Talli Joe is a recently opened restaurant on Shaftesbury Avenue serving up what they are calling authentic Indian ‘half plates and full drinks’.
Small plates. They’re a thing aren’t they? I’m not sure when they came into existence or whose idea it was but they have definitely been on the scene for a while. As have sharing plates. And tapas. So what do you get if you chuck all of this into a pot and add a sprinkling of Indian spices?
The answer is Talli Joe, a recently opened restaurant on Shaftesbury Avenue serving up what they are calling ‘half plates and full drinks’.
The opening of Talli Joe featured in my weekly London food news roundup a few months ago, and as I am always up for sampling new restaurants and sticking food into my gob I thought it was high time I popped along to check it out for myself.
Talli Joe is so called because ‘Talli’ (T-uh-li) apparently means “a happy intoxicated state of being, often rendering the legs useless.” And ‘Joe’ is just your average…. uh, Joe? So drinks and food for normal folk is, I think, what they are getting at. But with an Indian twang.
We turned up unannounced on a Friday evening about 9pm. Expecting to be told to sod off for a hour while a table became available (as is customary in London), I was quite surprised to be told they could seat me and my two compadres at a window seat straight away.
The menu is made up of about 20 of these half plates with the first half consisting of mostly smaller, vegetarian dishes, and the second half roaming into more meaty, main-course-style territory. But as these are half plates the idea is to order two or three per person and graze on different dishes. There were three of us there that night and for full disclosure, two of
us them were a little bit… uh… ‘Talli’, if you will. So I feel like our ordering skills may not have been up to scratch on this occasion. However we ordered a ton of dishes and waited for the chaos to ensue.
Kale Chaat (£4.50)
First up was this little vegetarian side of crispy battered kale on top of soft, saucy potatoes with sweet yoghurt adding a soothing creaminess to what was otherwise quite a spicy little number! I particularly liked the little sweet bursts of pomegranate seeds scattered on the top. A very good start.
Whitebait Kempu (£3.50)
Yummy little crispy fish guys served with tadka mayo, a mayonnaise flavoured with Indian spices. This was not my favourite dish but one of the guys ordered it so that’s no surprise. If you like whitebait anyway then this one is probably for you.
Truffle Ghee Kulcha (£3.75)
This was a cute little naan stuffed with cottage cheese and brushed with truffle ghee. I was a little bit worried that this might be too truffley for me as I am one of the only people in the world who doesn’t like truffles (apparently), but it was tasty and buttery and cheesy so it won me over.
Devilled Quail Egg (£5.50)
A hard boiled little quail egg wrapped in crab meat flavoured with delicate Indian spicing to form an Indian style Scotch egg. Crispy panko breadcrumbs on the outside and soft eggy, spicy crab inside served with some more of that tadka mayo. A very tasty twist on the classic.
Borhi Chicken (£7)
This was a speciality dish from the Borhi community, so our waiter informed us. The chicken drumsticks are cooked in a dark, nutty masala sauce until the meat is so tender it falls off the bone. Served with a fenugreek flatbread for mopping up that delicious sauce. Very yummy and very moreish.
At this point the dishes started to come out thick and fast. So fast in fact that our little table was barely able to hold all of the dishes that kept arriving. We actually had to spill over on to the neighbouring table just to keep up with the sheer amount of plates. It was also at this point that I started to lose track slightly of which dish was which and flavours started to become a bit of a blur…
Konkani Seafood Curry (£9.50)
Next up was this bowl of seafood curry with delicious big fat prawns, squid and seabream in a tasty coconut sauce. Served with a white and fluffy tender coconut and neer dosa it was warming and nicely spiced without overpowering the seafood.
Gol Baari Kosha Mangsho (£8)
This lamb on the bone curry came served in a little pot with two crispy little deep fried flatbreads called luchi. The lamb was really succulent and tender and completely fell away from the bone – so satisfying and unctuous. One of my fellow diners said it was everything he had ever tried to cook in a lamb curry before but had always failed. Everyone’s favourite by far!
And it was at THIS point that I really started to struggle with the arrival of new plates, which you can blame for the poor and absent photographs below. This was also the stage at which my dining companions tipped over the edge from ‘Talli’ to just plain drunk.
Chicken 21 (£6.75)
What felt like one of the more mainstream, accessible Indian dishes, this was simply some stir fried chicken with south Indian spices and curry leaves. Nothing too ‘out of the ordinary’ here but still a tasty plate and we yummed it up. Apologies that this pic is not so great, I asked my drunken husband to take it for me…
Kochi Beef Fry (£9.50)
Last but not least of the main courses, this baby was REALLY spicy! It kind of looked like pulled beef and was served on a paratha with a LOT of sliced green chilli. By far the hottest thing we were served that night and definitely one for all of you chilli fiends. I think I would have struggled to have eaten the whole lot on my own because of the sheer heat of it, but along with my drunken friends we powered through. I do not seem to have a photo of this one as I think by that point the march of the plates had overwhelmed us somewhat.
Once all of the main course plates were cleared away some calmness began to return to our table. As if we weren’t satisfied with the nine dishes that we had above we decided to share a dessert between us. We plumped for the rose ice cream with papaya candy and rose jam which had a delicate rose flavour that was thankfully not overpowering at all, But the fact it was served in a glass just plonked on the table kinda of let it down a bit. It didn’t seem to have much finesse to it? We ate it all anyway, of course.
So what have I learnt from our ‘Talli’ trip to Talli Joe? Well, we basically ordered far too much for three people! There were more plates than our table, and even our taste buds could handle. This is of course not Talli Joe’s fault but the fault of our bad ordering. Everything started to become a bit of a blur in terms of the names of the dishes and what was what, but in the end it didn’t really matter because each dish was tasty in it’s own right.
One thing that I wish we had done was order less meaty main courses and more vegetable dishes, or even a side of rice, as in the end despite eating such a vast array of dishes I did leave the restaurant a little bit hungry. With this in mind I did think that maybe some of the dishes were overly expensive for the size of the plates. It felt a little bit like they were serving you small plates but at full prices. I know this is London but people still love value for money.
However, if you are just looking for authentic, tasty Indian style tapas in a relaxed atmosphere then this place should definitely be on your bucket list. And if ‘Talli’ means “a happy intoxicated state of being, often rendering the legs useless” then they succeeded on that point too. Good work, guys.