Where is your favourite place to eat a chicken curry in central London? Given how far we have come in food I realise what a vague question this is. When most restaurant menus now read like the map of India showcasing regional diversity, letting the ingredients come to life with complex spices. Each dish has an identity, story and chances are the chefs at the pass will have their own take on the food you get at your table to celebrate the very best dishes. So here are my top favourites and where my meals have left me belly full and yearning for more-
From studying law to feeding discerning Londoners some of the most delicious Indian food, Asma Khan has come a long way. What started out as a supper club in her own home grew into this Kingly Court space with a menu that pays homage to the Royal Mughlai and Nawabi school of cuisine (music to my ears!) through her upbringing in Calcutta. This all women team run the kitchen at Darjeeling Express serving out finger licking plates of Puchkas, Shikampuri Kababs, Prawn Malaikari and Mangsho. And not forgetting Khan’s legendary Biryani is one not to miss. This year see’s the release of her debut cook book, a Darjeeling Express delivery service and a Breakfast menu on the cards.
With a cult following, the restaurant is packed most days of the week so make sure to book your table in advance!
Kingly Court, Carnaby
London, W1B 5PW
“Spitalfields has a new Indian place you must try!” A friend mentioned sometime back. With a menu that reflects Indian home cooking this is family run space by Harneet Baweja, a passionate restaurateur who already has got his eye on his fourth restaurant which is due to open in a few months.
Gunpowder’s dishes are reflective of Baweja’s childhood memories in Calcutta. From the Aloo Chaat, Sigri grilled broccoli with a delicious mustard sauce; classic to Bengali cuisine and the Karwari soft shell crab. Every bite is a medley of stunning flavours, spices and including a variety of Indian street food and home cooking. Gunpowder holds its own effortlessly within the East London dining scene. Here’s a small restaurant with big flavours!
11, White’s Row
My meal at Hoppers in Soho was the perfect introduction to Sri Lankan cooking. So with a brand new space at St. Christopher’s Place (and might I add much bigger space seating 85 covers!) it’s fair to say I couldn’t wait to go back. I wasn’t disappointed. The menu includes all the Hoppers favourites from a variety of chutneys, sambol and dosas. Alongside the divine Bone marrow Varuval! And a selection of delectable karis including Lamb Shank, Crab Kari and Prawn Kari. Also a feasting menu of Jaffna Lamb Cutlets, Buriani and Cucumber Mooli Sambol.
Chef Suresh Pillai and Chef Renjith are making these south Asian flavours more main stream, creating an identity that stems from everyday meals hailing from the region of Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka. If there is one place that’s redefining how we view these flavours its here.
Hoppers St. Christopher’s Place
77, Wigmore Street
All the buzz for this Mayfair restaurant and the much deserved Michelin star in 2017. Jamavar is a culinary delight in every way for what brings together a celebration of Indian cooking on one menu. Chandni chowk aloo tikki, Malai stone bass tikka served with a swoonworthy avocado chutney and of course a nostalgic Dal Chawal Achar. These plates will make for the perfect introduction to a memorable meal. There are too many small plates on Jamavar’s menu for me to choose a favourite!
The main dishes are where I reminisce about my childhood meals at Jamavar Mumbai. With the legendary Jamavar Dal, Old Delhi Butter Chicken, Nalli Biryani and Macher Jhol. All hearty, rustic and full of flavour. Reserve Jamavar for a special occasion and discover the Michelin worthy food that is giving the cuisine a global platform.
8, Mount Street
A few years back, one balmy summer’s afternoon across the streets of colourful Columbia Road in London yours truly posed and pouted alongside the stunning Ravinder Bhogal for a Vogue feature. What struck me (apart from how chic and elegant she is!) was her tenacity and determination. Fast forward 2016 and all this came into play as she opened her stunning restaurant Jikoni.
Jikoni (Swahili for ‘kitchen’) is a culmination of Bhogal’s upbringing, travels and heritage. And I say what a stellar way to represent all of it through her cooking on the menu. A heritage that speaks volumes of East African, North Indian and British cooking. Expect to be surprised with dishes at Jikoni including prawn toast scotch eggs with banana ketchup and pickled cucumber, Lamb and harissa sausage rolls, chicken skewers with peanut sauce and papaya achar. Leave some space for the big plates at Jikoni, for me that’s where Bhogal really shines. From the seriously good Mutton Kemma Sloppy Joe, Green Bean and cashew thoran to a divine Lobster Khichdee with lemon rice, moilee sauce and coconut chutney it’s all worth the praise this Marylebone restaurant is receiving.
Where interiors go Jikoni has to be top of my list for the peach light toned space and table linen/ furnishing that makes you feel like you’re in a family home.
19-21 Blandford Street
Led by Chef Sameer Taneja; Talli Joe has created a medley of flavours and textures while celebrating the vibrance of communities that are a prevalent part of the menu. Expect small plates but a menu that truly gives you a taste of regions within one meal. Given Taneja’s experience this shouldn’t come as a surprise. There are so many fun elements on the menu including the chaknas, cocktails, half plates and the ‘talli’ element of it all. Although I do feel Talli Joe is pushing boundaries in Indian cuisine and deserves recognition for it. If there is one thing most definitely making a trip for it’s the Truffle Ghee Kulcha; this buttery beauty is stuffed with cottage cheese and topped with truffle ghee.
Also the Bengali Gol Baari Kosha Mangsho served with luchis, Goan Sorpotel with Sanna and a delectable Konkani Fish Curry all mouth watering and truly outstanding. Leave some space to taste the Black Gajar ka Halwa served with crushed peanut jaggery brittle.
152-156, Shaftesbury Avenue
London, WC2H 8HL
Indian cooking has truly come a long way. I have been in this profession for the last 15 years and nothing makes me burst with more pride than to see it represented in so many ways exploring communities of a country I grew up in. These talented women and men are doing something special at their restaurants, that will be a taste sensation of flavours, spices and a fantastic introduction to what’s in store for Indian and South Asian cuisine. So may I recommend you try one of these gems for your next spice craving? They just happen to be some of my all time favourites!