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.
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
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
Venue says: Book your dinner before or after the theatre - £23 per person for a three course meal that welcomes you with a glass of sparkling wine!
Class, poise, judgement: these words might well be embossed on Moti Mahal’s burnished copper bar, beside the serried ranks of expensive whiskies. This London outpost of Delhi’s celebrated restaurant group is geared to international business diners and priced accordingly. Weighty linen tablecloths, polished wooden flooring, an ambient soundtrack and a spotless open kitchen (viewed behind a curvaceous glass partition) lend gravitas to the ground-floor dining room – as do diligent, multinational staff and a bulky wine list. The basement, with its enveloping red-velvet banquettes, has more date-appeal. The food? It’s moderately inventive pan-Indian, with expertly balanced spicing and a lightness of touch evident in the superb breads and rice. We were sad to see brain had slipped from the menu, but noted the varied choice of vegetarian dishes, including jackfruit in a roasted onion and coconut masala. Perfect salad specimens presented on a board with DIY spicing (in pestle and mortar) account for the £1.50 cover charge. An à la carte starter of crab and quail’s egg rolls had ample flavour and just-cooked zing, though the eggs were quite rubbery; a set-lunch main of gosht shakarkandi was like rogan josh, with beautifully tender lamb and dense, flavour-soaked chunks of sweet potato. Puddings are also worth exploring. You’ll get high-class cooking in impressive surroundings, but gastronomic adventurers might yearn for more thrills – and blench at the prices: £7.50 for a nondescriptRead 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
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
In the great battle of the Whitechapel lamb chop – an unofficial war being waged between Needoo and its nearby neighbours Tayyabs and Lahore Kebab House – it’s hard to pick a winner. The sizzling plates of succulent lamb that you get here aren’t cooked to pink excellence like at Lahore, and aren’t as pungent as at Tayyabs, but they are spiced to absolute perfection. Opened in 2009 by a former Tayyabs manager, this squashed space doesn’t suffer from the same problem of endless queues (though you will usually have a wait), but it is just as gaudy. Bright red walls, leather benches and blaring flatscreen TVs are the order of the day, yet with curries this good, the decor just fades into the background. What you get are succulent karahi dishes and specials that include nihari (lamb on the bone) and a very passable biriani. Pakoras and other pre-prepared snacks can often be disappointingly stale, but service is swift and friendly, and it’s hard to argue with the appeal of BYOB and curries of such high standard.Read more
Venue says: Warm up with two courses just £9.75. Daily from noon-5pm. Plus enjoy two courses for dinner at £16, served 5.30pm-7pm and 9pm onwards!
An offshoot of Westminster’s classy Cinnamon Club, this more casual venue specialises in small plates inspired by pan-Indian flavours and western presentation. Don’t be deterred by the dark and narrow ground floor and basement dining areas – the cooking, overseen by talented executive chef, Vivek Singh, is the real attraction. Try, for instance, the Punjabi-style gingery lamb mince, topped with crisp-crusted juicy brain fritters sharpened by a kick of lime. Remember to order breads for mopping up the marvellous masala. Lighter in texture, South Indian quinoa salad, seasoned with curry leaves, mustard seeds and chopped tomatoes, provides plenty of splendid citrus notes. An Indo-Chinese chilli chicken collaboration was so good that we ordered second helpings of the delectable seared morsels with their sweet and garlicky soy-chilli glaze. An outstanding ox cheek vindaloo featured tender meat in an unbeatable, almost pickled, garlicky masala. The only glitch was laal maas, a supposedly fiery lamb curry from Rajasthan, let down by a shortfall in chilli heat. The young service team needs to invest more energy in getting to grips with the menu, and promoting it to curious diners unsure of what to order.Read more
Venue says: Lunchtime offer: two courses for £14.95 per person.
Popular with well-heeled local residents, this classy destination is smartly furnished in a restrained grey-brown palette. The menu is much more flamboyant, although dishes are seasoned with classic spice blends. Deep-fried soft-shell crab, coated in a ground rice and sesame-seed batter, was outstanding for its crisp crust that yielded to reveal the sweet flesh below. We were also taken by a heap of juicy shrimps tossed in raunchy red chilli and tamarind masala – with a garlicky flatbread obligingly soaking up the juices. Mains were not in the same league. Tangy goan fish curry, although studded with sizeable scallops and juicy prawns, was let down by a heavy onion-ginger sauce that overwhelmed the seafood. Sri Lankan chicken curry – spiked with ginger, dried chillies and fried onion masala – made a much better impression with its toasted coriander spicing and tender strips of softened gourd. The Painted Heron’s left-field signature dish of strawberry curry has become an annual summer spectacle: strawberry juice, reduced, seasoned with toasted cumin and lime juice and studded with squishy berries; it was as delectable as it was wacky. Service seriously needs to spruce itself up if it’s to match the fabulous cooking.Read more
Rarely have we seen such a perfect dosai: crisp on the outside, moist and rice-fragrant on the inside, a perfect oval bent over in the shape of a curling leaf. The accompanying sambar (spicy lentil dip) is rich and sweet, in the Chennai style, the coconut chutneys fresh (though only in two variants: red or green). Most of these meals cost under £3. It’s true that this South Indian and Sri Lankan café might not have the most alluring of interiors – it is lit like a Tamil truck-stop, with furniture the colour of Sunny Delight – but at least you get to see movies on the flatscreen TV by way of diversion. On our visit, we watched a portly hero wiggle his moustache through enough song-and-dance routines to have us begging for some masala chai as a fortification. Although the vegetarian choice is exemplary, the non-veg options are OK too: mutton and chicken, mostly. But we suggest sticking to the meat-free meals, as this is Dosa n Chutny’s forte; the classic breakfast and snack dishes are beautifully rendered.Read more