With slight adjustments regarding number and order of play, it’s safe to say that many Indian Christmases may well comprise the following;
12 chais a-brewing
11 dals a-soaking
10 farsan frying
9 bangles jangling
8 cousins chatting
7 pooris puffing
6 aunties dancing
5 Tony Singhs…
4 cross words
3 fresh naans
2 rubber gloves
…And a partridge in a curry (or, for aforementioned Tony Singhs ‘a chota dram of whisky’)!
I know I’d be happy with that little lot. Well, unless I got stuck with the rubber gloves and the mounds of washing up. Or was on the receiving end of those ‘cross words’. But the rest sounds like my kind of celebration. Far more than the fa-la-la-di-dah of the Queen’s speech and the faff of tiresome turkey.
So I’ll be slipping in a little spice where I can; planning parties where I know the munchies will be more ‘chatpata’ and less ‘cardboardy canape’; giving gifts that leave as good a taste in the recipient’s mouth as rasmalai; and standing over a bubbling cauldron of marvellously masala-ed mulled wine like one of the witches in Macbeth – ‘(Dishoom) Dhoble, Dhoble, masala muddle; chilli burn and chai bubble!’
Over the next few weeks, you’ll get the gyaan in my three-part guide: Indian restaurants, exotic gourmet gifts, and recipes for both traditional subcontinental and modern fusion festive dishes. Forget ‘deck the halls’; this year, I implore you to ‘Desi’ them instead…
24 places to eat, drink and be Desi. One for every single day of Advent!
Cafe Spice Namaste
What would you expect from one half of The Incredible Spicemen than a witty, warm menu? A trio of them, perhaps – Cyrus’ variously featuring Bombay Jumping Chicken Samosas, roast lamb leg Gymkhana-style, the ‘Indian Caesar salad’, Currimbhoy, and single-cru chocolate kulfi.
Cyrus is vocal in support of British turkey, and the meat appears in tikka hariyali, chilli fry. Soggy sprouts are replaced with brilliant Brussels cooked with carrots in a foogath. Even salmon vol-au-vents put in an appearance, made magical with superbly-spiced fish and Cornish crab.
I do like Dishoom. And Dishoom does like Christmas. So much so that the founder-wallahs sack staff who don’t get sufficiently into the spirit (not really, don’t sue me Shamil). Merriment ensues largely thanks to a cracking cocktail list including Mulled Bramble, Chai Eggnog, and Winter Pimms. Choose Shoreditch, because the festive verandah’s grander than usual.
Even if you’re not blotto enough to be seeing double, the feasts are pretty well-portioned. Turkey Raan with all the trimmings means just that; Bombay tatties, masala greens, cranberry chutney. The feast’s preceded by a signature snackerel and followed by Christmas pud slicked with spiced-up brandy butter. Oof.
If you don’t want to be within 50 paces of that blasted bird, Cinnamon Culture is the place for you. This year, the restaurant’s trimmed turkey from party menus completely. Little matter – platters provide all the festive cheer you need to get things started, followed by mains like masala tilapia or lamb Chettinad.
All the turkeys in Kent can breathe a sigh of relief on Christmas Day, too – it’s peppers, lambs and rabbits that need to watch out, the latter served in a festive traditional Syrian Christian stew. Start and end with a sumptuous, scrumptious selection of starters and sweet dishes to share. Christmas cocktails are (tequila) slammin’!
Salaam Namaste & Namaaste Kitchen
That Sabbir Karim’s a busy bloke – patron of a pair of places and recently scooping ‘Best Innovative Chef’ at the 2013 Asian Curry Awards. All that action hasn’t stopped him masterminding merry menus for both tyhe newly-relaunched Salaam Namaste and sister venue Namaaste Kitchen, mind.
Salaam’s India-roving repast includes Mumbai bhelpoori, Delhi-style butter chicken, and Parsi jardaloo. There’s a nod to turkey with a tikka and a jungle curry, and, for the game, venison and beetroot kebabs. Christmas is big business in Goa – and Sabbir’s mackerel Riechard and spiced seabass from that small state are the business in Millman Street. Warm gajar halwa is a wonder.
