Jhey had me at “former chef of Roti King”. In my constant search for good South Indian cuisine, the partnership between Chef Prince Durairaj and Glen Neeson, both formerly of the beloved Malaysian Indian Roti King, made my ears prick up. Let me in immediately.
Now a pub that serves non-traditional pub food is quite a common thing these days. Many pubs host pop-up kitchens serving everything from Thai to Cantonese to Jamaican jerk. But that’s not what The Tamil Prince is. It is a traditional pub that serves South Indian food.
This made it even more intriguing because food isn’t just a temporary item or an afterthought. That’s what makes the pub, the pub. So I traveled to Islington as soon as I could to check out this intriguing new establishment.
The Tamil Prince is on the corner between Hemingford Road and Bridgeman Road, an easy and rather scenic 16-minute walk from Angel or an even easier five-minute walk from Caledonian Road. A first glimpse of it and you know it’s a place where you can have a great time. It’s bright and cosy, with plenty of seating but so much that you can’t get to the bathroom without practically climbing on another table.
My table mate arrives and we sit down with a pint of beer for him and a spritz for me. I’m very excited for okra fries and dal makhani (could this be better than Dishoom’s? I needed to know), and after seeing an Instagram post of grilled tiger prawns a few days before, I knew that we must have.
Okra fries are such a delight. Crispy, crunchy, salty, spicy, I could demolish bowls of stuff. Dare I say, they are better than crisps? I could get slapped for that, but they are. Don’t get me wrong, I love fries, but these okra fries hit exactly the right spot. They also remind me of Malaysia, because we usually get them from banana leaf restaurants in South India, so that was a nice dose of home for me.
The dal makhani was also a wonderful addition to the table, perfect to be mopped up with buttery flaky roti shreds. It’s so rich and tasty, a worthy competitor to Dishoom scuttled only by the fact that I can get to a Dishoom branch easier than going to Islington. But it was definitely a must.
We also ordered the channa bhatura, which I know as puri. It’s a type of fried bread that arrives incredibly puffy and still very hot, as it needs to be baked fresh to puff up like a balloon. One of my favorite things to do is poke a hole in the bread and watch the steam escape, deflating it in the process and preparing it for some dipping action in channa, a chickpea curry tart that is thick and spicy.
But the grilled tiger prawns are the real winners that night. Three huge lobster-like shrimp are presented to our table, with oohs and aahs from me, my dining partner and our dining neighbors. You have to give them their moment, these superb bright red shellfish covered in masala spices. The crowning of the table.
After letting them talk for a while (and taking many pictures of them), we enter with our hands. Why bother with cutlery when we’ve already polished roti and channa bhatura with our fingers anyway? Also, eating South Indian food with your hands makes sense. We notice that two women a few tables down also receive the prawns and make an attempt with their forks and knives, but end up giving up and going in with their hands. Good for you, ladies.
Well-spiced shrimp are juicy and succulent. They are so large that tearing spindly legs and fragile shells is not a tedious affair at all. The heads of the prawns are big enough that you don’t have to suck the juice out – which some people might find tricky, but my parents taught me how to do it and that’s arguably the best part – but I recommend to drain the juice on the flesh of the shelled prawns and pat it that way.
Finally, after all that heartbreaking, shelling, mopping, and soaking, I found myself licking my fingers in relish. Every dish was so delicious that I can’t waste a drop. I will definitely be back for more – the Desi salad, butter chicken masala and crab soup are calling my name. The Tamil Prince holds great promise for the region and I can’t wait to go back.
The Tamil Prince, 115 Hemingford Rd, London N1 1BZ | [email protected] | thetamilprince.com