Talli Joe, Shaftesbury Avenue

Many consider Benares to be the best Indian restaurant in London so when chef Sameer Taneja left the two-star kitchen to start up his own eatery, everyone was watching. Talli Joe (Talli is the Hindi translation of tipsy) offers ‘half plates and full drinks’. Located in the heart of theatreland on Shaftesbury Lane the vibrant restaurant offers tasty authentic dishes and exotic cocktails.

Lack of natural light means the venue feels more like a bar with food than a restaurant with drinks, but Sameer’s culinary creations are definitely the star of the show here. In fact I found the cocktails too saccarine sweet, but they were helpful when the spice from the food got too much for my delicate tastebuds!

Talli Joe

There are around 20 plates on the menu, all designed for sharing and priced reasonably between £3 and £10. I recommend visiting with a group of friends and ordering one of each, as you won’t want to miss out on anything.

The ‘Truffle Ghee Kulcha’ is fast becoming the menu favourite, an addictively good freshly baked naan stuffed with cottage cheese and brushed fragrant truffle ghee. I loved the Southern Indian style ‘Chicken 21’, tender pieces of chicken in a crunchy coated with crispy curry leaves and a lovely mix of spices. Like in India, Talli Joe’s make a range of great vegetarian dishes too, ‘Kale Chaat’ is a version of the popular Delhi street food, crispy kale, potato and pomegranate with sweet yoghurt.

Desserts were a hit at our table, unusual ‘Black Gajar Halwa’ (heritage black carrots with salted peanut brittle) was a comforting and sweet pudding, while ‘Berry Malai’ (Baked yoghurt with seasonal berries) was a light and palate cleansing option.

Big flavours and lots of fun, Talli Joe’s is an example of great quality Indian food conveniently located in the very centre of town.

More information and book a table at Talli Joe here.

Lobster Hotpot at Shuang Shuang

There is a juvenile excitement about picking your lunch of a conveyer belt. It is a formula Yo Sushi has thrived off for many years and now Shuang Shuang has successfully introduced a restaurant with the same concept, offering comforting and flavoursome hotpots to be personalised by the diner.

The eatery has a prime position on Shaftesbury Avenue, but amazingly is filled with local Londoners as well as hungry tourists. We sat at the pristine white counter, ready to sample the Lobster hotpot, a decadent option they have started offering for just £19 for two people. First a steaming fragrant broth was poured into our own boiling pot which can be heat adjusted as required. Before long a beautiful lobster arrived on ice, along with glasses of Crement (a light sparkling French wine), and a few tasters of their snack list. Scallop and Prawn Fritters with Mala Oil were the obvious winner, mouthful sized crispy seafood bites. I also liked the salty and spicy Pig’s Ears with Xinjiang Spice.

The next part was great fun, picking ingredients from the ‘carousel of flavours’ whizzing round in front of us. There is a huge variety of meat, fish, vegetables, tofu and noodles to choose from. I grabbed a selection of tasty looking plates, including pak choi, mixed root vegetables, some lovely thick noodles and slices of chicken breast. Guests must be careful they cook each ingredient for the right amount of time, it is easy to get carried away delving into the pot, forgetting about recent ingredient additions. The lobster was soft and creamy perfectly suited to the vibrant Tom Yum broth with hints of lemongrass and lime.

An assortment of tools are provided to help you cook and eat your food more easily. Despite this we still managed to make quite a mess! After such a dramatic and exciting main course I didn’t need dessert, but the Soy Milk Ice Cream with Candied Ginger was a simple and subtle pudding which cleansed our palates after the flavoursome and spicy hotpot.

Shuang Shuang offers an interactive and tasty way to experience Chinese hotpot. I thought it might be a bit of a tricky concept for kids but the neighbouring family proved me wrong, as I overheard the little girls proclaim, “this is the best thing I’ve ever eaten”. You can’t get a better compliment than that. shu

More information on Shuang Shuang here: www.shuangshuang.co.uk

Babaji, Piccadilly Circus

Alan Yau is one of London’s most successful and influential restaurateurs, from highstreet favourites like Wagamama and Busaba Eathai to renowned eateries like Hakkasan and Yauatcha. These venues all have one thing in common, serving innovative Asian cuisine. So when Yau launched Babaji, a casual Turkish pide restaurant on touristy Shaftesbury Avenue, we were all quite shocked.

Babaji is a labour of love, the result of a long-standing Turkish connection. Alan’s wife, and occasional business partner, Jale Eventok is Turkish. Babaji is casual and humble, offering simple traditional food with a focus on authentic Turkish pizza, pide. Situated on the edge of Soho, Babaji will be popular with tourists passing by or could possibly become an exotic late night drop-in for hungry drinkers.

We went along on a weekday for an early speedy supper. It was efficient and useful as a pre-show feed, though the food had little wow factor. Many favourite Turkish dishes are represented on the menu, including manti (ravioli-like dumplings), coban salad, flatbread and delicious small plates of meze. With, of course, baklava for dessert.

The restaurant is arranged over two spacious floors, decorated in muted shades of brown and blue with Turkish tiles adding colour and pattern. There is a Middle Eastern vibe although I thought it felt a little like a formulaic chain. The thin and fresh pide pizzas are what most come to try. Cooked in the oven minutes before reaching your table it is steaming hot, light and crisp topped with vibrant ingredients. We tried the kiymali pide with minced lamb, tomato and pepper.

Alongside our pide, we tasted the oven baked halloumi, which looked a bit pathetic on the plate and was a pitifully small portion. However the Beef and lamb kofte was absolutely delicious, highly flavoured with spices and herbs and nicely grilled to give a caramelised salty edge. Ask for some chilli sauce and wrap a bite of kofte in a piece of bread.

If you are really in the mood, you can order a Raki aperitif, designed to accompany your meze, or a freshly pressed pomegranate juice.

Babaji offers passable Turkish food, but if you want the real deal head to Kingsland Road, Dalston where the atmosphere is more alive, the prices more friendly and the food more exciting.

More information here: www.babaji.com.tr