tamatanga – Fabulous Food and Fun Furnishings

One word sticks in my mind following my visit to tamatanga: vibrant. The furnishings are as bright and bold as the food. The outside colour scheme goes into overload, then jungle scenes and coloured lighting creating the first impression through the door.

I am not usually a fan of highly decorated restaurants, particularly when they involve synthetic flowers. To me, they don’t compliment nature. However, Tamatanga is like entering an artist’s dream of an Indian forest, perhaps Gir Forest, given the lion cub peering from the entrance mural.

Highly decorated throughout: murals, lighting, soft furnishings and artificial plants embrace us in a cacophony of colour. Even the toilets are themed, with slightly more muted but beautiful animal tiles. These colour themes are present in all tamatanga restaurants but they seem particularly effective here as the ceiling is lower than their other branches, allowing the scheme to flow into the ceiling through the use of wood and lighting panels.

The paper menu is extensive, with street food, wraps and small plates alongside curry, byriani and thali. You can go for a full meal or eat a selection of dishes tapas style. One side of the double-sided menu features only vegan and gluten-free options to ensure that customers can order and are served appropriate food.

We initially decided on chaat bombs, chicken khurana, amritsari fish fry and bangin’ baigan. The menu and servers make it clear that food will arrive as soon as it is ready. The concept of starters and mains does not exist here, but there is nothing to stop you ordering a few dishes to start and more later.

The restaurant has only been open a week but there no signs of teething problems. The young staff were efficient, friendly and honest. When I asked our server for a recommendation from the three chaat options she admitted she had not tried them, but told me she had good feedback from diners about the chaat bombs. The electronic ordering system works well and food arrives quickly.

Not surprisingly, the cold chaat arrived first, before bar staff had even had a chance to pour our drinks. Not a problem – it gave us a chance to visually appreciate the perfect puffs with vegetable filling, smothered in sauce and pomegranate seeds. A pint of draught beer (they offer Cobra and a guest beer) and a Peacock cider did not take long, the cider bottle adding to the forest theme!

The chaat puffs were light and crispy. Mounds of spicy potato and chickpea could be spooned inside or eaten separately. Everything was enhanced by tart tamarind and cool yoghurt. The restaurant claims that everything here is freshly prepared, including spices, which are ground daily. Throughout the meal, I could pick out specific spices and found little pieces of partially ground cumin.

The fish had a crispy, spicy coating encasing soft fish that flaked effortlessly when cut into. Khurhana is a house special, named after one of their chefs. It has a coconut base and contains chicken tikka and sweet potato. I would have liked a bit more sweet potato but the sauce was creamy and well flavoured. The chicken was firm but not dry. The flavour of the tikka marinade and charring came through, balanced with the rich sauce.

Curries are served with a choice of naan bread or rice. I had chosen the naan but while eating it started to get rice envy. We decided to add a lamb byriani to our order. Staff frequently check on diners and orders arrive speedily, so adding dishes is no problem at all.

The byriani when it came was clearly traditionally cooked, with none of the rice coated in a ubiquitous sauce you find in many restaurants. Here, the byriani spices had penetrated some areas of rice more than others, as it should be. Crispy onion topped the dish and hiding within it was soft, slow-cooked lamb. It was served with a very generous bowl of raita.

As I tucked into the byriani I realised that I had visited a tamatanga restaurant before. I had been asked twice earlier if I had, and replied no. The Birmingham branch is between New Street Station and the Megabus pick up point. I was transported back to a much-needed lunch when I had been changing long distance transport in Birmingham. The distinctive nature of the dishes here had triggered my memory. Until 4pm, they offer a curry or byriani and drink for £12, a bargain given that the lamb byriani usually costs £15.95.

The stand out dish for me was the aubergine. I agreed that their baigan was banging! We had ordered a side rather than a main, but the rich smoky flavours meant that a little had a big influence on our plates and palates. The aubergine was soft but not mushy, the spicing was hot but not overwhelmingly, and there was definite smokiness.

tamatanga launched in Nottingham in 2008. At the time, it was unusual in being an Asian restaurant that was as much about lunch as dinner. Asian food has always been eaten at lunchtime but usually in cafes or sweet centres whilst restaurants have concentrated on evening service. tamatanga set out to provide all-day eating, from snacks to full meals. The concept is no longer unique, Tiffin Room has been in Leeds since 2018, but in 2008 it was new and different.

Since then, branches of tamatanga have opened in Leicester, Birmingham and now Leeds. All have had their décor updated in recent years.

The decoration in some ways reminded me of the Caribbean themed chain, Turtle Bay. Unlike Turtle Bay, this is not a franchise operation. It is a small, independent chain where the founder and owner, Aman Kular, is still heavily involved.

The speed of service at tamatanga makes it suitable for lunch or a quick snack. Until 7pm, they serve two for 1 cocktails. If I worked in the City Centre I would be tempted to take a colleague for cocktails and chaat. Whatever the time of day, they offer something unique. On Saturday there is a bottomless brunch offer until 2pm.

We visited on a Thursday evening. The weather was hot and the restaurant was busy. I had been concerned about temperature and noise before entering. The cooling system was indiscernible but was definitely doing its job. tamatanga Leeds has 150 covers but partitioning, soft furnishing, the lowered ceiling and well pitched background music combine to make the space work well acoustically.

That evening, the restaurant had drawn a very mixed crowd of cultures and ages. There were no children in the restaurant when we visited but I was pleased to see a children’s menu on offer. This promotes curry to children but also offers an alternative of chicken nuggets or fish and chips for those who don’t want spice. Children’s meals are £7.25, with the option of adding poppadums or ice-cream. I liked the sound of apple and green mint chutney to accompany the £2.25 children’s poppadums.

This is a restaurant to cheer you up. The colour scheme, the food and the drinks are all designed to promote a sense of fun. It is hard to leave without a smile on your face, and I wasn’t about to resist!

Address: The Light, 52-54 The Headrow, Leeds LS1 8TL
Social handle: @tamatanga
Website: https://tamatanga.com/locations/leeds/

Leeds Living