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Food review: Tamatanga, Birmingham

Eating a curry used to be a nocturnal affair; the meal eaten after eight pints. Well, not any more. Emily Bridgewater enjoys a daytime feast. . .

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Explosion of flavour – chaat bombs

The time and day that we’re eating curry is changing.

Once the preserve of a Saturday night after last orders at the pub, eating Indian food used to primarily be a nocturnal affair.

It was the type of food – mass plates of sauce-drenched unindentifiable meat, piles of rice and UFO-sized naans – that only seemed suitable for soaking up a skinful. Shovel into mouth, while ignoring the flocked wallpaper, dubiously-stained carpet and slightly seedy service.

Well, times are changing.

Any time of day – tuck into a chicken biryani with a side order of Tamatanga chips and a couple of beers

Indian food is now a thing of daylight hours; you can even eat it for say, a Tuesday lunch. And we’re not talking about a chicken tikka baguette from Greggs.

Thanks to a proliferation of ‘modern’ Indian restaurants, inspired by Mumbai cafés, food from the Indian sub-continent can be enjoyed at any time of day. And it’s no longer just about curry, with dishes often marketed as ‘street food’ offering alternatives to what’s traditionally perceived to be Indian food. Lighter bites such as spiced chicken-stuffed rotis, salad bowls topped with lamb tikka and butternut squash, or small plates eaten like Spanish tapas are the order of the day.

I love Indian food – and absolutely do not think it should be banished to post-pub visiting hours – so have found myself a customers at a fair few of these eateries of late. Regular readers of Weekend food reviews will know that I recently gave the big thumbs up to Mowgli in Grand Central Station. I’ve also feasted at the Indian Brewery in Snow Hill, Zidinya in Moseley, Raja Monkey in Hall Green, and Indian Streatery, to varying degrees of success.

Gosh, I’m a fatty. And I wonder why my jeans feel tight.

Well next on my to-do list was Tamatanga, a bright and breezy Indian caff in the Orion Building, on the walk from New Street Station to the Mailbox. Inside it’s a riot of colour with bright red and turquioise chairs, distressed wood tables and plenty of dangling exposed bulb lights. When we arrived, early on a Friday evening, it was already abuzz with diners and drinkers – Tamatanga serves a wicked line in cocktails – particularly if gin is your ruin. Or there’s IPAs, fruit ales and wines if you don’t mix cocktails with curry, although the 2-4-1 cockail offer between 12noon and 7pm every day is damn tempting.

Explosion of flavour – chaat bombs

Staff gave us a warm welcome and offered us a table by the window, affording us a pleasant view of the city centre bustle. With little time before our date at the cinema we perused the menu and ordered a raft of stuff. “Have we ordered too much?” my other half asks as standard. “Probably,” I reply as standard.

We both opted for the daytime meal deal, which included a salad, curry bowl (which come served with rice or naan) or wrap, and a selected soft drink for £8.95. Considering most of these dishes were priced at more than a tenner each, this proves good value for money. We also ordered a selection of ‘bits’, the first of which – chaat bombs – arrived pretty quickly, before our drinks, in fact. But let’s chat about chaat. These little crisp bread puffs filled with tasty goodies are one of my favourite ways to start an Indian meal and these were a particularly fine example. Jam-packed with chickpeas, sprouts, spiced yogurt, tamarind, coriander and homemade vermicelli, they were an explosion of fresh, zingy, piquant flavours.

May we begin – poppadoms and chutnies

Next came the poppadums and chutneys, and the onion bhaji, all of which were good but didn’t exceed expectation. I found the bhaji, which were flatter than the traditional spiky-ball sort of bhaji, a little dry. The mint and coriander dip was a nice addition.

We munched away at our bits and pieces and enjoyed the jolly atmosphere – the restaurant was nicely full considering it was still early evening proving that people really are enjoying Indian food at all times of day. Tamatanga is a small chain with another branch in Nottingham; if this brisk trade was anything to go by, they’ll be expanding again pretty soon.

Our ‘main courses’ – although elements ‘arrive when they arrive’ – came swiftly and looked appetising. My paneer makhani was one of the best I’ve tried. The paneer was outstanding; light, fluffy without a hint of rubberiness. It’s accompanying sauce ‘the vegetarian wife of punjabi butter chicken’ was divine. It was rich, creamy and earthy – perfect to mix with my side order of crispy onion-topped pilau rice. Yummy!

Small plates – onion bhaji with a mint dip

The portions were very generous; there was no sense that this was a ‘meal deal’ version of the dish. I couldn’t finish mine – although I did manage every ounce of that luscious paneer.

My other half was pleased with his chicken biryani but disappointed there was no accompanying sauce that often comes with a biryani which is essentially rice, herbs and spiced chicken. The waitress explained that the yoghurt raita which came with the dish was to pour over the biryani. With his eyes on my sauce, he asked the waitress if he could have a side order of something similar and she obliged – for an extra £2. It completed the meal and he was happy.

Once again he struggled to eat it all though because the portion was huge. We’d considered ordering a naan too and, although I’d have loved to try one, there just wasn’t room this time.

It was time to dash to the cinema, although with our tummies this full there’d be very little dashing.

Lighten up – enjoy Indian food all day long

The bill came in at £36, which included two soft drinks in our meal deal. It seemed good value for such a quantity of decent, freshly-cooked food. And while it didn’t reinvent the wheel it was a perfectly tasty meal served with care.

So if you fancy an Indian – whatever the time of day – then Tamatanga is a safe bet.

3.5/5 stars