photo credit: Aleksandra Boruch
The Tamil Prince
Although its name refers to a member of the monarchy, The Tamil Prince is the coming together of two other British institutions. The pub and the curry house. The Islington restaurant is on a quiet corner off Caledonian Road, part of that leafy, residential in-between towards Upper Street where life feels permanently serene, if somewhat lacking in southern Indian spicing. It’s in the shell of what was once The Cuckoo, but it isn’t the kind of place you swing by for a half. It’s the kind of place you settle into. Get a group together, and make a bit of a masala and crispy onion bhaji mess. Is it a pub? Is it a restaurant? It doesn’t really matter. It’s just a place you should go.
The Tamil Prince has that hum and buzz and clatter and chatter that you’d hope every local pub or restaurant had. The main dining room is as polished as you’d expect a done-up pub to be. Racing green walls, polished mahogany wood, pink flowers, and glowing orange curries on the table. There are people at the bar—bhaji, dhal, and pints in front of them. There are people perched by the windows with chicken lollipops in hands—mucky fingers and many napkins are a given here. And there are the people in the kitchen, looking out onto the dining room via a big window at the back, as they slap down beef masala uttapam and roll superb roti.
Pints and cocktails should be ordered, but the food is your focus. It’s about juicy grilled tiger prawns the size of King Charles’ fingers, smothered in a pungent masala marinade. It’s about channa bhatura—show-stopping, deep-fried balloons of dough which move from the kitchen to tables like golden floating lanterns, bursting to be deflated and scooped into warming chickpea curry. The roti is worth mentioning, not just because it warrants ordering over and over again, but because The Tamil Prince wouldn’t be here without it. Head chef Prince Durairaj was in the kitchen at Roti King before this and the bread here is just as flaky and irresistible.
Price-wise, it’s more than a couple of bags of scampi fries. Those Honey I Blew Up The Prawns are just under £30 and the snack plates and curries are around the £10 mark. But then, this isn’t really an in-and-out place. You could, midweek, pop in for a pint and some okra fries, but for dinner and on weekends, you’re going to have to book. That’s because this is neither a pub nor a curry house. It’s just an effortlessly good restaurant.
Wild, flailing vortexes of turmeric-stained deep-fried onion. These are proper bhajis. The bhaji and the onion ring are really quite similar: the thinner the batter, the less shape they have, and the more they resemble a weapon Blade may use—the better they are. The accompanying mint chutney is also excellent.
Pulled Beef Masala Uttapam
It’s hard to resist any kind of pancake on a menu but this uttapum—just a little blackened on top from the pan and filled with tender pulled beef—is especially so. It has the texture of an American breakfast pancake, only it’s filled and much, much better.
A lollipop of any variety is hard to resist, but a chicken lollipop? Impossible your honour. This version—perfectly grabbable, mild but not underpriced, and with a sweet chilli dipping sauce—is definitely a winner.
A deep-fried UFO. A doughy lantern. The tastiest pillow you’ve ever seen. Call it what you want, this channa bhatura is a must for the table. Crispy and tearable, plus the warming chickpea curry it comes with is pretty good too.
Grilled Tiger Prawns
We’re officially retiring the phrase ‘sausage fingers’ in light of these gigantic prawns. They’re not just big and juicy, though. They’re straight off the grill, charred and glowing orange, and the masala marinade is positively stinking with garlic. Bite them, suck the heads, and do the same to your prawny fingers too.
Rip, tear, dip, scoop, dunk anything and everything in your vicinity with this roti. It's buttery and chewy; flaky but somehow still a little elastic. The perfect accompaniment.