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July 14th, 2012

IMLI (Soho)


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Imli Bhel Puri (4.85)

Category: Budget (£)

red traffic2 150x150 IMLI (Soho)

I am rarely doing invited restaurant reviews any more.  In some way, it makes me feel guilty when I get a free meal and I have to give a devastating review.  Unfortunately there is no way I could have written a positive or even moderate review about Imli, an Indian tapas restaurant in the middle of Soho.

I accepted this invite as I had a decent meal at Imli years ago before I started my food blog and haven’t been back for since, so this seemed like a good opportunity for a revisit.  I honestly don’t understand why a place like Imli with obviously rather mediocre food (this fact must also be obvious to the people working/managing/advertising this place if they have a couple of taste buds) invites bloggers in, particularly bloggers who are picky, honest and critical.

Anyway, I was invited, I accepted, I ate at Imli with a fellow foodie Naomi and I hated most of the experience. And here is why.

The Service:

I start with the only thing that was brilliant at Imli and this was the waitress.  She was attentive, friendly and seemed to be in control of things, without being pushy or annoying.  NB: I observed her also waiting other tables and she appeared to be charming and efficient with everyone, not only when it came to the invited food bloggers.

The Food:

Imli was the first London restaurant that I am aware of which already years ago embraced the Indian small plate/ street food concept.  Good idea and the menu reads nicely, if only the execution wouldn’t lag behind so much!  We experienced that, as a general rule, food at Imli (and we ordered a wide selection throughout different sections of the menu) is extremely westernised and tuned down to utter blandness.  Where are all the Indian spices and flavours?  Where is the chili in dishes advertised as being spicy?

We ordered Bhel Puri (4.85) from the cold tapas section, described in the menu as a ‘a surprisingly light medley of puffed rice, cucumbers, roasted peanuts tossed with assorted tangy chutneys ‘.  I love the Dishoom bhel puri version and expected similar enticing flavours and textures.  What a disappointment when we received limp, and non-crispy puffed rice and noodles which were too greasy and didn’t taste of much.  I still wonder where the advertised ‘assorted tangy chutneys’ ended up?

Of the warm tapas, we chose the only dish that convinced and I enjoyed eating:  Aloo Matar ki Tikki Ragda (4.5) consisted of 4 light and fluffy potato cakes that were topped with a flavourful stew of chickpeas, coriander and tamarind.

It went really downwards from here though.

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Imli - Aloo Matar ki Tikki Ragda (4.5)

We should have avoided the menu section “Indian street food with an international twist” but who could have expected the atrocity yet to come?  Masala Grilled Chicken (8.5) was an exceptionally bad dish.  Grilled? This chicken might have seen a grill a lifetime ago before it was frozen and thawed several times and then came straight from the microwave onto our plate.  The result was soggy unappetising pieces of chicken with unctuous surface resting on a bed of bland mash with a pot of vile avocado coriander chutney.

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Imli – Masala Grilled Chicken (8.5), Daal Makhni (3.95), Aubergine Masala (6.50)

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Imli – Magnified soggy Masala Grilled Chicken (8.5)

We didn’t fare much better with classic Indian.  Lamb Roganjosh (9.25) was supposed to be spicy (it was not) and also supposed to be Indian and aromatic.  This was a misnomer if I have seen one: the sauce tasted of tinned tomatoes only and lacked the wonderful flavours and aromas of Indian spices, it could have been Mediterranean or Northern European for all I knew.  The meat was good quality and overall the dish was at least edible if very boring.

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Imli -  Lamb Roganjosh

Of the several side dishes, the Daal Makhni (3.95), slow cooked black lentils with cream, was rather nice.  On the contrary, the second lentil dish we tried, Tarka Daal (3.95), should have never left the kitchen.  Occasional lentils floating in a watery sauce utterly devoid of any flavour were the pinnacle of tastelessness and an affront against the Indian nation.   Acceptable if too greasy was the Aubergine Masala (6.50).

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Imli - Tarka Daal

Following the strong recommendation of our lovely waitress, we tried 2 ice cream flavours: fig and ginger ice cream was tasty if a bit artificial, and the cardamon variety was actually surprisingly nice.  (Please understand that at this point we really were surprised by anything that actually tasted good).

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Imli – ice cream

It is obvious that no Indian cook has been in the Imli kitchen for a long time.  There is no way that Imli is up there with competition like Dishoom and other well-regarded Indian street food/ tapas places such as Roti Chai.  If I was in charge at Imli I would fire the whole kitchen crew and employ someone who can actually cook and maybe has tasted Indian food before.

To my amazement Imli was rammed on a Friday night, so it seems to be doing well with the passing Soho crowd.  I wonder if I am just far too snobbish and maybe the average Londoner/tourist likes this kind of food?  They can surely have never tasted authentic Indian cuisine…?

  • Food: 4/10
  • Service: 9/10
  • Ambiance: 6/10
  • Value for Money: 4/10
  • Verdict: Westernised tasteless Indian tourist trap


167-169 Wardour Street W1F 8WR

020 7287 4243

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small IMLI (Soho)

3 comments to IMLI (Soho)

  • I too haven’t eaten at Imli for years now, and from what I remember the food was always good. But hearing bad things recently about the state of affairs there.

  • My god, this looks and sounds terrible. I hate the use of the term ‘tapas’ to describe small plates at the best of times, but I think ‘Indian street food with an international twist’ takes the biscuit. Just what exactly does it mean? It’s absolute nonsense! What the hell is an ‘international twist’? It’s like admitting you’re dumbing down the Indian flavours in oh so many different ways!

  • Ute

    @Mzungu – it’s a shame really, I don’t know when things started to go wrong there. I hope Imli manages to turn things around and to again produce decent food!

    @Sung – O yes, I agree with you, tapas are Spanish and should remain in their home country! I like your interpretation of ‘international twist’ – I think it’s very apt on how it is used at Imli… there was certainly not much Indian left.

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