Brick Lane is world famous for its curry and those in the know head to Tooting for their fix, but what do you do if you fancy a curry and you’re being dazzled by the bright lights of Covent Garden? Restaurants like Tandoori Nights aim to please the masses and you will find all of the classic dishes on the menu at reasonable prices, something which makes it a popular choice with transient tourists and theatre-goers alike.
The area, joined by Drury Lane and Great Queen Street, is most remarkable for the Freemasons’ Hall, an architectural wonder that almost makes you want to see if they’re accepting new members just so you can get a peek inside its humongous vaulted doors. Over the road you will find Tandoori Nights, a fairly inconspicuous building that looks like it could have had the same frontage since Margaret Thatcher was in power. The decor inside dabbles with the contemporary – salmon pink walls are juxtaposed with chocolate-coloured, tall-backed leather seats and smart white table linen. It is a thin, long space, which is clean and bright but not particularly pleasing on the eye.
Staff are friendly, welcoming and pro-actively go about their business as groups in celebratory mode tuck into stacks of poppadoms. Later on in the evening, two dancers take over what little floor space there is and perform a Bollywood-inspired dance routine. Whilst they give it their all, the restaurant doesn’t really have enough room to cater for this sort of thing and, as waiters have to navigate their way past a dancer’s flailing arm, it becomes painfully clear that it’s been shoehorned in.
One of the best options from the appetisers is the prawn puri (£4.50). Tiny prawns are served in a spicy tomato-based sauce which has a decent thwack of chilli heat and this mix is encased in a greasy (in a good way) folded roti. In the interests of experimenting, a hazarvi kebab (£3.95) is selected to go with the puri. Described as a combination of chicken, homemade cheese and spices, those of you who think chicken shouldn’t be mixed with cheese shouldn’t stress too much as when it arrives it is more like a chicken tikka, with no cheese in sight. The chicken needs more time on the grill too – it’s barely cooked in the centre and doesn’t get finished as a result.
Just as soon as the starters are lifted from the table, the mains arrive, so request more time if you need it. The lamb Hindustani is boneless, which seems a shame, and comes in a thick, blended nutty sauce. In terms of its flavour it’s pretty inoffensive but, if anything, the lamb could do with being slow-cooked for longer as it's not as tender as you’d like.
Hopes are high for the Goan fish curry, a South Indian speciality, and whilst this has more of an impact thanks to its feisty seasoning, it again feels a little like a dish that could do with more time on the stove to truly bring out its flavours. The fish used in the dish is tilapia, a white fish common to Asian cuisine and it is served in an iron karahi, which has the appearance of a miniature wok. The pilau basmati rice it is served with is absolutely fine as is the garlic-flavour naan bread.
Tarka daal (£4.50), a true measure of an Indian restaurant’s ability to do the simple things right, shows Tandoori Nights does have the potential to excel. A bowl of pulped yellow lentils, with the consistency of soup, is infused with fresh coriander, and this particular dish has a rounded, lingering flavour that suggests care and attention has gone into it. The daal and the puri prove to be the high points of the meal.
This being Covent Garden, any self-respecting restaurant has to have a cocktail menu and Tandoori Nights has recently introduced one and drinks are about £6 each. The Mumbai Cooler, a mix that includes cranberry, lychee and gin, is a refreshing drink that uses fruit juice rather than fresh fruit. They often have they have 2-4-1 specials available as well. Most people dining at Tandoori Nights are happy to go down the traditional route of drinking bottles of Cobra or Kingfisher but a decent wine list is available should you so desire, with bottles starting at £12.95 and glasses starting at £3.50.
The Last Word
Whilst curry connoisseurs won’t be flocking to Tandoori Nights any time soon, this place continues to do a brisk trade with those who are passing through Central London or who want to take advantage of their pre- and post-theatre deals. In return you’ll receive a middle of the road curry at recession-proof prices.