Looking for an Indian restaurant in London that isn’t your average curry house? From regional Indian street food at Masala Zone to popular traditional Bombay cafe empire Dishoom. Here are the top best Indian restaurants in the capital…
Dishoom, across London
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.
Breakfasts at Dishoom have won a cult following. Not least for the bacon naan rolls – crisp bacon wrapped in tandoor-charred naan with a dollop of chilli tomato jam and cream cheese. Pair with a breakfast lassi or house chai.
In a nutshell: From the group behind Sabor, Hoppers and Lyle’s, JKS Restaurants has opened Brigadiers in Bloomberg Arcade, an Indian barbecue joint and drinking den inspired by an army mess.
What’s the vibe? Wrapped around the corner of the slick Bloomberg Arcade, Brigadiers sits comfortably in the City (and attracts a similarly slick, City crowd). Red leather booths are comfortably tucked next to each other with plush velvet curtains and distressed mirrored walls adding an air of luxury, while monkey lamps bring warmth to the intimate space. Inspired by the Indian art deco era, walls are peppered with army memorabilia and tiles are adorned with rhino motifs.
A lavish bar takes centre stage of the ‘Blighters’ room, with separate drinking areas (complete with pool tables, TV screens and whisky vending machines) and private dining rooms nestled along the corridor.
What’s the food like? The menu starts with smaller beer snacks before moving onto heartier platters of kebabs, chops and biryanis. Puffy, crisp, super-savoury chicken-skin crackers topped with chicken, soured cream and a wafer-thin slither of radish are a light way to start, before moving on to onion bhajis oozing with gruyère and mozzarella (with a silky mango chutney on the side) and buttery brioche buns filled with flaky, fragrant fish flavoured with ginger, garlic and cumin – think posh Indian fish finger sarnie.
If you’re only going to order one snack, make it the moreish BBQ butter chicken wings. Succulent smoky chicken basks in a rich concoction of double cream and cashew nut paste before falling from the bone.
It’s easy to fill up on snacks, but save room for the sikandari kid goat shoulder. Tender chunks of goat and slithers of crunchy lacha onions top rich, buttery parathas. Save one of the parathas to tear apart and dip into sides of fiery red chilli, refreshing green chilli sauce and cooling cucumber raita. If you’ve still got room (be warned, the meat sweats might get you), go for juicy guinea fowl reshmi kebabs – one of the lighter dishes – flavoured with aromatic ginger and cardamom.
Desserts are refreshing and lighten the palate after all the smoke. Four types of soft-serve kulfi are on offer, and our recommendation is the roasted, slightly spicy kheer flavour served with chunks of chargrilled saffron pear and nuggets of candied walnut.
And the drinks? Whisky and beer are the big focus. Draft IPAs come from Cornwall, Sussex, Aberdeenshire and Derbyshire, and there’s also a selection of beers by the bottle. If you want something crisp to wash down your meal, go for the Brigadiers own lager.
The permanent 17-strong whisky collection includes bottles from India, Ireland and America, with others available from the whisky vending machine.
For something non-alcoholic, order a thick, creamy mango lassi, which could almost be dessert in itself.
olive tip: If you want to make the most of the menu, go with a big group and order a selection of beer snacks and just a couple of mains.
With New Delhi and New York before it, chef-owner Manish Mehrotra’s third outpost of Indian Accent is a lesson in diversification. In its previous homes, the restaurant won spots on the World’s Best and Asia’s 50 Best Restaurant lists, and now in London its ambitious offering hasn’t dimmed.
Set over two floors, the décor has a restrained opulence – deep-green velvet banquettes, clothless dark wooden tables, parquet flooring, walls of smoky mirrors and accents of gold. It delivers its promise, too – a menu with a loud whisper of Indian flavours, breaking free from the confines of what diners might perceive ‘Indian food’ should be.
You can get a whisky or wine flight with your meal (we choose the latter), and things get started with a thimble of velvety pumpkin and coconut soup, flecked with garam masala, and a mouthful of blue-cheese naan. Buttery, full of flavourful hum, it leaves you wanting more. But fear not, there are far superior things to come.
A starter of Kashmiri morels are unlike anything we’ve tried before. A seriously packing mushroom marvel, the morels stood tall, stuffed with duxelle, dusted in walnut powder and baked, with an umami-rich cream and lacy parmesan crisp.
Soy keema – a veggie take on the street-food staple – has quickly become a signature dish and it’s certainly one of the best things we’ve tasted this year. So rich, so engulfing, so seemingly meaty and yet delicately nuanced with mustard seeds and fenugreek – it was lifted yet further with a creamy quail egg yolk to stir through and two tiny pau buns with kaffir-lime-leaf butter. A northern-Indian-style dessert of makhan malai was a cloud of saffron milk foam, bejewelled with rose petals, a rubble of jaggery brittle, almonds and gold leaf. Precise and elegant, and yet rich and intense, Indian Accent serves its diners well.
