From homely, dhal dishes to Punjabi-grilled meats worth queuing for, get to know the best Indian restaurants in London. Do you agree with our choices? Use the comments box below or tweet your suggestions.
When Chutney Mary opened in Chelsea 25 years ago, it put refined Indian dining on London’s culinary map. It’s owned by the Panjabi sisters, who also run Veeraswamy, Amaya, the Masala Zone group, and Masala Grill. Relocated to St James’s in June 2015, it’s a plush set-up. A long bar by the entrance leads to a spacious, lavishly decorated dining area. Dining here isn’t cheap but the cooking is exemplary, offering classic dishes alongside lighter flavours. It’s a place for entertaining business colleagues, for romancing over a candlelit meal, or even to keep mid-afternoon hunger pangs at bay with chilli cheese toast and a cold beer. A dainty plate of chicken wings – is there such a thing? These were. Deboned fried meat was reassembled into neat cubes and then topped with a shard of browned skin and served on a syrupy pink puddle made from tart kokum (a dried fruit, used in a similar way to tamarind). A soupy rendition of nihari, a Mughal stew, was also top-drawer. Made with chicken instead of lamb, and sealed under a pastry crust, the rich, meaty broth unleashed a whoosh of spicy steam when the lid came off. Grills go far beyond regular offerings. A reworked jardaloo masala showcased the tastes of the Parsee community, many of whom left Persia centuries ago to settle in India. In this version, a seared, pink-cooked duck breast was splendidly matched with caramelised onions, apricots (jardaloo) and jaggery (palm sugar), sharpened with ginger and vinegar, and topped with a taRead more
Jugaar (pronounced ‘joo-gaar’) is the word used in Hindi to describe a certain type of problem solving. ‘Improvisation’ is one translation; ‘makeshift’or even ‘dodgy’ might be another. The point of jugaar is to get results, not to follow the rules. The second Shoreditch branch of Dishoom looks at first to have a jugaar approach to the decor – an industrial space has been turned into an aspirational Indian restaurant. But the interior design is inspired by the ‘Irani cafés’ of late twentieth-century Bombay. A sign reading ‘permit room’ greets you at the entrance – Indian English for ‘alcohol-licensed premises’. The giant clock suspended from the ceiling is a small copy of the one at Victoria Terminus in Bombay (now called Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus in Mumbai). The tiled floors and bentwood chairs are also faithful to true Bombay style. There’s nothing jugaar about the menu or cooking though. Sit in the basement dining room and you can watch the Indian chefs at work. Our seekh kebabs arrived well spiced, the minced lamb juicy, served piping hot from the grill. Many more distinctively Bombay dishes are on the menu, including bhel (a spicy puffed-rice snack) and pau bhaji (spicy vegetables in a bread roll). More modern creations are there too, including the lamb raan bun, which owes more to the current barbecue and burger craze in London than it does to Mumbai. Dishoom is great for atmosphere and for its all-day opening hours. The small-plates menu may not be faithful to IraRead more
We’ve featured Tayyabs every year since it opened in 1972, and every year it gets busier and busier. From its original premises in a small café, it has gradually swallowed up the pub next door. If you come here expecting a relaxing evening, cheery service or an intimate atmosphere, you’ll be disappointed: this is a full-on, massive, hectic, loud, in-and-out sort of place. Also, if you come here without booking, expect to wait up to an hour for a table. But we recommend this Punjabi stalwart wholeheartedly because of the cheapness and unreserved boldness of the food. Don’t even think about visiting without trying the fiery grilled lamb chops, which is still one of London’s best dishes. The rest of the menu is all about rich dahls and masala channa; unctuous, slow-cooked lamb curries; and good versions of North Indian staples – onion bhaji, spice-rubbed tikka, hot, buttery breads and juicy kebabs. Regulars look to the daily specials, such as Karahi lamb chop curry on Thursdays, or meat biryani on Fridays. The corkage-free BYO policy doesn’t do its popularity any harm either.Read more
A swish Bombay brasserie in the style of the old post-colonial 'Irani cafés' of Bombay, Dishoom is filled with retro design features: whirring ceiling fans, low-level lighting and walls adorned with vintage Indian magazine advertising. The look is certainly distinctive, but the effect can be so slick when compared to the real thing that the venue can feel rather soulless and corporate. This doesn’t stop the design-conscious and Indophile thronging here through the day, from breakfast (for sausage nan rolls with chilli jam) to dinner (for the stir-fries and tandoori grills). The main attraction though is the menu, loosely styled on Irani café food with birianis, bhel (crunchy puffed rice with tangy tamarind chutney) and even pau bhaji (toasted white bread rolls with a spicy vegetable stew as a filling). Our black dal was exemplary, and the lamb biriani suitably moist. We particuarly like the endlessly refilled house chai (Indian-style tea), but the other drinks are interesting too – excellent lassi concoctions, good wines by the glass, even the soft drinks Limca and Thums Up in glass bottles imported from Mumbai. Queues are common in the evening (bookings are taken for breakfast and lunch, but only for groups at dinner), though the basement bar helps make the wait more than bearable.Read more
