Most Indian restaurants are rated and slated in equal measure, making taking the true measure of a venue a confounding prospect and seeking somewhere special a Himalayas-tall order. You can but try, try and try a few more – but sadly, budget and belly-room both preclude us all from the sort of extensive exploration needed to find a definitive favourite.
Everyone with a set of vocal cords likes to make their opinion heard on where to find fantastic farsan; mine out the most marvellous mithai; or eat ethereal eeda. But an endorsement from an individual boasting a set of well-honed tastebuds should speak louder than the most pompous pronouncement from a boastful blogger.
With that in mind, I got it in my mind to garner gyaan from a selection of superfoodies on where they go to eat Indian food. From high-end to high street, light snack to full-blown feast, the brief was simple – tell me where you’d go, what you’d have there, and why you love it. The swift responses were anything but brief, and I valued the weighty words so much so I almost kept these gems hidden. These folks’ tips are worth their weight in gold – please treasure them accordingly.
Sejal Sukhadwala, food writer
Food writer and keen vegetarian cook Sejal offers insight into where to buy ingredients to really set your food on fire – and not just in terms of heat. In her opinion, fresh, quality ingredients will always announce themselves – and few retailers sell better stuff than Wembley’s diminutive Fudco.
You might have to jostle for room amongst the legions of loyal local fans, but it’s worth it for the vast array of spices, beans, lentils, rice and condiments. Sejal praises Fudco for its USP of grinding all types of flour – wheat, millet, sorghum and other regional, rustic grains on the premises.
It’s a great place to go if you’re looking to stock your storecupboards, but even better if you’re seeking to feed a crowd. Pop along with over half a tonne of your chosen grain and you’ll find Fudco will mill it for you. Sejal loves this service. ‘The feeling of taking home freshly milled flour, aromatic and still warm to the touch, always triggers memories of my grandma’s kitchen in India.’
Jay Ghosh, Head Chef, Potli
Jay is a man who understands the value of grinding his own. In fact, you’ll find Potli’s head chef up to his elbows in masala on a daily basis at his West London restaurant. And you might see him snacking, too – Jay is quite happy to sate his street food cravings within the confines of the ‘Indian market kitchen’.
But, when he does step out of the restaurant and onto the streets, Jay rates Sangheetha in Kenton for South Indian and, in Southall, Delhiwala for parathas and veggie khana; and the ‘slightly inconsistent’ Mirch Masala for Punjabi fare… provided it’s not having an off-day.
Asma Khan, supperclub host, Darjeeling Express
When prolific supperclub host Asma is having a rare day off, you might imagine she’d be sick of the sight of Indian food. Not a bit of it. Asma particularly loves to patronise places where she can try dishes so different to those in her own remit – and have a nosy round the kitchen and a good chat with the chef whilst she’s sampling.
Asma finds the service at the busy, no-nonsense Taste of India in East Ham surprisingly good – and rates the food too. She finds it hard to choose between the ‘stunningly impressive’ channa batura, which both tastes good and looks good (and, I’d wager, does you good, too); and the thin, crisp masala dosa where the accompanying sambhar and potato filling are both worth stuffing on. For pud, Asma’s notorious Bengali sweet tooth can’t get enough of the gulab jamun and dal halwa.
Urvashi Roe, food writer and blogger, Gujarati Girl
Speaking of sweets, this Gujarati Girl may have delighted the Great British Bake Off judges with delightful desserts – but when it comes to savouries, this lady’s all about Maru’s Bajia House in Wembley for ‘bloody brilliant bhajia, veg khana and bhel’ served forth with no fuss and few frills.
Next on the Wembley wander is Sakonis for a dosa fix. Growing up in a Gujarati household and only encountering garlic in chutney form, Urvashi finds food seasoned with the flavour thrillingly special. She picks up super snacks and sev, ganthiya and bussu from the lovely folks at Gayatri in KIngsbury, and can’t resist a mithai or few – mawa penda, bistra and fulkhaja.
If she’s wending her way to Watford, Urvashi picks up prashad at the Hare Krishna Mandir, where she and her husband had both their wedding and their daughters blessed. She’s yet to be blessed with a visit to Regency in Queensbury, though, although the takeaway food wooed her well – because her spouse and his home-boys simply won’t share their special male-bonding bhavan.
Cyrus Todiwala, Head Chef, Cafe Spice Namaste
Saravana Bhavan is a safe house for family man Cyrus. He doesn’t often drag the Todiwala clan out for Indian food off his own bat, but you can bet that you’ll find the family ensconced in one of the reliable down-home dosa joints on a trip to East Ham.
Such a friendly chap is also besieged by invites from fellow chefs, and will happily pig out on La Porte des Indes’ pork vindaloo which he declares ‘original and authentic, just like ours!’ Food at Mayfair’s Tamarind has been known to get Cyrus’ tongue tingling, as have dishes at Cinnamon Club, Benares, Quilon, and Chakra. In the opinionated chef’s opinion, these places deliver exactly what’s expected.
Vivek Singh, Executive Chef, Cinnamon group
You may expect from the light-hearted, playful menu at Cinnamon Soho that chef Vivek Singh is a big fan of street food – and you’d be spot-on. Accordingly, he rates 5 Hot Chillies on Rayners Lane for its proper Pakistani and Punjabi grub. He’s also known to tootle down to Tooting from time to time to mange at Mirch Masala. Vivek will gladly gather a group to share a full-beast feast at Tayyabs, where, he reveals, they’ll prepare a whole lamb for those who call in an advance order.
