The great British curry house has come on a long way in the last five decades. We celebrate those that are innovating – from street food specialists to fine-dining aficionados – check out one near you, now
Check out what indian restaurants are hot right now! These restaurants are taking traditional indian cuisine and giving it a modern twist. Everything from Keralan nankin chicken and foraged kelp too bundo chaat.
Since it opened in Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter in 2002, Lasan has become a sparkling gastronomic gem in its own right. This stylish fine dining restaurant has wowed the locals with its lighter, inventive take on traditional Indian cuisine combined with the best of British produce and modern techniques.
Refined dishes like sindhi murgh (tandoori breast of Cotswold white chicken, ground raw mango, coriander, green chilli and ginger with dressed heritage tomatoes) and head chef Aktar Islam’s main course of lamb lababdar (loin cutlet marinated in cumin and black cardamon, spiced rillette of shoulder, turnip, garlic, baby leaf spinach, smoked lababdar gravy), which features on the Great British Menu, offers diners a fragrant alternative to mainstream curry houses.
“The idea behind Lasan was to take Indian food to a new direction,” says Birmingham-born Aktar. “We draw inspiration from contemporary India and its colourful and culturally diverse culinary heritage, but we take a unique approach to the food to create a truly special Indian gastronomic experience.”
Marko Husak and Mayur Patel wanted to do something that hadn’t been done before when they came up with the idea for Bundobust. Launched in Leeds in 2014 (a second site in Manchester has since followed), Bundobust is a restaurant and bar combining veggie Indian street food with a huge range of craft ale.
A bustling place where food is served in disposable bowls with plastic cutlery, it offers a casual dining experience with small plates and low prices.
“I think people like our laid-back vibe, which is pretty rare in Indian restaurants,” says Marko. “Originally the idea was to open a craft beer bar with an amazing Indian street food menu, but we soon realised that the real attraction was the food and we now definitely consider Bundobust a restaurant, albeit a very casual one.”
The food is mainly from Gujarat, where Mayur’s family is from, but inspiration has been taken from the street food vendors of Southern India and Mumbai.
With no curry option, or meat, Bundobust is a world away from old-school curry houses, but dishes such as vada pav (a fried spicy mashed potato ball served in a brioche bun) and bundo chaat (a samosa of pastry, turmeric noodles, yogurt and tamarind chutney) have gained cult status.
Under award-winning Keralan-born chef Anand George, Cardiff restaurant Purple Poppadom has redefined traditional Indian cuisine since opening in 2008.
Dishes such as Keralan malabar biriyani and tiffin sea bass with mango, ginger and coconut sauce have gained the restaurant a younger audience than many other Indian restaurants.
Anand says: “I didn’t want to rip up the Indian restaurant rule book but I felt, and still do, that you must keep evolving”. Describing his food as ‘nouvelle Indian cuisine’, Anand thinks it’s the element of surprise with his food that sets Purple Poppadom apart.
A short walk from the beach, the Curry Leaf Café stands in the heart of Brighton’s bustling Lanes area. By day, it’s a laid-back café serving traditional Southern Indian street food, thali platters, dosas and masala-battered fish and chips against a backdrop of bare brick walls, bright colours and graffiti.
After dark, however, things move up several gears as diners feast on tandoor-grilled lamb chops and curries from Goa, Bangalore and Kerala. Many of the ingredients are sourced from Sussex farms and half of the menu is vegetarian, with a selection of vegan and gluten-free dishes.
It was started in 2014 by Hyderabadi chef Kanthi Thamma and journalist Euan Sey, who identified a lack of Southern Indian food in restaurants.
“We couldn’t find anything like this on the Indian dining scene and were confident this combination would strike a chord with other people,” says Euan. “There were lots of old-school curry houses with brown leather chairs and enormous menus filled with bits of inexpensive meat floating in homogenous sauces, and then a small number of more upmarket restaurants that seemed to model themselves on the French bistro style with white tablecloths and polished glass.
Our goal was to slot into the gap between the two with something modern, vibrant, unpretentious and a bit Brighton.”
Euan explains how it works: “During the day, we serve South Indian street food, but at night we’re kind of a hybrid between a café and a restaurant with soft lighting, spiced cocktails and around 30 craft beers to choose from – that’s more than most of the pubs in the area.”
