It’s both different from the original Soho Temper and reassuringly similar too
I try not to write too much about the industry goings-on in London’s restaurant scene. Such gossipy navel-gazing is often transient in its importance, at best, and really doesn’t serve the purpose of this site which is to help you find somewhere really good to eat in this marvellous yet maddening city of ours. I’ll make an exception to this rule of thumb with introducing Temper City, the somewhat unexpected spin-off of the original Soho restaurant.
The original Temper serves up grilled beef, pork and lamb dishes, smoked or grilled, all priced by weight. There’s also a selection of decidedly non-traditional but nevertheless generally delicious tacos. The menu at this Square Mile Temper is almost completely different, serving up curries largely based around poultry, still smoked or grilled. Fish and ‘red’ meats, usually goat or lamb, make cameo appearances and sometimes pop-up as specials.
Although a bit larger than the Soho original with the addition of a mezzanine area, the polished but laid-back aesthetic is largely the same. The atmosphere, while never dull across my four visits, was nonetheless livened up immensely by an 80s soundtrack of head-nodding, knee-tapping nostalgia.
So far, so good.
But here’s where the industry navel-gazing kicks in. It’s a generally accepted and largely unspoken rule that reviewers avoid reviewing restaurants during their soft launch period. During a soft launch, diners accept a hefty discount in return for being guinea pigs, allowing a restaurant to break in their kitchen and waiting staff on actual customers rather than just friends and family of the staff who will almost always says nice things.
As a result, kinks are identified and ironed out. Changes are sometimes made across the board following lessons learnt in a soft launch, both in the kitchen and in the front of house. It would thus be grossly unfair, not to mention deeply gauche, to review a restaurant based on a soft launch visit, or at least based solely on a soft launch visit. With very few exceptions, all instances confined to my early years when I didn’t know any better, I abide by this rule.
Unfortunately, Straight Up London decided to ignore this unspoken maxim. Their negative ‘review’ sparked not only a fair amount of industry chatter, but also engendered the expletive-filled wrath of Neil Rankin, Temper’s owner and chef. I won’t link to Straight Up’s amateurish traffic-chasing effort as Eater has provided a neat summary that not includes a link but also neatly apportions blame to both sides in a judgment that I mostly agree with.
Straight Up’s primary criticism is that Temper City charges too much money for portions of food that are too small. I almost never read other reviews before writing my own, but reading this hatchet job provided some unexpected inspiration. In addition to my usual repeat visits, I would do what Straight Up apparently can not or will not – eat at Temper City both during and after the soft launch, thus reviewing the restaurant properly.
The soft launch
As with the Soho Temper, the best seats in the house at the City branch are at the counter surrounding the open kitchen. A small selection of smoked or grilled meats are available to share, although most could be devoured by just one hungry Glutton. Half a duck, roughly 400-500g in weight, was distinctly smoky, tender and gently sweet. There wasn’t a huge amount of curry sauce, but a little went a long way. Sweet with a tart and umami edge, it reminded me of tamarind and complimented the duck deliciously well.
Temper’s curries are available as part of a ‘curry plate’ – essentially a thali – which includes a paratha as a well as a variety of pickles, vegetables and chaat-like snacks. The curries are now available standalone, without all of those extras, so you can mix and match – especially handy if you’re dining as part of a large-ish group.
The dry goat curry was tender, gently sweet and modestly moreish. While far from bad, it wasn’t anywhere as characterful as the wet goat curry at Darjeeling Express. Although the goat curry itself was small-ish during the soft launch at around 150g in size, this is also roughly the size of a single portion of similarly-priced meat from Temper Soho, a restaurant that Straight Up purports to love. And yet they neglected to mention this pertinent detail in their unjust evisceration of Temper City.
Temper City’s parathas deserve a special mention. Thin, fluffy and silky soft, they’re a sensuous delight in their own right. Their prosaic purpose hasn’t been forgotten though – all of the curry sauces clung to the sheathes of bread like a ravenous baby glued to her mother’s teat.