Over in Camden, Namaaste Kitchen’s Christmas Day diners will be digging into a 6-course tasting menu commencing with kadhi scallops and closing with tandoori pineapple. Standout dishes on the trio of tempting party menus include Anglo-Indian chicken livers with idli, signature fig-and-nut-stuffed mushroom, ‘toddy shop’ kingfish and gosht shatkora, flavoured with the divine Bangladeshi citrus. For vegetarians, mango and green banana ‘moru kachiathu’ is vital.
You’ll quite possibly feel the size of the elephant Babur’s name so closely resembles after sampling the party menu. Starter platters let you sample some of the restaurant’s best-loved dishes, including a piquant prawn trio, tamarind quail and garam, garam goat pattice.
Babur feels its Assamese duck needs wrapping as well as the presents, bundling it in banana leaves and serving with sticky rice. 100-hour shoulder of lamb marinates for so long it almost needs its own advent calendar. If you can slide in afters after all that, Christmas pud kulfi is mercifully light. Come Christmas Day, the fulsome feasting begins afresh with yet another banquet.
Decide just how precious your palate is, because Potli is putting on Platinum, Gold and Silver menus. House-made pickles and pappads get tongues tingling for all-comers. Sharing starters are sure to jingle bells, featuring chicken 65, chilli-garlic squid and paneer-stuffed peppers. If you won’t miss meat, rattan manjusha kofta is a mustn’t-miss main. Christmas pud’s good, but shrikhand is sublime.
If you like to anticipate your feasts, have a peep at Potli’s 48-hours-notice-required Christmas Roast Menu. Festive murgh masallam, tandoor-roasted seabass , or British Turkey tikka masala will do any duo, whilst double-marinated sikandari raan using a whole leg of English lamb serves a ravenous octet – gather a gang.
Veggies tend to draw the short straw at Christmas – not at Prashad. In fact, carnivores won’t feel short-changed, either; this place has pulled off a real cracker with its Christmas menus. Starter platters are personally portioned, so there’s no need to pinch the last pethi or piece of pattra when no-one’s watching.
You’ll have to talk about how to split the chaat, though, and the triffic trio of sharing mains. On the side, bright beetroot rice looks as festive as it tastes, and the flaked coconut ice cream topping of the spiced winter mousse resembles freshly driven snow. Worra feast – and not a nut roast in sight.
Birmingham’s not all about the balti, y’know- it’s also home to innovative Indian, Itihaas. The mantra ‘indulgence is paramount’ should indicate you’ll get a right royal reception fit for the Maharajah (or Maharani) you know you are. Gorgeous geegaws gathered from the subcontinent evoke 18th and 19th century India, whilst the festive menu transports tastebuds.
Start with spiced cod, kulmi kebab, stuffed ‘shrooms, or even spiced turkey and cranberry samosas. Mains rove the regions; from karahi gosht to Malabar prawns, via makhani paneer and that beautiful Hyderabadi dish of aubergines and potatoes in a rich sesame-tamarind gravy. For afters, forget flaming the pud; Itihaas prefers to set light to sweet samosas crammed with chocolate and coconut.
It might be a bit brisk down on the pier, but Brighton’s beloved Indian Summer offers Christmas diners a wonderfully warm welcome. Co-owner Minesh is hot on avoiding the curryhouse clichés, favouring flavour over fire, goodness over grease. Familiar festive fare is fused with authentic Indian flavours to yield dishes as invigorating as a quick dip in the sub-zero sea – think smoked salmon with pickled mooli and beetroot; duck with cherry balsamic and chai masala, and jaffa choc cheesecake that you’ll pronounce yours, not Terry’s.
