They had me at “ex-Roti King chef”. On my constant hunt for great south Indian food, the partnership between chef Prince Durairaj and Glen Neeson, both formerly of the beloved Malaysian Indian favourite Roti King, made my ears prick up. Get me in there immediately.
Now, a pub that serves non-traditional pub food is a pretty common thing these days. Lots of pubs host pop-up kitchens serving anything from Thai to Cantonese to Jamaican jerk. But that’s not what The Tamil Prince is. It’s a traditional pub that happens to serve South Indian food.
That made it even more intriguing, because the food isn’t just a temporary fixture or an afterthought. It’s what makes the pub, the pub. So I trundled off to Islington as soon as I could to check out this intriguing new establishment.
The Tamil Prince sits on the corner between Hemingford Road and Bridgeman Road, an easy and rather scenic 16-minute walk from Angel or an even easier five-minute stroll from Caledonian Road. A first glimpse of it and you know it’s a place where you can have a good time. It’s bright and cosy, with plenty of seating but so much that you can’t get to the toilets without practically climbing over another table.
My dining companion arrives and we get settled in with a pint of beer for him and a spritz for me. I’m very excited for some okra fries and dal makhani (could it be better than Dishoom’s? I needed to know), and having seen an Instagram post of the grilled tiger prawns a few days prior, I knew we had to have some.
The okra fries are such a delight. Crispy, crunchy, salty, spicy, I could demolish bowls of the stuff. Dare I say, they are better than chips? I might get smacked for that, but they are. Don’t get me wrong, I love me some chips, but these okra fries hit exactly the right spot. They also remind me of Malaysia, because we usually get these in South Indian banana leaf restaurants there, so it was a healthy dose of home for me.
The dal makhani was also a wonderful addition to the table, perfect for being mopped up with shreds of flaky, buttery roti. It’s so rich and flavourful, a worthy contender to Dishoom scuppered only by the fact that I can access a Dishoom branch easier than getting to Islington. But it was certainly a must-have.
We also ordered the channa bhatura, which I know as puri. It’s a type of fried bread that arrives impressively puffed up and still piping hot, as it must be cooked fresh in order to puff up like a balloon. One of my favourite things to do is to poke a hole into the bread and watch the steam escape, deflating it in the process and readying it for some dipping action into the channa, a tangy chickpea curry that’s thick and spicy.
But the grilled tiger prawns are the true winner that evening. Three massive, lobster-like prawns are presented to our table, with oohs and aahs from me, my dining partner, and our dining neighbours. You have to give them their moment, these stunning bright red crustaceans covered in masala spice. The crowning glory of the table.
After letting them have said moment (and taking numerous pictures of them), we go in with our hands. Why bother with cutlery when we’ve already polished off the roti and the channa bhatura with our fingers anyway? Besides, eating South Indian food with your hands just makes sense. We notice that two women a couple of tables down also receive the prawns and make an attempt with their forks and knives, but eventually give up and get in there with their hands. Good on you, ladies.
The well-spiced prawns are juicy and succulent. They’re so big that ripping off the spindly legs and fragile shells isn’t a fiddly affair at all. The heads of the prawns are large enough that you don’t have to suck the juice out – which some people might find squeamish, but my parents taught me to do this and it’s arguably the best part – but I recommend emptying the juices out onto the shelled prawn flesh and mop it up that way.
Finally, after all that ripping and shelling and mopping and dipping, I found myself licking my fingers clean with relish. Every single dish was so utterly delicious, I can’t waste a drop. I will certainly be back for more – the Desi salad, butter chicken masala and crab soup are calling my name. The Tamil Prince holds much promise for the area, and I look forward to returning.
The Tamil Prince, 115 Hemingford Rd, London N1 1BZ | firstname.lastname@example.org | thetamilprince.com
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