I wasn’t a huge fan of the desserts at the Soho Temper, an opinion which broke from the general consensus on that restaurant. The desserts at Temper City take a similarly populist approach which, with only one partial exception in my experience, just didn’t work.
The sweet roti was an example in kind. The thick and malty roti was a little too stodgy. Sweet and sharp apple slices were fine, but they hardly complimented the malformed roti and the barely identifiable condensed milk added little to the mix. It all felt like a first draft recipe that needs a lot more refinement.
After the soft launch
I returned to Temper City after the soft launch had ended, almost repeating my first meal dish-for-dish. The smoked duck wasn’t quite as tender, sweet and smoky as it was before. The sauce also wasn’t as impressive, with its musky sweet umami qualities not quite as bold as they had been. It was still a pleasing hunk of poultry, even if it wasn’t quite as superlative as it was the first time around.
The size of all the curries in the curry plates have increased in size by roughly a third since the soft launch. An inconvenient fact you won’t find in Straight Up’s arse-backwards ‘review’. The dry goat was a little more sinewy, earthy and moreish compared to its soft launch iteration, but there wasn’t a lot in it. It’s still a merely satisfactory goat curry rather than a truly excellent one.
The parathas accompanying the curry plate were just as good as they were before, but the accompaniments were a little more varied and much accomplished too. The lacklustre potatoes and jhal muri had been replaced with crisper and puffier chaats, sharp and umami tomato salads, punchy sliced chillies and sweet pickles. I’d have preferred sharper, tangier pickles to better cut through the relative richness of the curries, but I otherwise couldn’t fault these revamped accompaniments.
I didn’t have room during this meal to retry the sweet roti, purely because I gave into temptation and ordered the vinegar mushroom naan to accompany the other savoury dishes. The softly, silkily pliable bread had been topped with taut mushrooms that were not only vinegary, but also gently fruity in their sweetness. It was a beguiling flavour combination that deepened my enjoyment of this naan even further.
Feasting at Temper City
Temper City’s large dining room and flexible-ish table arrangements makes it a good option for large-ish groups. Vicious Alabaster, Porn Master, Veal Smasher and Athlete’s Foot were good enough to join me for this full-priced meal in which we took in a large swathe of the menu.
The mutton roll is clearly a tweaked version of a starter that Rankin first pioneered at Smokehouse which itself was probably derived from a strikingly similar Sri Lankan dish that can found in London at the likes of Hoppers Soho and Apollo Banana Leaf.
Like its antecedents, the ‘roll’ here was more of a croquette. Apart from a modest crispness, the golden breadcrumb exterior was largely forgettable. The interior, on the other hand, wriggled its way into my affections with its dense, earthy, gamey shreds of tender meat.
The crab and pastry of the crab beignets took a back seat to the sweet and umami sauce which hogged the limelight. A disappointment.
The Korean ‘haggis’ bore little resemblance to the Caledonian offal sausage that I’m so fond of. Put aside any haggis-based expectations though and you’ll find much to like. Chunky mince came bathed in a gochaung-style sauce that pleased all us with its tingly, tickly heat.
‘Pakoras’ also bore little resemblance to their namesake with a jumble of squid, onion and samphire battered and deep-fried. Although better than the usual high-street chain restaurant calamari, this starter was entirely dependent on the tender charms of the squid with the batter, samphire and onions failing to pull their weight.
Deep-fried soft shell crab was better with the crispness of the battered milky and earthy crustacean meat coming together nicely. It’s hardly an uncommon dish, but I’m not going to argue when it’s done this well.
A starter of ‘chilli cheese’ riffed off the chilli cheese naans available in some Indian restaurants. This bread-less starter took moderately thin slices of cheese, almost halloumi-like in their denseness, and smothered them in an addictively sour and tangy sauce that also packed in a light tingly heat.
