us, which turned out to be about right.
We got off to a cracking start with an excellent chaat. My favorite version of this particular street-food dish in London is La Porte des Inde’s ‘Bombay Chaat’, but Imli’s was very good. In fact, come to think of it, it was better than the chaat dish we had not too long ago at Zaika. The underlying brown sauce tasted like a good sweet, smoky and spicy American barbeque sauce, and its thick and smooth consistency contrasted perfectly with the crispiness of the whole wheat and vermicelli. My only issue was that it aired a bit on the sweet side, but it was very satisfying and a good sized portion. 7/10.
The roasted vegetable plate had some nice flavors, and I especially liked the squash and fennel. The coriander dressing was, well, coriander dressing. This dish provided us with something to munch on that wasn’t spicy, which was necessary as the two meat dishes we had definitely packed some heat. 5/10.
The lamb and chicken were both presented in a patty-like forms. I preferred the lamb patties as they had a nice, rich flavor (not at all ‘lamby’), and the fairly sweet beetroot dipping sauce complemented it well. Either the lamb or the chutney was damn spicy, but we couldn’t figure out which one it was as our mouths were already too hot by this point to be able to distinguish. 6/10.
Luckily, Mrs. LF had ordered a salty lassi (which was excellent), so she had that to fall back on. I, on the other hand, had a glass of Peter Lehmann’s South Australian “My Word is My Bond” Semillon, which although sort of pleasant on its own (a fatty, citrusy affair), provided no respite from the onslaught of Indian heat.
The chicken shammi was also pretty good, and the onion and ginger came through clearly, though I wasn’t so keen on the mint pairing. 5/10.
The daal also had a good kick to it, and tasted okay, although it didn’t really have the depth that a good daal should and was very liquidy. I prefer daal to be thicker and have a broader flavor profile – this was very one dimensional. It was disappointing because I’ve had good daal at many cheaper Indian restaurants in London. Maybe it’s just down to my preferences, but I didn’t think this was any great shakes. 4/10.
I will say up front that I am really not a fan of Indian sweets in general. As you will know if you’ve read some of my other reviews, I have a sweet tooth, but desserts like gulab jamun are too sweet even for the likes of me.
This caramel custard sounded pretty good, though. It did satisfy my sugary cravings, and was quite light given the coconut milk base. It didn’t taste of much besides coconut milk, jaggery (according to Wikipedia, that’s a concentrated bit of sugar cane juice without the separation of molasses from the crystals) and a slight hint of caramel. So not intricate, just full on sweet, but not too much so. 5/10.
Sure, most of the food tasted good and if you order cleverly (or go for one of their many deals), the bill comes out on the low side. The staff were all very pleasant and keen to make sure we were happy, and service was efficient for the most part. So, not a bad option for cheap Indian food in Soho, especially since it is a big restaurant and you’re likely to be seated quickly even if it’s busy. Just don’t go out of your way to eat at Imli.
Wine list: 4/10 (very abbreviated wine list, but not unexpected in an Indian tapas restaurant – some of their cocktails did sound very enticing)
For more about my rating scale, click here.
*Note: I have only dined at Imli once.*