It seems I’m over Solihull way quite a lot these days. Which is funny because despite being on my doorstep pretty much my whole life, one thing has stopped it from being a regular haunt and that’s the fact that from either Redditch, where I grew up, or Rugby, it’s a bit of a pain to get to. Especially via public transport, which is vital if you plan on accompanying your meal with cocktails or wine.
With that in mind, I may have politely declined the second invite in a month to go there, if it wasn’t for two things. Firstly, my trip to Indico Street Kitchen in nearby Shirley had proved well worth the hour-long drive in rush-hour traffic. But more importantly, because Tap and Tandoor is from the same people who are behind Zindiya in Moseley, of which I keep reading very good things. Worth a drive and sacrificing of alcohol to check it out, in my mind.
As the name suggests, Tap and Tandoor isn’t your average curry house. It calls itself an Indian gastro pub and it certainly looks and feels like a pub. Makes sense really, given that it was formerly the Saddlers Arms before it was refurbished and repurposed by husband and wife team Ajay and Shivani Kenth. You can’t help but get excited and the ambition they declare for the place – apparently it’s Solihull town centre’s only independent pub and to that end, they want to make it good.
I imagine it’s a beer drinker’s heaven, with seemingly endless taps offering craft beers from breweries as close as Purity and Alcester to one from Hawaii. Needless to say, on a busy Friday night it has the bustle of a pub and plenty of pints were being poured to thirsty punters. Apparently they do cocktails too but as dedicated driver I had to give them a miss on this visit.
The food ranges from curries to mixed grills and ‘small plates’. They openly say it’s all about casual dining, and it certainly fits into this bracket. If you want what feels like a proper sit-down dinner, this probably isn’t the place for you. This is about getting some drinks in, catching up with friends, and scoffing a bit of good scran to go with it. They don’t really do table service, though I hear Zindiya do and Tap & Tandoor may follow suit, but at the moment you’re ordering your food at the bar along with your drinks.
We started with chilli paneer and the buttery chilli prawns. The chilli paneer was a colourful mess (I mean that in the most affectionate way possible) of cheese, onions and peppers in a sticky, spicy sauce, with a kick of soy sauce. I’ve become a bit of a fan of paneer dishes like this recently – there’s something about the texture of the cheese that has grown on me over recent years and when served with a punchy sauce, works really well.
It was, however, beaten by the chilli prawns, which I was lucky to try as my friend worked her way through them. Lightly battered and draped in a blanket of simultaneously sticky, sweet and spicy sauce, they were the perfect starter, proving just enough to whet your appetite for another beer (if you weren’t the one supping on non-alcoholic beer) and maybe a bit more nosh.
One of the dishes I’d read most about at Zindiya was the chicken tikka, so there was no question I would be going for this for main course. It was a sensible move. The chicken was tender, delicately spiced and sexily fragrant thanks to the marriage of spice and the charcoal it’s cooked over. It’s a simple dish – a few onions underneath, a garnish of fresh coriander – and proof that when something is this good you really don’t need much else.
My friend went more traditional with a lamb curry. Again, a simple dish. I can’t fault it – the meat was tender, the flavour was deep and the different spices discernible (I’m pretty sure I could even taste the smokiness of black cardamom). But in my (humble) opinion, Tap & Tandoor’s strengths lies in its grills. I looked on enviously as a few tables ordered the Mixed Grill which seems to me the perfect choice in a place like this. The winning chicken tikka, some chicken wings, seekh kebab and lamb chops – the perfect Indian pub grub to accompany your Friday night boozing.
Like Tap & Tandoor itself, the side dishes are a fusion of Indian and pub classics. Beer-battered bhajis, masala fries, a Tap & Tandoor salad and the usual range of breads and rices. We had a naan and some okra fries for good measure and while the former was a bit too doughy and heavy for my liking, the fries were a winner and I could happily have feasted on at least four portions.
Dessert, if we’d had it, would have involved a marriage of two cuisines, be it an apple and cinnamon samosa or a Tap & Tandoor’s own Indian twist on a sticky toffee pudding. Instead, my pal had another beer (she’d had a rough week) and I filled up on coffee for the journey home.
Our post-dinner conversation involved a lot of talk on whether Tap & Tandoor was quite what we’d expected. It’s certainly doing something different. It looks like a pub, you feel like you’re in a pub, and yet it’s not quite a pub. Similarly, there are elements – obviously – that are all about Indian food, yet you’re not in an Indian restaurant. And if you think that’s what you’re going to (which you probably shouldn’t if you’ve done your reading) you might find yourself disappointed.
We wondered whether it’s slightly confused about what it wants to be, but came to the conclusion that Tap & Tandoor is a boozer at heart. It’s a place offering great beers, good cocktails, and that unique pub atmosphere that you don’t really get in many places other than Britain. The food, while good, is almost secondary to this. You have to embrace the pub to enjoy the grub.
Would I run back to Solihull from where I live specifically to visit Tap & Tandoor? Perhaps not. Would I pop in if I was in the area and wanted a fun place to grab some food? Yes. I’ll also be making sure I visit Zindiya to see how the two differ. And yes, for more chicken tikka.
Our meal at Tap & Tandoor was complimentary.