There’s something almost karmic about the location of this new sibling to the Cinnamon Club, occupying as it does a former warehouse of the East India Company. And it occupies it stylishly, with walls in soft pewter hues inset with lustrous mother-of-pearl patterns. The juxtaposition of exposed air-con ducts with intricate filigree light-shades works unexpectedly well under the lofty ceilings – as does the long tandoori-grill bar where chefs cook to order. Most dishes emerging from the conventional kitchen are clever, not contrived. An intensely coloured but subtly spiced creamy sweetcorn soup was perfectly paired with corn on the cob kebabs. Hot fruit kebabs were a joy: juicy sweetness coated with a tangy, hot chat-style masala, with apple, pineapple, starfruit and pear delivering a burst of sugar and spice. Fat red chillies stuffed with delicately seasoned hyderabadi lamb mince completed a triumphant trio of starters. Mains didn’t hit such high notes, but were still good. Tender roasted black-leg chicken with a crust of pungent fenugreek leaves worked well; and pleasingly plump prawns with bengali kedgeree were both comforting and lively, as was a side order of masala-spiked mash. The menu might be fairly short, but the queue lining up for a taste of it was decidedly long.Read more
Specialising in stylish pan-Indian tapas, Amaya is favoured by a clientele of well-heeled professionals blessed with good taste and deep pockets. The sleek cocktail bar and dining area are furnished with a seductive mix of black granite, dark wooden fitting, terracotta statues and a splash of modern art. Ask for a table by the open kitchen for a view of chefs working the clay tandoor, charcoal grill and griddle. Recent menu additions include fragrant and tender chicken thighs steeped in fresh turmeric with lime juice then seared in the tandoor. Lucknow’s sausage-shaped kakori kebab, made from skewered pounded lamb spiced with cardamom and cloves and cooked over charcoal, had lovely fragrant and floral notes – a tribute to the royal kitchens of its origin. Amaya’s own-made paneer is outstanding – we loved our soft, almost spongy, tandoori cubes encased in a wisp of a chilli crust. Beef makes a surprise appearance with a splendid sirloin boti, the peppery, meaty chunks winning a gold star for their smoky-citrussy marination. To round things off: a tasty, cardamom-scented chicken korma simmered in a smooth wild garlic masala enriched with onions, coriander and green chillies. Service was as smooth as Indian silk.Read more
In Bollywood, ‘dishoom dishoom’ is the sound effect of blows landing in a classic fight scene, and is usually followed by a hip-thrusting song-and-dance routine. And while the naans are the only things that get slapped about by the Dishoom restaurant group – there’s still plenty of spice, both on and off the plate. This King’s Cross Dishoom, the third, is the best-looking yet. A magnificent three-storey Victorian warehouse has been furnished with sepia prints, whirring fans and an oversized railway-station clock to recreate the elegant feel of 1930s Bombay, while the seating arrangement by the ground-floor cocktail bar looks as if it’s been lifted from Aunty Ji’s verandah. It’s a witty interpretation of urban India, tastefully updated for trendy, spice-loving Londoners. If romancing is on the agenda, we suggest the booths on the dimly lit mezzanine level. But for skewer-wielding action, head to the top floor for a front-row view of smoky kebabs cooking over charcoal. Dishes are affordable and consistently deliver great flavour. Besides the first-class breakfasts, fragrant biryanis and fabulous curries, we love the gingery slow-cooked black lentils simmered with cream, butter and tomatoes. It’s a classic party dahl and a marvellous match for garlicky chargrilled lamb chops and handkerchief-like roomali rotis. Even an everyday mattar paneer, studded with pillowy cubes of fresh cheese and tender peas, is notable for its cumin-scented onion and tomato masala. And, for betweenRead more
Branches of this smart, clever chain are popping up faster than mustard seeds in a hot pan of ghee. Each outlet is decorated with a different theme – on Parkway it’s advertising posters of the 1930s and ’40s; at Covent Garden Rajasthani puppets hang from the ceiling; in Soho, Islington and Earl’s Court the walls feature striking work by tribal artists. The mood is both vibrant and relaxed – as cheering to singletons having a thali for supper, as it is to family groups and couples. Conceived by the Panjabi sisters of Chutney Mary and Amaya fame, Masala Zone is not expensive, yet even so there’s a high rotation of attractive discount offers. The menu takes in street-food snacks (springy, grease-free onion bhaji; dahi poori), wraps, grills, curried noodles, curry and rice plates. There are also two sizes of thali; well-trained, multicultural staff describe the daily veg, dahl and raita on your arrival, and you choose which of the curries you would like included – clove-scented lamb roghan gosht, say, or a tomatoey tilapia masala. To drink, try the cola with mint and spices, or the bright, fruity Portuguese rosé created specially to match the fiery dishes.Read more
Venue says: 20% off all food orders before 7pm every night, and all night on Monday to Wednesday.
