The Ultimate Tourist's Guide to Indian Food in London
First-time visitors to England are often surprised to discover that the chicken tikka masala is our national dish - so here's the ultimate list to the best places in London to enjoy Indian fare.
Queen Victoria was said to be a huge fan of Indian food, influenced no doubt by her friendship with Abdul Karim, who became her Munshi, or teacher, and taught the monarch to speak Urdu. Her enthusiasm for the varied and rich flavours of the Indian subcontinent spurned interest and helped to make curries so popular in modern day Britain.
So wherever you choose to dine, if you select a London Indian restaurant or eatery you’re bound to find a few new favourites.
From family-run curry houses, modern fusion fine dining, chain restaurants, and food trucks, if you crave a little spice you’ll find it here.
Chain restaurants are often derided as being conveyer belt establishments without much character. However, small chains can simply indicate that a restaurant was successful and appealed to diners needs and tastes, therefore encouraging an expansion.
With five locations in London and one in Edinburgh, Dishoom is an incredibly popular and fun chain that creates a buzz by not taking reservations and providing Bombay inspired meals throughout the day and evening including breakfasts of bacon naan rolls and cool, creamy lassi’s. Make sure you order the house black daal, this lentil dish is cooked over 24 hours to reach rich and deeply flavoured perfection. Look out for the Bollywood posters and quirky decor touches throughout.
Masala Zone has restaurants in seven London spots including Earls Court, Camden, and Soho. Featuring dramatic and vibrant decor including a plethora of hanging colourful Rajasthani puppets from the ceiling, this branded small empire emanates a theatrical atmosphere. The changing menu includes street food inspired tastes and traditional thali complete platter dining of the kind everyday Indians enjoy at home.
Kricket is a success story with humble beginnings. In 2015 in a cozy shipping container that seated just 20 this restaurant grew to a permanent restaurant in SOHO and now has a Brixton branch and a third, White City, branch opening soon, they have even released a cookbook. Vegetarians can usually find plenty of meat-free options in Indian restaurants and here they are spoiled for choice, the smoked sweet potato with crispy onions is a particular favourite.
Although there are many affordable and casual Indian restaurants in London, sometimes only the best will do. For a special celebration, a big date night anniversary, or when you're trying to woo a new business client posh establishments offering modern takes on Indian flavours are really where it’s at.
Awarded a Michelin star in 2014, Gymkhana is an upscale restaurant inspired by the Indian cricket clubs which cater to the recreational demands of those in high society. Leather banquette benches, oak panelling and liberal use of the iconic racing green hue make you feel like you are inside an exclusive members-only club. For special occasions order from the feasting menu for an experience impossible to forget. Standout dishes include succulent lamb raan, and the lasooni wild tiger prawns served with a red pepper chutney.
Settle down in the elegant dining room in Chutney Mary's West end restaurant which features modern twists on traditional spicy favourites. The decor inside Chutney Mary is grown-up and sophisticated and makes the perfect setting for a romantic date night. For a complete and authentic culinary journey through India, select the tasting menu including curries from North to South. Small plates can also be ordered to share and sample a range of flavours including griddled scallops in a Mangalorean sauce, tandoori quail, and the popular lobster chilli fry.
Holes in the Wall
Just as you shouldn't judge a book by its cover, sometimes restaurants shouldn't be judged by their outside appearance, their small size, or their lack of curb appeal. Food trucks, in particular, can give the illusion of fast food lacking in quality but these two top picks serve up delicious food in humble surroundings.
Apollo Banana Leaf restaurant in Tooting, South London specializes in South Asian and Sri Lankan flavours and more than makes up for its lacklustre decor with the quality of its food. Try the seafood kothu made with spicy squid and prawns and be prepared to return.
A food truck parked in Camden or pop up restaurants in Brixton and the city at Moorgate Bhangra Burger creates truly enormous burgers, sandwiches, and bowls with spice profiles to justify the long queues around the block. Order the lamb jalfrezi burger with a mint cumin raita and expect to get messy- you’ll need extra napkins!