Veal Smasher’s vaguely Caribbean-ish scotch bonnet and black pepper lamb curry was more of a stew and was underwhelming at first sup. Although the strands of meat were tender and gently earthy, the lightly moreish sauce wasn’t at all the potent mix we were expecting. The slices of scotch bonnet were instead served on the side, along with the other curry plate accompaniments. When mixed in, they certainly made their fiery presence felt both on the way in and on their way out. Even so, I still wished for a little more presence and character from both the sauce and the lamb.
Disappointingly, the fish head curry saw the head deboned from the skull and neatly presented for easier, less messy consumption instead of presenting the head whole. Still, as with most curries in my experience, the emphasis here wasn’t on the flaky bits of fish, pleasing as they were. It was all about the beguiling charms of the musky sweet and umami sauce.
Smoked duck masala was somewhat similar to the smoked half of a duck, but with creamier and sweeter, less sour sauce. The kitchen will happily serve a battered egg in the same masala sauce as the duck for any vegetarians in your group – not all of the sauces here are suitable for vegetarians as some use animal-based stocks. Yes yes, a meat-focussed restaurant is hardly the place for vegetarians. But it’s good to know that the kitchen can accommodate any of your meat-dodging friends if the need arises.
An uncommon level of eggy artistry was on display in Vicious Alabaster’s crispy egg katsu. Despite being deep-fried with a supple, slippery batter, the egg yolk was still rich and gently runny which further enriched the curry sauce. Although the thin sauce was more peppery and umami than the sweeter katsu curries I’m used to, it was no less pleasing.
My favourite savoury dish of this meal had to be the yellow curry chicken. A moist and tender portion of half chicken was cooked just-so and had a profound level of smokiness. It was the perfect conveyor for the gently sour and bitter sauce that had slipped in an umami lift at the end as it hit the back of your throat. Along with Xu’s shou pa chicken, it’s one of those rare chicken dishes that managed to rise above the predictable poultry ponderousness of most chicken dishes.
One shouldn’t overlook the green curry mackerel. A whole mackerel came bathed in a sprightly, umami, almost zesty sauce. Despite its boisterousness, it complimented the tender flakes of mackerel rather than overwhelming them.
Although the kimchi-based sauce drizzled over the lamb skewers only bore a tangential resemblance to that Korean staple, it was still addictive in tanginess and gentle tingly heat. It could’ve been a bit sharper to help cut through the fattiness of some of the meat, but that’s a small niggle. One skewer was like a kofte, while the other was like a shish with alternating cubes of fatty, sinewy and meaty lamb chunks. Although all of it could’ve been a bit earthier and funkier, but the moistness and guttural satisfaction of it all couldn’t be faulted.
All of us had consumed an obscene amount of curry, but we somehow still managed to find room for an equally obscene amount of dessert. The sweet roti was thinner, softer and less stodgy compared to the soft launch version. Sliced unripe nectarine took the place of the apple slices. This sounds like a downgrade, but the unripe nectarine proved to be both an apt substitute for the apple and a pleasure in its own right. Its apple-like sweetness, sharpness and crispness almost made up for the still lacklustre condensed milk. This dessert was still unsatisfying in its mismatched elements, but at least the quality of the roti used was almost up to the standard of its savoury counterparts.
If you somehow manage to have a light meal at Temper City, then the Banana-rama-drama will almost certainly fill you up. Banana fritters, banana bread, banana ice cream and what appeared to some sort of banana sweet-meringue pieces were all jumbled together. It all proved to be very tangy, sweet, heavy and stodgy. Although far from bad, I enjoyed it far less than my dining companions who simply adored it. It’s hardly devoid of charm though – the cardamom-studded and yieldingly soft banana bread was an exemplar of this everyday treat.
The only dessert which truly fell flat was the chocolate turmeric tart. The dreary quality of the chocolate and pastry only made the odd pepperiness of the turmeric seem all the more out of place. The accompanying dollop of pistachio ice cream was laughable in its wateriness and oddly artificial and unconvincing pistachio flavour. It’d be more at home in a down-at-heel curry house with sticky carpets and peeling floral wallpaper.
