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
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
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
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
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
Rarely have we seen such a perfect dosa: 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
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
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
Patron-chef Karam Sethi has added a new venture to his line-up of Trishna (a suavely modern Indian restaurant in Marylebone) and Bubbledogs (Charlotte Street’s hot-dogs and fizz trendster). Gymkhana has the look and feel of an Indian colonial club with its retro ceiling fans, marble table-tops, and yesteryear photos of polo and cricket team triumphs. Bar staff theatrically deliver Indian punches in sealed medicine bottles, accompanied by ice-filled silvery goblets. Bombay punch, a blend of arrack (rice spirit), butterscotch-like palm sugar and fragrant Darjeeling tea, is deceptively smooth and even comes with its own miniature nutmeg grater for a spot of DIY spice action. Sethi lays on a splendid spread of modern Indian dishes based on regional masalas and marinades. Fried South Indian chicken wings, steeped in wispy gram-flour and chilli batter, pack a fiery kick, and make a tempting opener for dinner. The cutlery was redundant – even in a posh restaurant, chicken wings should forever remain finger food. Goan pork vindaloo – slow-cooked chunks of suckling pig cheek, with vinegary red chilli-garlic masala, spiced with sweet cinnamon and pounded coriander – was outstanding. Game lovers are well looked after with a separate menu dedicated to the likes of muntjac biriani, fried peppered partridge, and roe deer cooked with pickling spices. Tandoori-seared guinea fowl breast boasted a mellow mustardy smokiness enhanced by toasted sesame seeds – making a tasty contrast to herbyRead 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