Here’s what you don’t do when you’re opening a new restaurant – lead all of your PR and marketing with “we’ve spent a million quid on this place!” You instantly position yourself in potential punters’ minds as the restaurant that needs to make a million quid back before it’s in profit. They consequently assume you are skimping on ingredients or staff pay, and resent and question every penny they hand over to you. It’s a basic error that Tapasya has made. Repeatedly. For months.
It’s a shame, as well, because Tapasya’s new second location on Hull’s continually-blooming marina (they’ve had a place in another, less-trendy part of the city for a couple of years now) is an attractive affair. Lovely and clean, lots of shiny glass and comfy cushions etc. And the food is very good indeed.
This restaurant is the last of the big new Fruit Market eateries opening ahead of Hull’s City of Culture year and it’s a welcome addition. After all, who doesn’t love a good curry? Hold your horses, though, because Tapasya isn’t your average local curry house, it offers Indian fine dining. It’s posh and wants you to know. So posh that they even offer High Tea.
In a wonderfully original move, Tapasya has taken some well-worn classic side dishes, added a few less familiar ones, bunged them on a three-tier cake-stand and turned it into a delightful lunchtime treat. There are deep-fried tiger prawns, lamb patties, crisp fried cottage cheese, pea and potato fritters and (best of all) a grilled chicken, cheese and onion sandwich. There are a couple of chutney dips (tamarind and a delicious mint one) and then three traditional pastries on the top layer. It’s all served with a pot of tea for £12.50 or an additional glass of champagne for another £6. It’s lovely stuff and just the sort of thing that should have lunchtime diners racing in.
They are also offering a less successful all-on-one-plate lunch menu. It costs just a tenner and apparently uses local ingredients, but these are the only positives. The best way to describe it is as a deconstructed mini tiffin box, with one choice from three of starters, main and dessert and one side. They’re all served in little dishes on one platter. There’s stuff like fish amitsari (plaice fillet with green pea mash and lemon yogurt) and rajasthani lal maans, which is diced lamb with spices. Sadly, there isn’t enough of each dish to properly get to grips with and it all feels like you’re being offered canapés left over from a do. I think you’d feel underwhelmed if you had just this for lunch.
Away from the lunch menu, the evening menu is something of a triumph. There are a couple of traditional curry dishes – like pork vindaloo – for the less adventurous, but there are more intriguing options that you really should try. Starters – or “light courses” as they’re called on the menu – like crispy kekda (soft shell crab, £6.95) are excellent. Served on a papaya salad with kumquat chutney, the crab is perfectly cooked and very tasty. The scallops (£8.95) served with pineapple chutney are sadly overpowered by other flavours on the plate so, while the mustard mooli and caramelised pineapple are great, the dish needs a little rejigging so the scallops can find a space.
In the mains I can heartily recommend the hiran ki sikar (£18.95), which is the juiciest, softest venison I’ve had for a very long time. It’s served with a sort of butternut squash risotto, a jus and some rather delicious quenelles of parsnip puree.
Desserts (all £4.50) include a perfectly excellent gajjar halwa (who doesn’t like a sweet carroty pud?) and a garam masala-infused chocolate fondant, which I’ve had served both perfectly oozy and disappointingly cooked-through. Some quality control still required there.
There are a couple of other minor gripes to clear up; the service, as with Tapasya the first, continues to be over-intrusive. Too many staff flitting and interrupting for no reason. It may be well-meaning but it gets seriously aggravating. And the £1m spent on the restaurant clearly didn’t stretch to the flooring. It’s very unsure and wobbly. Every time one of the over-fussing waiting staff steps near your table, the whole thing tips noticeably.
And it’s that sort of thing that harks back to the point of not banging on about what the restaurant cost to build. Every critical decision every diner will make for the foreseeable future will relate to money. Sadly, Tapasya @ Marina is now positioned as the posh curry house that cost a fortune to build. But the food, drink and welcome are more than good enough for people to see beyond the stupidly-vaunted price tag and I truly hope they do.
• Tapasya, Humber Dock Street, Hull HU1 1TB. 01482 242607, tapasya.org.uk. Open: Monday to Thursday, 12 to 10pm; Friday & Saturday, 12 to 11pm; Sunday 12 to 9pm.
DRINKS SELECTION 4/5