Kavita Favelle, food blogger, Kavey Eats
The mutton’s not dressed as lamb at the Delhi Grill in Chapel Market, Angel, where prolific foodie blogger Kavey enjoys it in rogan josh. She doesn’t eat out in too many Indian restaurants, but makes an exception for this place, where the spicing and cooking methods create dishes reminiscent of her mum’s cooking.
Could there be higher praise? Kavey loves that Delhi Grill’s chapatis are cooked and served fresh and hot on demand; that the menu offers sufficient choice without being overlong; and that a decent dinner is reasonably priced. She’d particularly recommend the sheekh kebabs, chickpea curry, and that marvellous mutton rogan josh.
Shamil Thakrar, Founder-Walli, Dishoom
It’s the simple places purveying simply marvellous fare that sneak up and snare Shamil’s heart and stomach. Shamil, one third of Dishoom’s founding fathers, supports Urvashi’s suggestion of Maru’s on Ealing Road for the ‘very awesome’ bhajjias. When it comes to thrilling grills, he’s all over Karahi King in Wembley, where he deems the lamb boti blooming brilliant.
Margaret and Manpreet Dhingra, Cinnamon Culture
Romance blooms for husband-and-wife team Margaret and Manpreet, who rekindle the romantic notion of authentic homestyle Indian treats on rare days off with trips to their favourite Southall spots . When they’re playing rather than working together, this duo seek good food without the need for big names, marketing strategies or fussy presentation. Just thinking of it gets Margaret’s belly rumbling.
M&M share a certain sweet affliction – the sugary spirals at Jalebi Junction, which has been there as long as Margaret can remember. Since marrying Manpreet, this polished Polish lady has developed a particularly Punjabi palate which, combined with her weakness for the candy of her homeland, renders her powerless to resist ‘the special allure of a sweet quickly, almost magically prepared fresh in front of your eyes.’
When eyeing up options for savoury snacking, Manpreet and Margaret hit Rita’s on The Broadway, where nothing beats the papri chaat. For Margaret, the wholly traditional atmosphere of Southall seasons the food with an extra spicy something – the simple pleasure of a lassi made with fresh fruit during mango season; chancing upon an aloo paratha with curd just like her husband’s Grandma made it.
Ravinder Bhogal, chef and author – aka ‘Cook in Boots‘
Ravinder is rather more ‘glamour puss’ (in boots) than ‘homely lass’, so it stands to reason that she’d choose to dine in a similarly classy setting. Fittingly, it’s Trishna where she parks her posterior for elegant Indian eats. Ravinder will be first in line when Karam Sethi opens the Gymkhana Club, but until then she celebrates the chef’s ‘super talent’ by eating at his Marylebone marvel.
Trishna is undeniably ‘high-end’ than ‘high street’, but Ravinder loves the fact that it elevates classic Indian dishes to something rather special without ‘pretentious fiddling’. She appreciates Sethi’s stunning way with fish, and admires his confidence to not mess around with a dish. Trishna has a fair bit of polish, but still allows this particular cook to fill her boots on thoroughly authentic fare.
Sumayya Jamil, food writer and chef, Pukka Paki
If you’re after authenticity, who better to ask than a woman whose life mission is to share and celebrate the traditions of her native Pakistan? Top of Sumayya’s selection is Aladin Kebabish in Hendon, where the luxury lies firmly with the food rather than the decor. She’d eat halwa puri for an indulgent weekend breakfast, and also rates the authentic nihari and haleem. If all-round indulgence is on the menu, Salloo’s in Knightsbridge ticks all the boxes.
If you’re in East London, Sumayya suggests Tayyabs or Lahore Kebab House, both of which are ‘less authentic but good as a quick stop-off for a Pakistani curry or tikka. Bundu Khan is a slightly more upscale establishment in the same area, specialising in bbq. It’s an offshoot of the Pakistani chain which lays claim to the original Karachi-style chicken tikka. If it’s a kebab that grabs your attention, try Raavi Kebab House on Drummond St, where the haleem’s also dreamy.
Mehrunnisa Yusuf, food blogger, Com Con Ella
Also pondering Pakistani food, blogger and baker Mehrunnisa Yusuf is only too glad to bring an Elephant into the room – specifically, the diminutive Brixton restaurant named for that animal. She opines that Imran turns out consistent home-style fare, and certainly afforded it a glowing review back in 2011.
Mehrunnisa and her husband are regulars at East London’s Lahore Kebab House. In agreement with Sumayya, they find not everything impresses – but do reckon the chicken-on-the bone with chana, palak paneer and tandoor roti are worthy of note. The bloke’s vote, meanwhile, goes to the ‘excellent’ Salloo’s in West London – the smart gaff Sumayya also stands by.
So, plenty of food for thought. Agree? Disagree? It’s clear this is a topic where people are hungry to share their views – what are yours? I’ve got a raging appetite to expand my Indian culinary treasure map of London still further. All tips will be gratefully gobbled up by me and many more!
- I’ve made this post part of @fionamaclean of London Unattached‘s blogger initiative, Fab First Fridays. Please check out some of the other blogs and posts involved – Look for this symbol: