Castle Street, Edinburgh
Tantra has been on our radar for a while now. Its promise of ‘progressive Indian cuisine’ is alluring, and the restaurant looks enticing too: all glass, shiny surfaces and fancy wine fridges. So, when we’re looking for somewhere to meet friends for a long overdue catch-up, it seems like the obvious choice.
The restaurant’s mission is “to change people’s perceptions of Indian cuisine” and “provide a multi-sensory experience”. I think it succeeds. The food is ambitious, delicious – and certainly different from what I’ve come to expect from a regular curry house.
To begin, we share a Tantra Crisp Board, which comprises a selection of crisps and seven different dips. It’s interesting, and the dips are really tasty – but there’s a problem. We need a well-trained waiter to talk us through what we’ve been given, but what we get is a succession of keen, friendly sixth-formers, all of whom are obviously doing their best, but haven’t been taught to explain the dishes. So I can’t tell you what any of the dips are made of, but I can say that I especially like ‘the tomatoey one’, and that ‘the tamarind one’ is lovely too.
Philip’s starter, the Trio Tibetian Mog, is the standout dish of the evening. It’s just three chicken dumplings, but they’re beautifully presented, and delicately spiced. I have the Fuchka Xplosions, which is as theatrical as it sounds. There’s a pattern emerging though: these stuffed-puffed pooris are served with a glass full of corked test tubes, over which liquid is poured to create a perfumed dry ice. It looks amazing, but I don’t know what to do with it. I guess that the test tubes are just there to create the appetising fruity smell, and I eat the pooris as they stand. They’re fresh and zingy, but later I notice diners at a different table pouring the test-tube contents over theirs, and wonder if I’ve missed a trick. I wish someone had told me…
For my main, I opt for a Dum Hyderabadi Gosht (lamb biriyani). One of our friends asks for the vegetarian jackfruit version. They arrive looking identical, and topped with naan. Breaking open the bread reveals a layer of rice and vegetables, so we’ve both eaten a fair quantity before we delve deeper and realise we’ve been given the wrong meals. Luckily, he’s not actually veggie, so we just accept that we’ve got something different from what we wanted and soldier on. I’m happy to report that the Zafrani Echor Biriyani is a delight: vibrant, hot and full of flavour. Just, you know, not what I ordered…
Philip has the Chemmeen [Prawn] Mappas, which proves to be a luxurious, mild, coconut-milk based curry, and the Plain Naan he orders to go with it is light and well-baked too. This meal is perhaps a bit on the small side, which doesn’t matter as we’re sharing and he has half of my biriyani, but a more alert waiter might have advised him to order rice.
Our other friend orders the Spiced Lamb Rack, which deserves a mention just for being so pretty. She says it’s very good (and I certainly like the sound of the pistachio crumb), if a little difficult to cut.
We all eschew pudding. The dessert menu is intriguing and inventive but we’re full, so we decide to do without. The bill arrives. It’s surprisingly reasonable given the standard of the cuisine, working out at about £40 a head, including drinks (between us, we imbibe two glasses of wine, two Tiger beers, two non-alcoholic lagers and a diet Coke).
So it’s a thumbs up for the food, and a thumbs down for the service. This isn’t a slight on the individual waiters, but on the way they have been trained. Half of the joy of a fancy meal comes from a more holistic approach to the dining experience, and – although we like what we eat and have a lovely time with our friends – something is lacking here (and I don’t just mean the tap water that never appears, despite us asking twice).