When former British cabinet minister, Robin Cook stated that chicken tikka masala was the national dish of Britain in 2001, it made headlines. There are many stories regarding the invention of this dish though. One source claims it originated in an Indian restaurant in Glasgow, Scotland; another one cites that it was created by accident in Uttar Pradesh or Punjab in India. Either way, chicken tikka masala has been instrumental in making Indian cuisine a part of popular culture in London, along with traditional curry houses.
Strong flavours filled with aromas of spices and Indian condiments provide warmth and relief amidst the plummeting temperatures of the English capital. In recent times, London’s array of restaurants ranging from casual to fine dining have redefined Indian cuisine served here. If you’re looking for more than just chicken curry on your next visit to London, read on.
India’s homegrown The LaLiT Suri Hospitality Group launched its first international property in London this January. The hotel houses the brand’s signature pan-Indian restaurant, Baluchi. Along with its signature dal (lentil) Baluchi, which is prepared overnight to achieve an aromatic and rich creamy texture, the restaurant also serves a number of innovative dishes. These include suroor-e-shorba, a Kerala-style lobster bisque and gucchi aur mushroom ki galouti, which is morels and wild mushroom duxelle with mint and plum chutney. Its paan (betel leaf) biryani that is prepared with rose petals, vegetables, betel leaves and nuts is an item from Baluchi’s New Delhi outpost that’s made it here. To go along with the mains and appetisers are its range of bread with Indian and international flavours. Pick traditional fillings or go for luscious ones such as porcini and truffle naan. As expected, Baluchi’s desserts too stray away from the conventional, with items like masala chai ice-cream, gulkhand (rose petal jam) gulab jamum — caramelised milk dumplings, and rose petal confit with rice pudding. The restaurant also serves its own version of high tea called “high chai” that comes in two menus, one traditional Indian and another for international palates. The former lists every day Indian preparations like Punjabi samosa and chaat that pair well with tea, while the latter serves macarons, scones, sandwiches and mousses. Appetisers start at £14.40/₹1,167; 181 Tooley Street; tel: +44 20 3765 0000; thelalit.com.
Named after the former name of the holy Indian city of Varanasi, the Michelin-starred Benares has set high standards for modern Indian cuisine since its inception. Spearheaded by celebrated Indian Chef Atul Kochar, the menu prides itself on authentic Indian fare with a British influence. English ingredients are prepared using age-old Indian techniques to create the restaurant’s acclaimed dishes. Benares features a tasting menu that can be paired with wine. Offered on this menu are exotic preparations such as chargrilled Scottish salmon in coconut and curry leaf sauce and Cornish crab croquette in smoked tomato chutney. For the mains, pick between a roasted rump of English lamb or a tandoori cutlet alongside jus and buttered dal. To complete this extravagant meal is an exotic dessert — rhubarb bhapa doi that blends a milk-solid-based South Asian sweet with crème brûlée. Benares also offers an Indian Street Food Menu that has progressive touches. Dishes from different parts of India are presented in a modern format; choose between crispy pani puri from Mumbai or the grilled curry leaf sea-bass from Goa. Its signature cocktails such as passion fruit chutney martini and Bollywood (vodka-based drink) are worth a try. Its seven-course non-vegetarian tasting menu is priced at £98/₹7,941; 12a, Berkeley Square, Mayfair; tel +44 20 7629 8886; benaresrestaurant.com.
Almost 400 Iranian cafes opened by Zoroastrian immigrants from Iran existed during the 1960s in Mumbai; now there are less than 30 in the southern part of the city. Dishoom is London’s answer to Mumbai’s age-old Irani cafes. Picture high ceilings, slow-moving fans, sepia family portraits; it’s easy to get teleported to another place and time at this restaurant. Whether you’re looking to begin your day here or visiting at noon for a quick working lunch, Dishoom’s expansive menu has something for everyone. Traditional Irani favourites like Kejriwal (two fried eggs on a chilli toast) or Akuri (an Irani cafe staple with three spicy scrambled eggs served on buns) are ideal for a delectable breakfast. Its all-day menu boasts of a wide variety of small bites that are quintessential to Mumbai’s local culture. This includes lamb samosas, okra fries and signature items from Mumbai’s street-style shops such as vada pav (Bombay’s version of London’s Chip Butty) and pau bhajji (mashed, buttered vegetables served with warm buns). From its north Indian dishes, opt for murgh malai (butter chicken) and pair it with black house dal alongside a cheese naan. The menu also features chicken berry Britannia, a Dishoom version of the namesake Irani cafe’s rice dish, served with cranberries. Its array of refreshing mocktails and cocktails on the same theme won’t disappoint. End your meal with kala khatta gola ice (fluffy ice flakes steeped in kokum fruit syrup) presented just like it is presented at Mumbai’s Chowpatty beach. Breakfast dishes start at £5.50/₹445; St Martin’s Courtyard, 12 Upper Street Martin’s Lane; tel: +44 20 7420 9320; dishoom.com.
