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The signs were not good. From Tamarai's web site I learnt that "Like the lotus flower' the venue transforms into magical moods and multiple modes at different times. Designed as a hybrid hub it ' re-invents itself seamlessly". When somewhere's home page reads like an entry in Private Eye's 'Pseud's Corner', the cooking is seldom hot property.
So it was that I found myself (alone) at lunchtime in this just-opened Covent Garden basement, entered down a maze of passages and stairs. Had the venue reinvented itself seamlessly for lunchtime I would have been grateful. But it looked tailormade as an evening hang out to me, with its loungey bar areas, chilled out background beats, black walls (with back-lit panels shifting in colour), and flat screen TVs showing trippy animations of the lotus symbol.
It looked just like the kind of self-consciously hip spot where -- unless it's Hakkasan or Mint Leaf -- the food can play a poor second fiddle. But, like the charming (if slightly amateurish) service, the food came as a pleasant surprise. Spicy veggie dumplings to start and a tofu in spicy batter main were full of bright, oriental flavours. Despite fond childhood memories of the Milky Bar kid, white chocolate puddings are so often disappointing. Here, though, a white chocolate semifreddo had enough "bite" to maintain interest through the whole portion.
The portion in question was a dainty one though. In fact, without pudding, I would have emerged from the restaurant ravenous, which for a £40 lunch isn't really good enough. Mindful of the fact that this column has been stuck on three-star-ratings for a fair few reviews now, it would be nice to award four stars. But though the quality of Manish Mehrotra's cooking might merit them, the portion-sizes at my lunch certainly did not.