Tamarind of London entreats OC diners to take a culinary excursion in their own backyard.
By Sharon Stello | Photos by Jody Tiongco
Just up the road from north Laguna, tucked away in Crystal Cove Shopping Center, an escape to exotic India awaits at Tamarind of London, a sister establishment of the Michelin-starred restaurant across the pond in Great Britain. Step into the warm, inviting space filled with dark wood tables and red-cushioned seats for a journey that engages the senses. On the bar side of the restaurant, a peaceful fountain can be heard trickling outside while flames mesmerize in fire pits on the patio. On the other side of this elegant eatery, diners may watch chefs preparing meals behind a glass window.
Executive Chef Imran Ali, originally from Pakistan, began his career as a dishwasher before cultivating his skills in Indian cuisine and training under culinary masters around the world. He has helmed the kitchen at Tamarind for nearly two years, traveling back home and to India at least once a year for inspiration.
“We keep our food authentic, but with a modern twist to it,” Imran says. “… I don’t cut down on the spices at all.” He’s quick to add that spice doesn’t mean heat, but rather flavor, which is evident in his multilayered creations that boast complex sauces and perfectly melded seasonings. Knowledgeable servers offer spot-on recommendations while providing insight into origins of the dishes and how they’re prepared.
Begin the experience with an alluring elixir called Tower of London: The sweet and refreshing libation combines freshly muddled cucumber and basil with gin, elderflower liqueur, lime juice and simple syrup. While sipping, peruse the menu and order some naan, flatbread baked in a clay tandoor oven; the goat cheese-stuffed naan is a favorite choice with just a touch of tang. For a delectable appetizer, you can’t go wrong with the potato platter, a trio that includes “aloo tikki” (grilled potato cake with cumin and ginger), sweet-and-sour potato salad, and “masala aloo” (spiced masala-potato croquette). Potatoes also star in the “aloo gobi” vegetable side with cauliflower, slightly crispy and delightfully seasoned.
For entrees, the most popular are tandoori sea bass and chicken tikka masala; the latter reportedly originated in the U.K. but has become a mainstay at Indian restaurants, a Tamarind server notes. The sea bass is moist, flaky and practically melts in your mouth, presented with a divine apricot curry sauce. And the chicken tikka masala is a dish to be savored—the rich, creamy red sauce will have you trying to guess the seasonings. While it comes with rice, there’s no way to resist soaking up the tantalizing sauce with naan for a flavor-filled bite. End the meal with a traditional dessert such as “gulab jamun,” a fried milk dumpling soaked in rose-cardamom syrup and paired with pistachio nut and cardamom “kulfi” (ice cream)—a treat for the taste buds and a true departure from everyday fare in Orange County.
Tip: Off-menu favorites may be ordered whether they’ve been served at Tamarind of London before or not. For example, chicken pakora is often requested, and the chef is happy to oblige.
Hours: Tuesday-Sunday, 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Monday, 5-10 p.m. (dinner only)