The concept has proved to be so successful that Curry Leaf Café has also opened the first ever Indian food stall inside a UK train station (at Brighton) and a second café in the nearby Kemptown area.
A former gospel hall on a busy city road, The Mint Room is a surprising venue to experience innovative Indian cooking in.
After opening their first restaurant in Yeovil, brothers Luthfur and Moe Rahman chose Bath as the place to launch a fine-dining Indian restaurant. With a focus on Southern Indian food, The Mint Room supports local producers, clearly stating the provenance of the meat and fish on the menu.
“Our unique biryani is served with a pastry crust. Other favourites include the chicken lababdar, which uses free-range Somerset chicken marinated with ginger, chillies and cream. We’ve also launched a Tour of India tasting menu,” says Luthfur.
Inspired by founder Jim Pizer’s travels to India, Thali Café started out as a street food truck at Glastonbury Festival. Jim fell in love with the sustainable nature of stainless steel tiffin lunchboxes, a concept that continues to this day for takeaway customers.
There are now five Thali Café restaurants in Bristol with recipes created by chef and author Meera Sodha.
New dishes proving popular include Keralan nandan chicken (chicken thighs in a coconut, cumin and cardamom sauce) and a “smoky, earthy and surprisingly meaty” mushroom and walnut samosa. Jim says: “The word ‘thali’ refers to the way meals are eaten in India where a selection of dishes on one plate are served together and shared together.
We’re inspired by the Indian philosophy of doing more with less, offset by aspects of our festival heritage.”
From successful barrister to undisputed queen of curries, Nisha Katona launched the original Mowgli restaurant in Liverpool in 2014.
It became such a hit that a second soon followed in Manchester and now she has her sights on Mowgli becoming the first national Indian chain.
Mowgli concentrates on street food and tiffin boxes, but it’s the lighter Hindu vegetarian snacks which are proving the most popular, so much so that Nisha has had to copyright the term ‘chat bombs’.
“Chat are vegan or vegetarian street snacks that are explosive in flavour, rather than heat,” says Nisha. “The yogurt chat bombs are our best sellers – crisp shells filled with tamarind, mint, yogurt, spices, onion and coriander with a gram flour noodle and pomegranate garnish. They’re so popular they have their own Twitter following!”
This summer marks the 20th birthday of Junction 397, a restaurant that occupies the unique location of a Great Northern Railway carriage and adjacent former signal box in Jesmond.
Owned by brothers Daraz Aziz and Locku Rahman, whose uncle opened one of the first curry houses in Newcastle in the 1970s, Junction 397 is one of three Valley restaurants in the Northeast (the other two are in Corbridge and Hexham).
With much of the food cooked over charcoal in the searing heat of the tandoor oven, many of the home-style dishes can be traced back to the owners’ mother, including belati baigon zhal zul (king prawns with fresh tomatoes, green chillies and fresh coriander) and murgh podina (chicken cooked with fresh garden mint).
From the tranquility of the courtyard to the clink of champagne glasses in the Library bar, it’s easy to forget that Five Rivers was once a leatherworks factory in the heart of the Black Country.
The exposed brickwork and wooden beams may be reminders of the building’s history, but people now flock here for chef Rashpal Sunner’s Punjabi cooking rather than leather saddles.
Signature dishes include lasani chilli duck (seasoned duck breast sautéed and simmered in its own juices with chillies, coriander and herbs and spices) and Rashpal’s award-winning saag Punjabi, a dish that has been recreated and served at airports around the world.
What started as one restaurant in Margate in 2010 has since grown to three sites for The Ambrette, with successful siblings in Rye and Canterbury.
Originating from Eastern India, chef/owner Dev Biswal worked in top hotels around the world before opening his own place in Kent and his Anglo-Indian dishes incorporate French and Southeast Asian influences. The dishes may have a global outlook but Kentish produce is the cornerstone of The Ambrette’s kitchen, with local game and foraged ingredients making an appearance on the seasonal menus.
Bestsellers here include a seafood platter with locally foraged kelp, pickled samphire, wild salmon caviar and banana crisp; and medallion of goat, carpaccio, sticky jasmine rice and stew.
