I have to confess. When I first moved to London – once upon a long time ago – Indian was never my first (or even second or third) choice for a meal out, spoilt as I’ve been with ghar ka khana.
Fast-forwarding to present day, I don’t have much say in the matter. By popular choice, my dinner plans often revolve around my native cuisine, currently (and somewhat unexpectedly – for me anyways) “on-trend” in London’s melting pot of a foodie scene.
I have plentiful reason not to go against the grain either. Redolent of the regionally-diverse and vastly-vibrant cultures within India, the new-age choice of Indian restaurants in London is legion.
Speaking with some authority, here are a few that I’m partial to, favourites passing my family’s simple but effective litmus test: home food that’s not really home-cooked…
Topping my current list of go-to’s, is this debonair restaurant on Mayfair’s Mount Street from The Leela Group in India. The menu here is reassuringly-restorative (we’re talking unpretentious soul food), whilst strewn with a few thrilling surprises. The dal chawal aur achaar for instance, saw this humble Indian staple cloaked by a glossy arancini-like finish and was yet deeply evocative of simpler childhood days with just the first bite! A trio of kulfi is a triumphant way to finish, with flavours running the gamut from luscious rose petal, to a startling kick of pink peppercorn. Did I mention it’s almost too vividly beautiful to eat? Almost. Jamavar, 8 Mount St, Mayfair, London W1K 3NF
Bombay Bustle, Mayfair
The Jamavar team have also brought Bombay’s Bustle to Mayfair’s Maddox Street, with interiors styled after vintage train carriages and subtle tributes to Bombay’s iconic dabbawallas. As for the menu, it reflects the amalgamation of cultures characteristic of a city that has historically attracted people from all over India. Expect South Indian staples (including exemplary dosas) alongside North Indian Tandoori dishes, with plenty of Bombay street eats along the way too! Full review, here
Indian Accent, Mayfair
Textural thrills and a colourful explosion of East-meets-West flavours abound at the London Chapter of Indian Accent, a restaurant credited with redefining the vocabulary of Indian cuisine. Don’t just take my word for it though; the original in Delhi ranks within the World’s 100 Best List… Full review, here.
And then there’s the young British chef, Will Bowlby, who’s offering a modern British take on classic Indian elements and dishes. His journey began with a stint working in Bombay (incidentally at a restaurant in my favourite part of town, Kala Ghoda), leading to a wildly popular 20-seater pop-up restaurant in a shipping container in Pop Brixton, and subsequently a larger permanent space in Soho complete with a theatrically open-plan kitchen.
Kricket’s now-iconic samphire pakoras are a good way to start, before you move onto dishes like the Delica pumpkin served in a beautifully-textured pool of paneer makhani. In no time at all, you’ll be tearing up chunks of the boisterously-buttery masala kulchas (buttery enough to put the dhabas of Amritsar to shame), in a bid to greedily mop up every last inch of the rich gravy! Kricket, 12 Denman St, Soho, London W1D 7HH
Cinnamon Bazaar, Covent Garden
For someone born (and still spending a great deal of time) in Bombay, sometimes nothing hits the spot quite like a colourful and well-textured plate of chaat (a sweet-and-savoury street-style snack)… For this one reason alone, I found myself instantly at home at Cinnamon Bazaar, although there was plenty else to get stuck into at this welcoming new establishment from Chef Vivek Singh (of the much-extolled Cinnamon Club). Full review, here.
Roti Chai, Oxford Street
Speaking of chaat, this laid-back canteen-style eatery is usually my go-to for chai and sev puri – a crispy flat cracker of sorts, festooned with all the right trimmings from sev (delicate deep-fried sticks of gram flour) and batata (boiled potatoes), to an avalanche of sweetened yogurt, tamarind and green chutney. Tucked away behind the frenzy of Oxford Street, Roti Chai also serves up some fuss-free, flavour-packed plates including manchurian – a spiced-up, devilishly deep-fried take on Indian-Chinese food, that’s usually so difficult to find outside of India!
Painted Heron, Chelsea
Venturing really off the beaten path, you’ll be led to an unassuming but relatively longstanding establishment in genteel Cheyne Walk. Under the creative direction of chef Yogesh Datta, both traditional and contemporary dishes are executed with finesse and versatility – making for a meal that is at once offbeat yet incredibly hearty and successful in hitting all the comfortingly right notes! Full review here.
While it’s nothing like the rickety (but endearingly-so) gymkhanas of today, this eponymous Mayfair-based restaurant evokes an old-world feel of these sports and leisure clubs in India, established during colonial times. If you have the appetite for it, my suggestion would be to go for the all-consuming tasting-menu. Our vegetarian experience covered all the classics, from a samosa-papdi chaat, to a chola-batura (a spicy chickpea curry scooped up with a deep-fried unleavened bread) as good as you’d hope to find in the sensational street-side eateries of Amritsar in Punjab. Full review, here.
With no signs of abating any time soon, the Indian takeover of London’s foodie scene is set to continue with several exciting new openings slated for this year. I’ll be regularly updating this guide, so do check back for new recommendations!