It’s a very special Christmas for Gymkhana – the very first festivities for Karam Sethi’s ecstatically-received restaurant. Lunchtime menus are a little more laid back; crunch on cassava chips as you contemplate plates like duck egg bhurji, lobster, and Malabar paratha or the seemingly-eponymous turkey tikka – here served with masoor lentil salsa – to start.
Game is the main thing at Gymkhana. An ‘optional’ side of bheja with kheema pao is non-negotiable, whilst any partridge would surely be happier in pepper fry than a pear tree. With floral, creamy and fruity choices for dessert, you’ll finish your food declaring Gymkhana’s definitely come up roses. The dinnertime menu is even more of a Christmas cracker, offering seven splendid servings and fine wine for those inclined.
La Porte des Indes
Dining at La Porte in amongst the palm trees, next to the waterfall, under the domed ceiling window is always a little bit magical, never more so than at Christmas. The place perfectly conjures colonial Pondicherry, and Mehernosh Mody’s gorgeous French-tinged grub lives up to the sumptuous surroundings.
Samosas filled with salmon or beetroot will fill you with cheer, pheasant’s rather pleasant, and adventurous sorts will snap up tandoori crocodile. Mains offer more exotica; venison, guinea fowl, and a sublime quail biryani, with Coorgi-style jackfruit and a Konkani wild mushroom and young coconut dish for veggies. The ‘morel’ of this story? La Porte’s spice is very, very nice.
It’s nice to share chatpata chaat with your chatter at Christmas, and Imli Street’s snacky bits and bobs are the perfect plates to pick at whilst you sip tipples in the bar. Choose from samosa chaat, pau bhaji, dahi papdi, aloo tikki ragra, bhel puri or masala kaleji – the liver lover’s choice. Or order the lot.
If you’re seeking something more substantial, take a table and try a triple-tiered sharing stand laden with little dishes – a far tastier alternative to a Christmas tree, and just as decorative. All come complete with yellow dal, rice and naan, and a platter of puds. If you’re planning to party hearty, bolt on a cocktail ‘package’.
It might be Bizarre by name, but there’s nothing weird and everything wonderful about the at the eccentric, well-heeled Mayfair marvel. Visit this Christmas and you’ll find yourself feasting not only on the refined pan-Indian cuisine, but the offbeat decor to boot.
Starters might include a trio of Delhi-style chaats, with succulent butter pepper garlic prawns, kesari elachi lamb, and the wonderfully lyrical paneer tak-a-tak forming the main meal. If you’re a fan or rich, umami flavours, you’ll want to dive into a vast vat of the 14-hour signature black dal.
You won’t find Anirudh Arora’s cuisine on the Grand Trunk Road this Christmas, but on Great Queen Street in Covent Garden. Festive menus are a little bit different and a lot decadent; smoked lamb kebabs topped with masala scrambled eggs; sweet potato cakes with gooseberry salsa; grilled kingfish with chilli – and that’s just for starters.
Mains are equally enticing – Indian squash and prune kofte, seabass in a Bengali-style mustard sauce, arbi gosht with cashew gravy. Your Christmas party will end pretty sweetly at Moti Mahal, ‘cause you’ll be chomping chocolate pista mousse, gajar halwa cigars and toffee-rose petal rabri.
Dine like you’re at a down-home dhabba with this Christmas menu – a nice little number that affords you a tandoori trio followed by a bit of a banquet – chicken karahi, rogan gosht, chicken tikka masala, aloo gobi, tarka dhal, channa, and bhindi, served with rice and naan or roti, salad and raita. At £15pp, it’s cheap as chips but oh so much lovelier. Want pud too? Pop an extra pound on the table and it’s yours for the scoffing.
Carom’s all-a-twinkle Tea Light Lounge puts tipplers into a merry mood from the get-go; and with a cocktail list comprising in excess of 200 elixirs, it’s likely the merriment will continue throughout your meal. Chef Vishnu’s value-for-money Christmas lunch and dinner offer both value-for-money and more than a little opulence.
