The concept of a street food restaurant hints of oxymoron. Trying the street food (generally found in places with reliable weather) is, to me, one part of the whole experience of visiting a city, and like a wine that fruity and refreshing when quaffed while on holiday, but sharp, thin and disappointing when brought home, doesn’t necessarily travel. I was, therefore, very intrigued by the thought of a visit to Imli Street in Soho.
The first problem was getting there. The pubs were overflowing onto the pavements; many people far, far cooler than us enjoying the start of summer and providing man made slalom course for our enjoyment/frustration. To this are added the first groupings of tourists, phone in hand (the A to Z now an ancient relic) clustering at corners and also inhibiting progress.
The room has recently had a re-design; colours are subdued, and the vibe is very much rough-around-the-edges/loft living – natural and raw colours, textures and materials. Plenty of exposed brick, plain wood tables and lighting fixtures with an industrial feel. We were shown to our table, and chose a cocktail each: a Twisted GT and a Bombay to Soho, neither overly sweet.
The menu is split into four main sections: Food Cart, Coastal Shack, Railway Cuisine and Beyond Boarders, as well as separate sections for Naanwiches and Naan Pies, side dishes, and breads, rice and lentils. Dishes in each main section are between 5 and 10 pounds, and there is no differentiation between first and main courses. On the recommendation of our waiter, we started with four plates, one from each section, an aubergine side dish and garlic naan.
Spicy fried chicken wings were subtly spiced, with a garlic hint to the accompanying tomato ketchup, but with a good crispy coating; a finger bowl would have been helpful, though. The combination of the spices, crab meat and cheese topping of the Crab masala in a shell worked well. Chicken livers, onions and spices is something that we’re going to try ourselves, and the scrambled parathas and vegetables was a dish of crunchy and spicy delight. The one common feature to all dishes that we did think is that they were all quite dry; generally, we prefer our food wetter so it was lucky the aubergines were in a rich sauce. Garlic naan was hot, soft and enjoyable.
Still hungry, we thought that a couple more dishes were required, so we ordered Anglo-Indian lamb curry, tiger prawns with garlic and ginger and pulao rice. The curry was a good example, with slow cooked lamb chunks, marbled with fat in a reasonably hot sauce. Prawns were lightly spiced, with ample use of coriander. Pudding of a sizzling walnut brownie with a dark chocolate sauce was very good, rich, smooth and very chocolatey.
Service was swift and especially attentive, although only to be expected as they knew we were reviewing.
Eating out in Soho isn’t a cheap pastime. Our meal, including a cocktail and beer each, cost £92.62. However, we ended up having over-ordered by about one dish, so the total food cost should have been about £35 each, which is average for the area. Imli is particularly good for groups; the dishes are particularly suited to sharing. But even for two, it was an enjoyable evening and we both thought that the kitchen was well up to their game.
Fuss Free Flavours was the guest of Imli.
167 Waldour Street
London W1F 8WR
I first went to Imli, way way back with Michelle, and never quite got around to writing about it, and fear she has possibly never forgiven me. Since then they have had a redesign, new name and menu. Her review is here and it makes an interesting comparison.
All photos taken with a Nokia Lumia 920 (retailing at about £360) which I was recently given (without obligation or expectation), as it is especially good for taking photos in restaurants in low light – there was no post processing of the images about apart from cropping. So far we are very impressed and still learning to how get the best from it.