MANILA, Philippines – Chef and entrepreneur Marvin Agustin’s gateway into Indian food was through London favorite Tandoor Chop House. Since then, every visit he made to the bustling city would not be complete without dining there.
“It’s my panata (vow),” he told Rappler, sharing that he has brought friends, partners, and his mentor to the restaurant.
Agustin dreamed of bringing a similar concept to Manila as early as 2016. As an act of “manifestation” – aided by an encounter with Tandoor Chop House’s Filipino waiter in May – he was able to connect with Tandoor Chop House’s own Chef Kun to discuss the prospect of introducing a similar concept to the Philippines
“It’s like I proposed to him!” Agustin said, recalling the conversation.
Agustin described the two chefs as the stars of the restaurant – and rightfully so. Chef Kun is the Punjab-born head chef of the Michelin-starred Amaya restaurant while Chef Kapil, born in Pune and later moved to London, was named Best Hardworking Chef by the Hilton Trafalgar Square during the London Olympics. Chef Kun’s and Kapil’s restaurants have also been recognized by Time Out magazine as among London’s 100 Best Restaurants and the World’s Top 10 Best Rooftop Bars, respectively.
Tango Tandoor is Agustin’s sixth restaurant, joining cochinillo-focused COCHI Bistro, art cocktail lounge KONDWI, Filipino restaurant SECRET KITCHEN, upscale Wolfgang Steakhouse, and cakes and pastry shop Mr.VinMunchies.
Behind the concept
“We’re trying to be something that’s good and authentic, and at the same time [something] Filipinos will love,” Agustin told Rappler.
Aside from the guidance of the two chegs, Tango Tandoor promises authenticity through spices sourced directly from India and London. For their selection of tandoori items, a tandoor clay pit oven was brought in from India. But as the name Tango Tandoor suggests, the “tango” may pertain to its selection of fusion dishes, drawing inspiration from both Western and Filipino cuisines.
The initiative to incorporate Filipino ingredients like mangoes and even langka (jackfruit) actually came from the British-Indian chefs themselves – all with the aim of appealing to the Filipino palate as well as to distinguish them from other Indian restaurants. Agustin also noted that they “worked very hard” to find quality yet inexpensive suppliers so can offer prices that would appeal to everyone.
“Spectrum would be the quality, the sustainability, the flavors…. But at the same time, what we want to highlight is: this restaurant is for everyone because of the price points,” Agustin said.
Tango Tandoor’s modern flair is exhibited in the space which formerly housed Agustin’s COCHI Bistro. From patterned plates and tiles to orange and green hues, the restaurant is awash with vibrant colors. You’ll find yourself bopping your head along to the upbeat Indian music playing as you watch the final touches on your dishes and drinks.
Tango Tandoor offers both indoor and outdoor seating, and overall evokes an intimate ambiance. While the restaurant can cater to families, the dim lighting at night calls for a more casual crowd, perhaps those looking to both unwind and drink after work or on the weekends.
Ready to jive
Time to tango! We started with the Cauliflower Croquette (P200) appetizer, which are four pieces of deep-fried, golden brown cauliflower balls coated in breading with a hint of desiccated coconut.
According to Chef Kapil, the croquettes are coated and fried twice to give it that crispy exterior, which contrasts with the smooth cauliflower puree inside. Cauliflower is a common ingredient in vegetarian Indian dishes, but is usually still served in florets rather than mashed or pureed like in this dish. The cauliflower croquettes were also complemented by the creamy garlic aioli on the side. I could really taste the garlic in the garlic aioli, which I later learned was made into a confit or slowly cooked.
A fusion of Mexican, Spanish, and Indian cuisine, the Tango House Prawn Tacos (P249) are two soft wheat tacos filled with tandoor-roasted prawns and a generous serving of fresh mango salsa with bell pepper and cucumber.
The term “tandoor” pertains to the large urn-shaped clay oven used to bake breads like roti and naan, or roast meat like chicken and kebabs. The clay allows for quick yet even cooking, resulting in a distinct smoky and savory flavor from both the charcoal, as well as drippings from the meats that have been cooked in the oven.
The garlic aioli also makes a fitting reappearance drizzled atop this second appetizer. The mix of the now-thinned-out aioli and sweet mangoes cut through the smoky prawns well, serving as a light pause from the succeeding dishes that were heavier or bolder in flavor. I found myself taking bites of the tacos in between other meals to ease the spiciness.
I had to go the classic route by trying the Cheese Naan (P250), two pieces of round leavened bread stuffed with grated cheese. According to Agustin, all their breads are made from scratch with a lead time of 5 to 7 minutes to avoid “introducing gluten.”
“We don’t want our guests to be bloated after they eat,” he said.
However, their naan was served a bit too flat for my liking, perhaps due to the amount of cheese and the subsequent oil that seeped through. I also wished their naan was served more on the light, toasted side. Nonetheless, it served as a suitable vessel for the succeeding main dishes.
For our first main, there was the Lamb Rogan Josh (P700), a slow-cooked lamb dish with aromatic spices, derived from Kashmiri tradition. Chef Kun shared that the spice in dishes like their curries was tweaked to appeal to the Filipino palate, but could always be amped up according to their customers’ preference.
Personally, I find that the spice for the curry was just right. The large pieces of lamb were flavorful and mostly tender, with just a few pieces less soft than others.
Agustin’s personal favorite – and I’ve got to agree – is the Tango House Tandoori Chicken (P650), two pieces of chicken marinated in yogurt and spices, cooked in the traditional tandoor clay pit oven.
The chicken was moist and balanced the tang of the yogurt and the smoky taste from the tandoor oven. You can enhance it further through sauces on the side – the bright mint coriander or the sweet tamarind chutney. To me, this was a standout thanks to the on-point execution alone.
I was also able to try the Chicken Biryani (P400). Served in a clay pot, the moist chicken pieces were cooked in yogurt and spice masala, and buried under a bed of rice.
The fried onions on top added variety in texture and taste, but that was quite it. As far as classics go, this one was straightforward. Given its simplicity and the few chicken pieces in it, the biryani stands as a side that can be best enjoyed with their curries and other main dishes. Tango Tandoor also offers a Jackfruit Biryani as a more unique and inclusive option for those with dietary restrictions.
To wash it all down, I ordered the Mango Lassi (P220), an Indian yogurt-based drink topped with slices of sweet Filipino mangoes. They also serve the lassi in strawberry flavor for the same price. Not your ordinary mango refresher, the drink was creamy with a minty aftertaste.
I also tried one of their Indian-inspired cocktails Made In Kerala (P350), made from coffee from India’s Kerala state, plus bourbon and whisky. You can expect the coffee to have more fruity notes which blend with the nutty flavors of the bourbon and whisky.
After giving Tango Tandoor a whirl
Taking into consideration the prime location, notable flavors, and portion sizes, I believe that Tango Tandoor gives you bang for your buck. Whether you’re already well-acquainted with Indian food or want to try something new, Tango Tandoor offers reasonably-priced options from classics to fusion – even vegan-friendly dishes like Paneer Makhni, Cauliflower Croquettes, and Jackfruit Biryani. It’s by no means the most affordable spot out there, but you can’t deny the quality.
While the restaurant claims to be authentic through its chefs, well-curated menu, imported spices, and kitchen tools, I believe what sets it apart from other Indian restaurants in the metro is its spin on Indian cuisine, while also providing classic dishes for those who’d rather stick to the staples.
Source : Rappler