London may be the best place to eat Indian food outside of India. However, although ‘the curry’ is the nation’s favourite dish, it’s only relatively recently that the true diversity of Indian food has been put on show in the capital. Moving from India to the UK many years ago, I struggled to find a decent Dosa or southern Indian meal. Punjabi curries dominated the scene and dishes called ‘Chicken tikka masala’, at least in the public mindset, were considered a staple of Indian cuisine. However now it’s an entirely different story. No longer is Indian just the heavy curries and rich sauces of the north, but also the lighter dishes and coastal, coconut dominated, cuisine of the south. For an exploration of what Indian food has to offer and meals not be missed, below is a mix of restaurants from Michelin stars, to cheaper eats, that will genuinely give you a taste of the best Indian food London has to offer.
For Coastal Inspired Cuisine: Trishna
Trishna is ground zero for the group behind Gymkhana, Brigadiers and Hoppers, and while the newbies on the block get a lot of the hype, London’s true foodies head to Trishna for the new and upcoming twists and touches that are soon to be copied everywhere else. On my last visit the restaurant still had their exquisite artisanal tea selection, featuring rare tea’s from boutique family growers around the world, and their food, including a juicy salmon tikka, tangy and sweet Aloo Chat (deep fried potatoes with spices and a yoghurt based, mint and tamarind sauce) and squid and shrimp with fresh mango and coconut chutney, was still bursting with the flavour and aroma that have won them a Michelin star every year since 2012.
The restaurant itself feels bohemian and pared back, with a mix of painted white brick and wooden cladding, quirky steps here and there and colourful art deco posters dotted on the walls. It has a cosy atmosphere and vibe that wouldn’t feel out of place in New York’s Greenwich Village instead of London’s Marylebone.
A true staple of the Indian food scene in London, Trishna is the understated perfectionist, mastering small touches and balancing a fusion of flavours and tastes. This is also the Indian restaurant in the capital to head to for dessert, something Indian cuisine isn’t exactly known for but not to be missed at this restaurant.
For Traditional Indian: Veeraswamy
If you want to stick to old school Indian, you can’t choose much better than Veeraswamy. The oldest Indian restaurant in the UK, it shares its birthday with the Queen, has been visited by Mahatma Ghandi and Winston Churchill, and was originally opened by the grandson of an Indian Princess and an English Army General. Intended to share the best traditional Indian meals, Veeraswamy doesn’t stray far from its original goal. The chefs in the kitchen are from all over India which is reflected in the widespread dishes on the menu, including a succulent Kashmiri Rogan Josh with soft slow cooked lamb and saffron, and a creamy coconut laced Raja of Travancore prawn curry. Even though it isn’t officially on the drinks menu, make sure to ask for a sweet and salty lime soda, which any self-respecting Indian restaurant knows exactly how to do. This refreshing zingy drink, goes perfectly with almost any Indian food, and at Veeraswamy it’s done exactly how it’s done Mumbai and Bengaluru.
For Keralan Cuisine: Rasa W1
There is a moment in Disney’s Ratatouille, where grumpy restaurant critic, Anton Ego takes a bite of the provincial vegetable dish and is automatically transported to his childhood and his Mother’s cooking. The hard to please man (see: Ego) sheds a tear as he gobbles up the meal and in that one moment is changed forever. I never thought I would have a moment like that with food. Until the first time I went to Rasa W1 and ended up holding back tears over a Masala Dosa. Probably the least likely candidate for tear triggering, the giant pancake that’s crispy on one side and fluffy on the other – full with fragrant masala potatoes and accompanied by a sambar (aromatic mix of spices, lentils and vegetables) dip, had me stumped. The Dosa alongside other dishes like the prawn manga curry with fresh green mango, a gentle kick of chilli and of course, turmeric, have the same fragrance, texture and taste as they do back in India. A restaurant of true authentic Keralan food, Rasa can make any Keralan feel a little homesick.
A bastion of southern Indian cooking before it become cool, this is well priced Keralan cuisine at its most honest.
For Breakfast: Dishoom
No list of London’s best Indian’s would be complete without mentioning Dishoom. Launched in 2010, this group has now expanded to five outposts around London that usually have queues round the block after 6pm. However, one of the best kept secrets of London’s foodies (that many would like to keep that way) is that Dishoom is the place to be for breakfast as well. Drink a warming and lightly spiced house chai, and start your day with a soft freshly baked naan warped around crispy bacon or a stack of fluffy appam pancakes with creamy shrikhand (a sweet yoghurt made from curd) and sticky syrup.
Many restaurants in London would be happy with Dishhoom’s breakfast bustle for lunch. Well before 9am, Dishoom is a place of breakfast enthusiasts, businesses meetings and other smug looking people who know this is as good as breakfast gets. There is a warming buzz in about as everyone drinks their malty Assam tea and their aromatic monsoon coffee, while the air is permeated with light spices such as cardamom and cinnamon alongside the ever present morning caffeine. So lovely it can become a little addictive, Dishoom at breakfast is a secret that should be shared. An added bonus is that in the mornings, usually at least, no queue stands between you and your food.
For Modern Grill & Fusion: Amaya
A tapas style Indian can’t go far wrong. Amaya, with a focus on traditional grills, hot plates and tandoors used for centuries in all types of Indian cuisine, is a restaurant that deserves its Michelin star and place in the heart of many Indian food fans. The sleek restaurant is a space of theatrics in the open kitchen and poetry on the plate. A take on modern Indian and fusion, expect to see juicy chopped cabbage and beetroot salads, perfectly grilled wild venison kebab and a succulent scallop, doused in green curry and served in its shell.
If you’re looking for a meal that’s not going to hurt your bank account, don’t be put off by the Michelin star. Amaya is also one of London’s Michelin star restaurants where you can eat three courses for £30 and under.
For Indian Vegan: The Cinnamon Club
Set in a Grade-II listed Victorian building and former library, the Cinnamon Club is a well-established go to restaurant with a slight gentleman’s club feel. This restaurant however is not stuck holding on to tradition. Not only it this reflected in the slight British influence on its menu, such as with the ‘tandoori Balmoral venison loin’, but also in the fact that out of many Indian restaurants in London that still don’t, the Cinnamon Club has a dedicated Vegan menu.
The restaurant has a choice of options that are creative and imaginative and stand on their own against the many meat and dairy dishes on offer. With choices like a crunchy Okra filled with peanut and accompanied by a fresh green mango chutney or the banana chilli with a mildly nutty fenugreek, the cinnamon club is helping traditional – usually ghee marinated – Indian food be accessible to everyone, no matter the dietary requirement or lifestyle choice.
For New & Northern: London 1947
If you like trying new restaurants on the scene, you can’t get more fresh than London 1947. Just off busy Charlotte street, this subterranean restaurant opened in early September. All about injecting some energy, London 1947 straddles the line between luxury boutique club and secret underground restaurant. The flashy (and very instagrammable) décor is offset by earthenware bowls and plates, and the warm lighting of the open kitchen that casts a golden glow over diners as they eat.
The Chef Krishan Negi, a protégé of Michelin starred Vineet Bhatia, was inspired by the recipes that evolved from the 1947 partition, and has created a tapas style menu, that aims to reflect the northern food and cultures of the time. Dishes include a rich and clay oven baked Maharaja prawns, a crunchy and refreshing avocado Bombay Bhel with juicy pomegranate and a warming dhal so good, I took some home with me. It’s well worth a try for those looking for something new and different. And yes, there is wifi down there.