With half plates and full drinks, explore some of India's least known dishes from the Punjab to Kerela. Emma Henderson takes the trip

You think of curry, and Friday night takeaway springs to mind or a big meal with your friends at your local curry house. Maybe a lamb bhuna or a chicken dansak – hopefully not a korma – and sharing a peshwari naan and a pilau rice. But not here. Here is all about the “half plates, and full drinks”, as they say.  Opening in May, Talli Joe has turned eating curry – or how Brits traditionally see it – on its head. It’s not white table cloths, poppadum and chutney, over-the-top décor and limited choice of drinks. It’s fun, fresh with sophisticated furnishings, bright colours and, most importantly it’s innovative. 

And to celebrate one of the themed weeks that I can really get behind – national curry week – Talli Joe has devised a regional menu showing off the flavours and dishes that we don’t know from the huge and diverse country of India.

Executive chef Sameer Taneja and manager Chirag Madan have brought the smiles, flavours and “talli”, (meaning tipsy) from their home to this central London But talli doesn’t just mean tipsy from alcohol, it also means being drunk from happiness and the overwhelming feeling of Indian life. 

Chana jor garam is a vegetarian small dish to nibble while you wait

The specially curated menu, aptly named the discovery menu, journeys from the dry plains of Rajasthan, to the rich Punjab in the north and back down to Kerala in the south. It starts with a pappadam curry, served with bajra roti. The Rajastani dish has a creamy tomato base with fenugreek and a hefty kick, where papppadams are added at the last minute giving it an usual texture almost like a minestrone soup.

Next is the fish dish, meen moplah. Sea bream is served with vermicelli upma, and is a popular dish from Kerala and flavoured with curry leaves. The tomato sauce doesn’t overpower the fish, and its rich and dry spice is cooled with a hint of coconut. 

Specialising in small plates for sharing, Talli Joe's food is bright and innovative

The third dish is perhaps the most unusual, which mixes two meats and textures serves as a tribute to a Punjabi chef who was famed for his version. The meat beli ram has an earthy spice, and uses minced lamb with cumin as the base, while a chicken drumstick sits in the middle. Each dish is £9.50, and you could eat all three for dinner, or share a few for lunch. 

Executive chef Sameer Taneja created the discovery menu especially for National Curry Week

The a la carte menu is made up of its “half plates” made for sharing that start from £2.50 and go up to £10. Start with some chakhna – smaller plates to nibble on while you wait for the rest. A must try is chana jor garam, made up of spicy and tangy roasted black crisps and boiled black gram with chopped tomato.

And as for the drinks, which normally consist of a King Fisher or Cobra or less than mediocre wine, they’re a serious affair. Split into north, south, east and west India on the menu, the cocktails are fiercely strong with the likes of turmeric infused gin in the  Eastern masala punch, or whisky with almond and cashew nut puree in the badnam milk punch, from the North.

Finishing up with sweet plates, the black gajar halwa – which translates as black carrots and salted peanuts - may sound odd, but is soft and caramelised mixed with a crunchy peanut brittle on the top – making it deliciously sweet.  Surely it won’t be long before more venues open – sharing that Indian talli feeling. 

Food: ****
Ambience: ***
Service: ****

Talli Joe, 152-154 Shaftesbury Avenue, London, WC2H 8HL; info@tallijoe.com; 02078365400; Mon-Sat 12pm-11.30 pm