The festive repast ticks the ‘turkey tikka’ box, in or out of a salad, but aside from that there’s little ‘Christmas’ contrivance. Instead, gorge on Goan squid, crab wada, and bhel puri to begin; followed by fishy fancies like Kerala seabass and fish Amritsari, or more meaty mains including nalli gosht, and murgh sagwalla. Chocolate walnut pud is a fine finale.
There’s a nice little Welsh accent to Purple Poppadom’s festive khana. The celebrated Cardiff cantina is celebrating Christmas with a spicy spread beginning with bursting bombs of Bombay chaat. Rabbit potli pastries and basil-infused tandoori chicken keep things interesting, whilst ‘salad caws gafr’ (goats’ cheese salad) and chicken ‘Garlleg Llosgi’ betray Purple Poppadom’s patriotism. The ‘chomosa’, meanwhile, is a cracking collision of cultures.
The 1875 proudly serves ‘Indian food cooked by Indians’, and also proudly explores local Yorkshire produce to create brand-new Anglo-Indian traditions. This Christmas, there’s turkey tikka (this time Southern-style), local game pakoras, a trio of Goan Christian dishes, and even the full bacon-wrapped turkey roast, Anglo-Indian-style. Kulfi comes mince-pie flavoured; ice cream deep-fried.
If you like spice and you’re a Scot, you’ve got to make it Mithas this Christmas. The Edinburgh eaterie manages to modernise ancient Indian dishes whilst keeping them tied tightly to tradition – a fine balance too few can do. Dishes have donned their most refined festive finery for a tasting menu featuring an awesome foursome of cracking courses.
Tandoori turkey and sigri-grilled brinjal salad, or a fennel-and-saffron monkfish Caesar-salad-style set-up set you up for a feast. Sugarcane sorbet is a sweet little interlude, preparing the palate for a tasty main like venison kadai served with spicy sprouts. Mithas’ Christmas pud is touted as ‘not-so’ traditional – Indian-spiced and butterscotch-sauced.
- For menus, needful specifics and booking, visit mithas.co.uk
If budget takes a backseat to sitting in the lap of luxury, Atul’s ritzy restaurant is the Christmas cracker where you’ll want to pull off a party. All three of the festive menus are sure to amuse your bouche, and, indeed, all kick off with one of those little mouthfuls, continuing with a collection of the distinctive, deconstructed delicacies for which the chef is so well-regarded.
And happily, you’ll still be up for a hearty party after your dinner. Benares banishes the post-meal maladies so common after a big Indian banquet; Atul’s restrained presentation and light hand with seasonings and sauces ensuring you’ll leave feeling as sprightly as Rudolph rather than as stuffed as Santa’s sack.
Cinnamon Soho, Cinnamon Kitchen, & Cinnamon Club
Cinnamon Soho is offering myriad menu options enabling revellers to revel in chef Raju’s regional delicacies – veg patties with Bengali kasaundi, Rajasthani lamb and corn curry, Southern-style duck. Be sure to sample Soho’s signature bonkers Brindian bits, including Bangla Scotch eggs and garam-masala steamed pud. Christmas Day delivers a five-course, multi-dish melange.
Over in the City, Abdul’s in the Cinnamon Kitchen cooking up four festive menus plus a cracking canapé collection for finger-food fans. The creative chef has added a twist of truffle to pau bhaji, Kashmiri-ed up Kentish lamb shanks, and decided Goan spices are by far the best sauce for the goose. Christmas Day lunch starts with a ‘Spruce Loose’ Martini, and marches on to three courses to have you ho ho ho-ing all the way home.
The Cinnamon Club’s Christmas food is as inimitable and innovative as it is all year round, applying rarified Western-style presentation principles to traditional Indian tastes. From numerous set menus, ‘A Taste of India’ takes guests on a gustatory tour of a lifetime – or at least a lunchtime. On Christmas Day, it’s safe to suppose Vivek’s five-course feast will trump home-cooked turkey.
Stay tuned; next week, I’ll be talking the niftiest gifts and Desi decorations….