What do you do next if you’ve built two successful furniture businesses from scratch, and want a new challenge? Open an Indian restaurant. Or at least, that’s what Aamir Ahmad and his colleagues have done. Their background in fashionable interior design explains Zumbura’s good looks – but instead of the clean, modern lines of their Ocean and Dwell shops, the look includes South Asian influences. Saturated colours, Moghul-style bird prints on the ceiling, ornate tableware and beautifully styled brass lanterns adorn the long, rustic wooden bar.The menu showcases the simple rural cooking of the northern state of Uttar Pradesh – the cuisine of Ahmad’s Purabi forebears. Ghugni is a dish of black chickpeas braised in an onion-rich vegetable sauce; it tasted like Indian home cooking, and we mean that as a compliment. Karela – bitter gourd cooked with lentils – was the best dish, attractively sour just as it should be. Portion sizes were meagre by Indian standards though, following the ‘small plates’ trend of London’s fashionable restaurants; £7.50 is quite steep for the three meagre beef patties of the chapli kebab.The desserts were a highlight: rose kulfi frozen in a tall cone around a lollipop stick in the Indian way; or rawa (semolina) stirred with ghee studded with crushed pistachios, almonds and cardamom.Penny-pinchers take note that Tooting is just three Tube stops away – where equally impressive cooking from the subcontinent can cost half the price. You won’t, however, findRead more
It might not look like much, but Lahore Kebab House is a place of pilgrimage for curry lovers. Queues snake out of the door at weekends, with diners travelling from afar to sample Punjabi-style tandoori grilled meat and generous portions of ghee-laden curry. Bargain prices, attentive service and a BYO policy add to the draw. Piles of sweet onion bhajia and heavily spiced lamb chops might start off a meal, before the choice velvety dals, boldly flavoured curries (many of them on the bone) and buttery nans. The house specials are worth ordering, especially the nihari and dry lamb curry, all served in utilitarian karahi bowls with minimal fuss. Decor is equally no-nonsense. Spartan and to the point, this place is all about the food. Sure, the big LCD screens blaring out IPL games or Bollywood movies are a little distracting, but the open kitchen provides most entertainment. There’s nothing better for whetting the appetite than watching an army of cooks kneading dough for the tandoor and flipping meats on the grill – unless it’s the mouth-watering aromas. Lahore is hard to beat for truly authentic, vivid flavours in a no-nonsense setting: more than worth having to queue.Read more
Zaika of Kensington
Venue says: Two-course lunch with a glass of wine for £18.50.
It’s been a magic carpet ride for Zaika, which over 15 years has changed location, lost its star chef, changed owners, then disappeared completely. But it’s back once again in the imposing and high-ceilinged former bank building where it once won plaudits. The owners, Tamarind Collection, has rekindled Zaika to specialise in north Indian cooking with unflashy, carefully honed recipes inspired by Mughal palace kitchens. Sanjay Gour is Zaika’s new chef, and he does a great job of updating culinary traditions without losing the plot. Yakhni, a traditional lamb broth, is fragrant with smoky brown cardamom and black cumin, and is simmered to full-bodied meatiness before it is poured around shredded slow-cooked lamb. More homely in nature but no less satisfying, a main course of juicy king prawns, tossed in a vibrant tomato and ginger masala, is enriched by the warmth of cracked black peppercorns. Dumplings are an everyday staple in India, but koftas are not. The mushroom koftas served here are similar to mum’s own dumplings, as both are lightly bound with toasted gram flour. These koftas are simmered in a smoothly whipped yogurt sauce, blended with nutty melon seeds and spiked with a hint of mild chillies. Gour’s background as a patisserie chef is clear with the likes of babas steeped in fabulous Old Monk rum from India, or a reworked cassata topped with a tricolour of mango, raspberry and pistachio ice cream. At a time when London’s Indian restaurants chase novelty and dilut