Most of my dining companions were far too lubricated and sozzled by this point in the evening to offer coherent commentary on Temper City’s extensive gin offerings. The exception was Vicious Alabaster who was suitably impressed by the sake-like smoothness of the Japanese gin on offer.
Go fourth and multiply
The yellow curry chicken is available in a quarter portion, as well as the larger half-bird size I shared with my dining companions. This quarter-sized variant wasn’t as deeply smoky as its larger cousin and the meat wasn’t quite as well-cooked, with a touch more dryness. There was less sauce too, even considering the smaller portion of meat. Still, its sweet, tart and umami qualities were still present, neatly complimenting the supple chicken skin in particular.
Taut and slippery cubes of paneer were served in a sauce that was tomatoey, but it was saved from that one-note trap with a hint of brightness courtesy of chillies and coriander. It was a very comforting curry, complimented once again by the top-notch paratha and generally pleasing selection of accompaniments.
There are occasional specials at Temper City, such as the goat chop – although ‘chop’ hardly did justice to the elephantine thickness of my portion. The crusty skin had been perfectly browned and caramelised, while the gentle pink-hued meat underneath was tender, mildly earthy and occasionally laced with unctuous bits of connective tissue. The tartness, umami and gentle heat of the curry sauce was perhaps a little too timid in its flavours, but it was still enjoyable and it did allow the hunk of goat to shine through.
The Banana-rama-drama was still a sledgehammer of a dessert, but the banana fritter segments showed a little more finesse compared to the first time around. The softer, crisper batter was less chewy than before, while the banana bread remained the most enjoyable part for me. The ice cream was still excessively sweet though.
Temper City wasn’t quite as good as the Soho original, either in the consistency of its execution or in the sheer enjoyability of its various individual dishes. That doesn’t mean you should avoid it though – far from it. There’s plenty to revel in from the lamb skewers and smoked duck to the fish and chicken curries. And that’s before you take into consideration the various gins (if you’re a drinker), the rockin’ soundtrack and the generally smooth and courteous service.
Temper City’s curries wear their various national influences lightly – there’s quite deliberately no attempt at ‘authenticity’ here, which is unsurprising given that Neil Rankin, the chef-proprietor, has publicly distanced himself from that very concept. Temper’s dishes were, by and large, no less delicious for it though. Although some flavour profiles repeat themselves – tartness, sweetness, musky sourness and umami – they’re all different enough from each other to avoid outstaying their welcome.
As for the issue of cost, value and portion size raised in Straight Up’s execrable review. Curry portion sizes have increased since the soft launch, which might have been a change that was always in the offing. Or, if one were being very charitable, it might be a change prompted by Straight Up’s criticism. We don’t for sure as they blew their reviewer’s load too early in violating the rule against reviewing a soft launch. They then compounded that error by not following up on it with any repeat visits.
In any case, some of the other dishes which were already large enough have increased in size and both the average cost per portion of meat and the overall cost per meal is in line with Temper Soho, Pitt Cue and other comparable meat restaurants that also put demonstrable time, care and talent into their cooking. It’s the latter element that’s one of the most important and often overlooked variables when calculating ‘value’. The cooking sometimes still needs a little more finessing, but the time, care and talent invested in it are clearly evident. You’d have to be a myopic breaker of justifiably sacrosanct taboos not to see that. And that’s the straight up truth.
What to order: Almost everything…
What to skip: … except the desserts, the crab beignet and possibly the squid pakoras and scotch bonnet lamb stew.
Name: Temper City
Address: 2 Angel Court, 30 Throgmorton Street, London EC2R 7HJ
Phone: 0203 004 6984
Opening Hours: Monday-Friday noon-15.30 and 17.00-01:00 (kitchen closes 23.00). Saturday 16.00-22.00. Closed Sunday.
Reservations: highly recommended the closer you get to the weekend.
Average cost for one person including service and soft drinks: £50-65 approx.