Hidden behind the colossal grey frontage of the Hotel Strand Continental is an Indian restaurant quite unlike any other in London. You have to climb past an ancient room sign, and up two rickety flights of stairs, to get to it, from which you’ll step into a casual throwback to colonial times. The walls are mustard, the tables are wipe-clean, and ornate metal lanterns dangle overhead. With roots in the India League, which campaigned for the country’s independence, the Club has been in residence at this address on the Strand since 1946. The room has the kind of old-fashioned proportions that make your heart actually hurt a bit. Nehru, India’s first PM, was a founding member. A portrait of the first Indian to be a British MP, Dadabhai Naoroji, looks down at you while you eat.
Thumbing through the pleasantly sticky, laminated menu pages, the first thing you’ll notice is that the India Club is fabulously cheap. Warmly spiced, beautifully light little vegetable samosas were £3. A lovely egg curry, rarely sighted on Brit Indian menus, only £5. There’s a lunch box option that starts at £4.50. This food isn’t going to change anybody’s life: one real low point was the naan bread, which tasted like it came out of a supermarket packet. But the best of it was simple home cooking, served in hearty portions. Try the traditional brinjal (aubergine), and the lamb bhuna, a hunk of tender meat soaked in thick, savoury tomato and onion masala. An intensely thin, crisped-up ghee (clarified butter) dosa also rescued things on the carbs front.
Like most London restaurants that feel as if they’re from another time – like they’re too lovely to still exist this unspoilt, at these prices – the India Club has been under threat from developers. So far, it’s surviving. But go quick, before someone turns it into an oligarch’s luxury flat.