Meaning ‘Mother Earth’ in Sanskrit, Prithvi has been a Cheltenham favourite since it opened five years ago. Top-quality local ingredients and delicate spicing combine to create refined modern dishes from the Indian subcontinent such as lamb, artichoke and mustard mayo, or chicken, star anise and onion reduction.
“Our intention was to be a restaurant not a curry house,” says owner Jay Rahman. “Offering a blend of Indian spice and British produce is important to us.”
At Prithvi, classic dishes are refined, with authentic flavours at the heart of everything the chefs create. Jay says: “The ethos behind Prithvi was not only to create a memorable menu, but to take our customers on a journey through Indian food.”
Glasgow veteran Mother India and sibling Mother India’s Café, the bustling Indian-style tapas bars in Glasgow and Edinburgh, have become Scottish institutions thanks to owner Monir Mohammed.
Born and raised in Glasgow, Monir also lived for a time in the Punjab, where he learned home cooking from scratch. Many of his family recipes make appearances on his menus, including Hajra Bibi’s salmon named after his mother.
For the past 21 years, Mother India has built a fiercely loyal following thanks to signature dishes like ginger and green chilli fish pakora and Delhi-style Scottish lamb, with no room for generic kormas or masalas. Monir says: “When we opened in 1996, Glasgow was booming with Indian restaurants and we had a tight budget, so rather than compete with the high-profile restaurants, we started with a menu of five dishes.
“Until then, the food in most Indian restaurants was too rich and oily,” he says. “It wasn’t bad food, it was just more suited to European palates but people have become educated about Indian food and a lighter cooking style. These days, we serve a lot of fish and scallops from Scottish fishermen and we don’t kill the freshness with loads of sauce, we use delicate spicing. It’s about getting the balance right.”
Named after the vast river that flows along the entire length of Punjab, Sindhu is the latest venture for Atul Kochhar.
Set within The Compleat Angler hotel in Marlow, the food at this sophisticated contemporary Indian restaurant overlooking the Thames is predominantly inspired by food from Kerala, Goa and Bangalore.
Soft shell crab, tandoori tiger prawns and lamb chettinaad are all customer favourites, although local game also makes an appearance and regional ingredients drive the seasonal menu.
Widely acknowledged as one of the pioneers of contemporary Indian food in the UK, Atul says Indian food has come a long way since he started working at London’s Tamarind restaurant in 2001. “People’s perceptions have certainly changed for the better over the years,” he says. “When I started at Tamarind, even my friends used to call it a curry house – I used to get quite cross as this was a restaurant in its own right.
There have long been connections between the UK and the Indian subcontinent, and the taste for Indian flavours was already firmly set in British culture a long time ago.
As the UK has further embraced different nationalities and cultures, our palates have adapted. We’ve become more adventurous with our cuisine. I believe that the UK has now developed a far deeper understanding of Indian food.
At Sindhu, my food is inspired by India’s western coast. It’s not a ‘vindaloo and lager’ inspired menu. We offer some of the finest wines available.”
Inspired by the all-day Irani cafés that were an integral part of Bombay life, there are now four branches of Dishoom in London (and another in Edinburgh), each serving Bombay breakfast, lunch, afternoon chai and dinner.
There are no reservations taken at this tiny East London restaurant but if it’s packed, staff will text you when a table becomes available. The reason for its popularity are dishes like spicy venison and vermicelli doughnut, and wild rabbit pulao.
‘Half plates and full drinks’ – that’s the tagline at this cool Shaftesbury Avenue favourite, which is as popular for Indian-style cocktails such as the Bengal mojito as dishes like the desi slider and truffle ghee kulcha.
Named after the lacy, bowl-shaped pancakes that are a staple of Sri Lanka, Hoppers has quickly established itself as one of London’s hippest hangouts. As well as hoppers, the dosas are excellent, as are the starters, cocktails, mutton rolls and chicken lollipop chukkas (ie. everything is great).
Contemporary and cool, Kricket specialises in Indian small plates using local vegetables and fish and meat sourced within the British Isles. Expect to queue at these no-reservations restaurants but dishes like samphire pakoras and Keralan fried chicken are more than worth the wait.
Excellent regional Indian street food – thalis, grills, curries and biryanis – explains the success of Masala Zone, which now has seven restaurants dotted around the capital. Best-sellers include spicy squid bhaji and the ghee roast duck.