Soho Indian restaurant, Imli, goes “street” to keep up with the competition. Is it any better than before and worth actually coming in off the street for a taste of the new menu?
Before this past week, the last time I’d dined at Imli was back in October of 2010. I had been a few times before that and enjoyed every visit. But, I can’t say I was ever really blown away by the place. In the same group as upscale restaurants Zaika and Tamarind (two restaurants which I think rather highly of), I could go to Imli and expect above average food and service even if its offering of “Indian tapas” was more middle of the road and downmarket compared to the dishes served from its sister restaurants’ kitchens.
Now this South Asian Soho stalwart has undergone a revamp and has been relaunched as Imli Street with a totally new menu and interior design in what appears to be an effort to catch up with the fickle and fleeting zeitgeist of London’s ever evolving dining scene. If you liked Imli before (or didn’t), you’ll probably still feel the same or even find you prefer the updated version a little more (or less).
Menu wise, I think the folks giving Imli a rethink drew considerable inspiration from Moolis and Dishoom along with traditional Indian street food and London’s current and seemingly insatiable hunger for grub a la curbside. Chilli cheese toast? Crispy squid in a bucket? A butter chicken “naanwich?” A breakfast menu featuring artisan bread? As before, most dishes are still made to share, but now there seems to be greater focus on the fryer and the hob than the tandoor. The menu may seem a little crasser than it used to be too, but I think that’s just the preference of Soho diners these days. And, to be honest, I must say I enjoyed a number of items I tried during my recent dinner.
Stuff worth mentioning:
The “Coastal Mix” (£9.90) of crispy squid, tiger prawns with ginger and peppercorn, and tilapia fish fingers was ample and yummy as was an order of coriander and cheese naan (£2.50). All vegetarian sides I tried were awesome. I loved the spinach and paneer (£2.90), the yellow lentils (£2.50) and the Pulao rice (£2.50). I had some other items as well, and everything was pretty decent except for the “Chicken 65” (spicy fried chicken wings, £5.90) which was kind of bland and not really any different from what you’d get at a greasy fast food joint. Desserts (all £5.50 each) were stellar. I felt like a kid (and a happy one at that) diving into my Haji Ali Folooda (malai kulfi, vermicelli, basil seeds and rose syrup). I had a bite of the chocolate pataka (Lonavala Chikki, sizzling walnut brownie and dark chocolate sauce) too. Total gooey brownie fix!
As for the done up digs … well, I don’t really have any strong recollection of what Imli actually looked like before, which maybe says a lot about how and why the place needed some sprucing up. So, I reckon a redesign was a smart move. It’s certainly attractive and comfy now, all scaled back and urban and minimalist. Think Pho (just down the street) or Pizza East.
There’s a stronger focus on the bar now too. The re-design brings it front row and centre now with the dining area appearing to flow out from it as an afterthought. I browsed the cocktail list (all cocktails a reasonable £7.5). It was a fun read, and I almost went with the Nashik (Laproaig 10 years, amaretto, Benedectine and bitters) but decided to behave and had a glass of red wine instead.
Service was personable and efficient during my visit. Nothing terribly out of the ordinary, but better than I’ve come to expect at most places in the area.
I’m as apt as I would have been before the relaunch to recommend Imli Street. If you’re in Soho with a group looking for somewhere casual that can accommodate a range of appetites and palates, keep it in mind. There’s the added bonus of there being plenty of seating at and around the bar. So, Imli would be a safe bet for meeting up for a cocktail and bar snacks, then moving on if something else struck your fancy or simply staying put and exploring more of the menu.
Imli Street is located at 167-169 Wardour Street, W1F 8WR. Visit the restaurant online at imli.co.uk.
Photo courtesy of the restaurant. I’d taken a bunch of photos during my meal but got a new gadget the other day and while learning how to use it accidentally deleted all those shots – doh!