Imli was the restaurant I thought I was going to when I had an amazing dinner at its more expensive sibling Tamarind, all those months ago. Better-informed this time around, I joined C, and visitors (previously unknown to each other) austengirl and gleodream for a long, loitering dinner in this fairly casual central Soho Indian tapas restaurant.
Warm colors, bare tables, paper napkins, and food which arrives whenever it's ready define Imli's informality. We started with a single order of pappadoms, two of them sensibly pre-divided into smaller pieces and served with pleasant chutneys made in-house, most memorably a tomato one. The drink selection was a delight of variety, with juice blends and interesting flavors of lassi to add to the usual suspects. austengirl's traditional lemonade was enlivened by thyme*. My refreshing pear-and-lychi juice blend was unexpectedly pink from the unmentioned addition of blackberries.
The menu's recommendation was to order three dishes each, so we did. We had a good selection of dishes for sharing, keeping in mind the one vegetarian and the one non-fish-eater at our table. Some food arrived with serving spoons, other dishes were designed to be eaten by hand, such as paani puri, little shells, pre-filled with a modest amount of spiced chickpeas, and accompanied by a large pitcher of green liquid yogurt, ready to pour into them for prompt eating. Its sweet, gentle burn cut through my congestion. My order of paapdi chaat was a tasty, low-key, messy dish of yogurt, chutney, bean sprouts, and other toppings piled on top of a base of wheat crisps.
Chennai fish, shared between the only two of us who could eat it, was pleasant enough, fried, battered tilapia, bright from from paprika. The smokey-smooth-creamy sauce of the chicken makhani was better though. I don't particularly remember the naan, which means it wasn't bad, and the flavorings of lemon rice (often delicate) were drowned beneath the livelier dishes I ate it with. At the end, we were relatively full; but since I was curious about the gulub jamun with fig-ginger ice cream, we split one four ways. Much as I usually like milk dumplings, the ice cream was the more interesting half of this dish.
We really did loiter. I hadn't noticed the hours passing, catching up, as we were, with months or years of intervening news from mutual friends and places. The waitress kindly didn't bring us our bill until it was 11 pm and there were only a handful of other tables remaining.
The prices are reasonable, especially for central London, and even better with the 25% discount booked in advance through the restaurant's website. I would happily go back and, given the sheer convenience of the location, am likely to.
* It was good. Between it and the balsamic-cherry-thyme soda from Alinea I've been daydreaming about for months, thyme may be my new favorite addition to drinks. We'll see if this interest lasts long enough for me to do something about it when growing thyme outside is feasible again.