The one Michelin-starred Gymkhana is inspired by the culture of colonial Indian gymkhana clubs, where members of the upper strata of society made merry, dined, drank and played sports. It serves classic Indian cuisine with a contemporary touch, focussing on spicy communal dishes. With fans that hang from dark oak ceilings, hunting trophies of the kings and wall lamps from Rajasthan, the restaurant’s interiors stir a subtle nostalgia from the time of Indian royalty. Whether you’re visiting for lunch or dinner, there are a number of carefully designed menus to pick from. These include the Royal Academy Lunch Menu, a three-course feast with cassava, lentil and sabudana (sago) papadum served with shrimp and mango chutney; Mysore vegetable or Chettinad duck dosa (fermented rice pancakes) and wild mushroom; and truffle and morel pilau (flavoured rice) or tandoori shahi zeera chicken chop or wild muntjac biryani (flavoured rice) with curd. Its dessert menu thrills the sweet lover with items like spiced chocolate truffles, and cashew, banana, raisin and Old Monk kulfi (Indian ice-cream). The Royal Academy Lunch Menu starts at £40/₹3,243; 42 Albemarle Street, Mayfair; tel: +44 20 3011 5900; gymkhanalondon.com.
The Jamavar chain of premium Indian restaurants made its debut outside of India with its London opening, late last year. A concept created by The Leela Palaces, Hotels and Resorts, Jamavar’s other outposts are at its hotels in New Delhi, Chennai, Goa and Mumbai. The restaurant’s interiors are panelled with dark wood, and are inlaid with huge mirrors and textured wallpaper. Sprawled across two floors are its dining rooms that serve a la carte lunch, dessert and cocktail menus, as well as a tasting menu (vegetarian and non-vegetarian options). The latter is a seven-course meal that includes dishes like holy basil chicken tikka, Old Delhi butter chicken, stone bass tikka, lobster idli (savoury cakes) and cinnamon kulfi with caramelised pecans. For smaller appetites, the two-course lunch menu makes sense. There is another five-course lunch menu, which includes a pappadum basket and kid goat black cardamom kebabs served with mint chutney. There are also a number of signature gin-based cocktails such as “Burman” with Indian spiced gin, Ophir, and “Kashmir” that’s Sipsmith gin infused with saffron and Maraschino liqueur. The seven-course non-vegetarian Tasting Menu is priced at £60/₹4,862; 8 Mount Street, Mayfair; tel: + 44 20 7499 1800; jamavarrestaurants.com.
Opened in 1995, Tamarind earned its first Michelin star in 2001, becoming the first ever Indian restaurant in the world to earn this status. Dominated by shades of gold alongside neatly arranged tableware, its decor is plush and welcoming. It is a lavish option for those keen to indulge in authentic Indian cuisine, teamed with humble service. The food is inspired by Mughal fare of northwest India, where fish, meat and game meat were cooked in a tandoor (oven). Tamarind’s menu doesn’t try too hard with confusing names for its dishes; it’s the high quality ingredients and techniques that do the talking. You are welcomed with a plate of roasted pappadum with fresh chutney to begin your experience here. Start with pudhina chops (lamb cutlets with dried mint, tomato and coriander chutney) or a seafood salad (steamed shrimp, halibut, squid and black olives in a fennel and ginger dressing). Tamarind’s array of kebabs are definitely its speciality; opt for the kebab selection (tiger prawn, monkfish, chicken supreme and lamb chop) to taste the succulence of well marinated meats cooked to perfection in a tandoor. In mains, its chicken tikka masala is a classic you can’t go wrong with, but for something more adventurous, try the lobster masala (lobster tail with shallots, tomatoes and mixed peppercorns). Its refreshing mango milkshake and rich chocolate delice are unmissable. Tamarind offers the Taste of Tamarind menu, where each course is paired with a different wine like Mort’s Black Riesling with chickpeas chaat and Tokaji Late Harvest with carrot fudge and pistachio kulfi. This menu is priced at £125/₹10,130; 20 Queen Street, Mayfair; tel: +44 20 7629 3561; tamarindrestaurant.com.