As an Indian living in London, one question that I constantly get asked is “Where do you get good Indian food?”. London’s a brilliant place to try food from all over the world. But it’s never quite the real thing. For one, there’s no such thing as “curry” in India – there is “kadhi” though – it’s made with with chickpea dough and sour, spiced yoghurt. Not quite what you were thinking of, is it? And a lot of the Indian restaurants here are actually Bangladeshi/ Pakistani, and it’s quite good – just not Indian.
I think it isn’t a terrible thing that Indian food doesn’t taste quite the same as home. For one, it makes me love going back home! But more importantly, I get to try some unusual combinations that you wouldn’t have tried back home. I once went to an Indian restaurant that used courgettes in their biryani – you’d never get that back home, but it tasted really fresh and worked well.
Here are some of my favourites for when I really want good Indian food.
1. Benares: This is the first Michelin star Indian restaurant I went to (it was where I tried the biryani). I’ve been back, despite how pricey it is, which says something! This one tends to be a North Indian favourite – it’s not at the top of my South Indian friends’ lists (although one of their favourites, Amaya, does not feature on my list)
2. Hazara: Hazara is my local Indian – and boy, is it good! It’s setting in beautiful Belsize Village is just right for a local. While I think their decor is slightly over the top, the galouti kebab is perfect. I’m not a big fan of the butter ‘rotis’, they make me feel like I can’t move for days – I tend to get the tandoori version.
3. Mint Leaf When I first saw pictures of Mint Leaf, I thought it was going to be all show and no substance. But this is the restaurant that you impress someone at – dim lighting, white plates, a great cocktail bar. Definitely earns its place on my list!
4. Roti Chai: I found out about Roti Chai a week after it opened (thank you, twitter friends!). And it was the best find ever. I was torn between telling people about my ace-in-the-hole, a brilliant, authentic, inexpensive and clean Indian restaurant just off Selfridges – or letting them close because they weren’t getting many customers. Luckily, they’re open and thriving – do check out their street kitchen.
5. Dishoom: I was initially charmed by Dishoom – the decor is perfect. But then, I was really upset as they did a twist on one of my favourite dishes (the ice gola). The Indian version is brilliant, the Dishoom version insipid. It’s taken me a while to forgive them, but they’ve won me back with their inherent sense of cool (their perfect roomali roti, bread that’s meant to be as thin as a handkerchief, helped too).
6. Moti Mahal: I’ll allow a sixth spot on my list just so I can include Moti Mahal. I thought this was going to be the opposite of Mint Leaf, slightly dull and for older people – but the food blew my socks off. Fresh, interesting combinations and a nice list of cocktails to boot. I hear the menu keeps changing though, so I can’t say what it’ll be like when you visit. And I don’t think it’s the same as the chain from India.
Some of the ones that don’t quite make it are: Veerasamy, Amaya, Masala Zone…and others I’ve forgotten. In the interest of full disclosure, I haven’t tried Chutney Mary, Cinnamon Kitchen and Chor Bizarre – let me know if they are among your favourites. And I’m aware I haven’t done any justice to South Indian restaurants or to takeouts – another blog post perhaps!