Darjeeling Express, Soho
Darjeeling Express started life as a supper club in the Kensington home of Kolkata-born Asma Khan (pictured) but her restaurant just off Carnaby Street is now at the forefront of the London’s Indian food scene.
What is most striking about the kitchen at Darjeeling Express is that the chefs are all female, something that’s still a rarity in restaurants. These women come from a wide range of backgrounds and cultures but none of them have worked in professional kitchens before. Asma lets them cook in the restaurant on Sundays to help them to get used to working in a professional environment.
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. From the can-do-no-wrong team behind Michelin-starred Gymkhana, Hoppers references the food of southern India and Sri Lanka. There’s a succinct menu starring traditional hoppers: light fermented rice and lentil pancake bowls, with a softly steamed egg and a selection of confidently spiced karis.
Load up on the ‘short eats’, though. Mutton rolls are like crunchy cigars – with a golden crumb, shredded gamey meat and lightly spiced tomato chutney. Bone marrow is so seductively sauced that you would be forgiven for refusing to share. The best, perhaps, are buttered devilled shrimps: juicy and fiery. There a fab and refreshing cocktails also.
Contemporary and cool, Kricket specialises in Indian small plates using local vegetables along with 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.
We have the recipe for Kricket’s kichri. Kedgeree as we know it was an adaptation of the original recipe for kichri, which consists of rice and lentils. You can use poached eggs rather than raw egg yolks, if you like.
Harneet and Devina Baweja, owners of Gunpowder, combines two different menus. The Gul section is all about sumptuous flavours and cooking – from wild prawn kalimirch to whole leg of roast kid goat – inspired by the dishes that would have been served in the royal courts of northern India. The Sepoy (the term for Indian soldiers who served in the British army) menu is more rustic, with an emphasis on the rural cuisines of the south-west coast: think wild garlic chicken skewers, or burnt achari cauliflower and potatoes. Overseeing it all is executive chef Nirval Save, previously responsible for the fêted food at Gunpowder and Madame D.
Inside, Gul & Sepoy has the kind of spare décor that is de rigueur for this trendy section of East London – bare, unfinished walls (here in soft, earthy hues), an oak-panelled bar and plain wooden tables and chairs. If you’re after a long, languorous meal in a plush setting then Gul & Sepoy probably isn’t the restaurant for you – it’s noisy, hectic, and diners on the ground floor are packed in close together.
Drinks-wise, we sampled creations from Gul & Sepoy’s concise cocktail menu: an aromatic cardamom and chilli margarita and a passion fruit sour that was beautifully dry and fruity.
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.
One of the latest restaurants to grace London’s Wardour Street is DUM, a biryani house opened by Dhruv Mittal (formerly of The Fat Duck and Hibiscus). It’s predominantly Telugu cuisine, from Andhra Pradesh and Telangana in southern India, where red chillies and rice are abundant. Hence the focus on biryani, which is served Hyderabadi style: aromatic ingredients are put in a large sealed pot, and kept on ‘dum’ – steamed on a low heat – for hours until the rice and meat are tender.
Starters, or small plates, on the menu include kodi veppudu (chicken wings in a spicy, sour masala); gurda kapura (dry masala lamb kidneys) – which is a roadside ‘dhaba’ classic usually eaten after work; and andhra fried shrimp with coconut and chilli, all at around the £5 mark. There’s one dessert, currently rabdi, an Indian milk pudding, and a cocktail list that includes delights such as the Gande Sapne – cardamom, sesame seeds, vodka, coffee liqueur and espresso.
Less a restaurant, more a grab-it-and-go joint, Soho’s Pilau is the realised dream of friends George Pitkeathley and Ollie Norman, son of Polpo owner Russell Norman. Don’t expect Venetian cicchetti, though; Pilau’s style is Indian street food wraps, inspired by the co-owners’ trip to India last summer.
‘We stumbled across these amazing night markets in Mumbai,’ says Ollie. ‘They were open from 1-4am and we had excellent chicken tikka wraps there… we didn’t want to copy what they did – it was more a case of being influenced by what we ate – so we came home and came up with our own filling ideas.’
Here’s the concept: pick a size (try as we might, ‘the big one’ was too much for us); a filling – butter chicken, lamb and marrow, or spiced paneer –; four toppings – lettuce, red onion, fresh chillies, slaw, pickled ginger and shoestring bhaji – and a combo of sauces, including a chutney, mint and coriander yoghurt, and very spicy chilli. Oh, and there’s a portion of fluffy pilau rice in every wrap, too…