I sort of stumbled across Pan-Asian restaurant Tamarind in Wanchai on a mission to get a Chinese visa. With an hour to wait for the visa office to open, I scoured the area for eateries.
Nestled on the second floor of Sung Hung Hai Centre on Harbour Road, I was initially drawn to the restaurant by its name alone. It must be my South Asian roots, because the word “tamarind” wakes up my taste buds with memories of delightful treats. The tamarind tree produces long, bean-like pods filled with seeds surrounded by mushy, sweet-and-sour, fibrous pulp. This tangy, fleshy pulp forms one of the key ingredients in creating a delicious chutney that garnishes some of the most amazing street food to be had from vendors and stalls across the subcontinent of India, Pakistan, Nepal and Bangladesh.
Known previously as Viceroy, Tamarind is managed and owned by Rajeev Bhasin and his son Harshil as part of Mayfare Group, who have been embedded in the Hong Kong culinary scene for over 30 years.
My husband and I generally avoid South Asian cuisine, as we are all too familiar with home-cooked Indian and Pakistani delicacies, many of which we have tried and tested in restaurants and found that they never really get to the level of what Mum makes at home! So we decided to put Tamarind to the test by opting for their speciality street food, which comes in the form of appetisers on menu. Did Tamarind live up to its mouth-watering characteristics?
First up was the pani poori trio ($88). For me, this is the king of street food. Crisp, round shells of hollow semonlina and wheat flour pastry, each one was carefully cracked on top to create an opening, which allowed small amounts of herby spiced potato and chickpeas to be inserted – then came the fun bit.
They came balanced on six shot glasses filled with three delightful liquid concoctions. The green shot was a traditional blend of fresh mint water spiced with black salt and mango powder, the second, ruby-coloured shot was made with fresh beetroot and carrot spiced with mustard seed and the third shot consisted of the original and most popular: sweet, copper-coloured tamarind water laced with a hint of rock salt and cumin.
So the art of eating these heavenly morsels involves pouring the liquid into the shell to the brim. Before it starts to leak, quickly pop the whole thing in your mouth in one go. What you’ll get is a burst of an an amazing array of textures and flavours – the softness of the potato and chickpeas, the delicate fragrances of the herbs and spices and the powerful flavoured water that explodes with the crispy pastry as you gulp down and munch like an excited squirrel.
This was a memorable and delicious experience. My favourite was the sweet, tangy original shot, which I would consider mixing with the mint shot, and my husband loved the unique beetroot shot. I would have liked to have had more of the crispy balls to make the experience last longer, and perhaps a bit of ginger and ground chilli in the tamarind water might have given it a wee bit of kick.
I’m mad for Indian chaat; chaat is the queen bee of street food for me. Chaat, as I know it, consists of a mixture of spiced potato pieces, boiled chickpeas, fried peanuts, onion and tomato topped with crisp semolina pieces, tangy, salty spices, sweet-and-sour tamarind and green chilli sauce. The chaat is then garnished with fresh coriander and mint and lashings of smooth, sweet yoghurt.
Tamarind has come up with something quite unique based on a recipe from Rajeev’s chef friend, who heads the famous Indian restaurant Rasika in Washington, DC. This was my first experience trying palak ki chaat ($108); described proudly by Harshil as “Christmas on a plate”, this interesting offering consisted of delicate pieces of spinach coated with a fine dusting of spiced gram flour, deep-fried to create a plateful of crispy emerald flakes. This was garnished with a palette of colours, starting with the white creaminess of the yoghurt, the glistening, chocolate-coloured tamarind chutney and then a generous smattering of ruby-red pomegranate seeds and mustard-coloured, crisp gram-flour vermicelli, all sprinkled with a handful of freshly chopped coriander.
A spoonful of this burst of colour delighted the taste buds with a variety of textures, from the crispness of the spinach, to the tanginess of the chutney, to the soothing sweetness of the yoghurt, all balanced together into a really delicious dish. I must say it was quite a large portion size, which we honestly thought we would not be able to finish, but we had our fill and enjoyed every mouthful.
We also tried the tandoori mix grill ($298), which consisted of a selection of chargrilled Indian delicacies including lamb seekh kebabs, king prawns and tandoori salmon and chicken, and the Vietnamese rice paper rolls ($108), which were refreshing and delicate, stuffed with mango, shrimp, soft-shell crab and avocado. We enjoyed both the grill and the rolls; each item was tasty with its own unique blend of spices and flavours working together perfectly.
We ended our meal with all-time Indian favourites: an almond and pistachio ice cream known as kulfi ($58) and a succulent gulab jamun ($58), a sweet ball of milk solids oozing with fragrant, sweet syrup. If you’ve got a sweet tooth or two, you’ll love it!
Without doubt, the highlights for us at Tamarind were the two street-food dishes. The menu also offers more variations on street food including vegetable samosas and sev poori. Tamarind is a special place, so if you are looking for a treat, give it a shot – a tamarind shot, preferably!
2/F, Sun Hung Kai Centre, 30 Harbour Road, Wanchai, 2598 1222 , book online
For more reviews like this, like Foodie on Facebook