If you’re reading this blog and love Indian food, it’s likely your favourite festive fare is a nicely-spiced mince pie and masala-spiked mulled wine, and equally probably you stuff your stuffing with more aromatics than the standard sage and onion. Once you’ve tuned your tastebuds into Indian flavours, a tedious turkey dinner has as much appeal as a last-minute supermarket sweep on Christmas Eve (i.e. Very Little).
Far more appetising are the interesting Indian eats on offer all over London this December. I offer you my lowdown on what’s on offer everywhere from right posh restaurants to squat’n’gobble street food stalls; pop-ups to godowns. Flavour fans, fear not: even if Christmas Day should see you munching a lacklustre lunch, the rest of December can be delicious.
Aah, (Almost) The Only Indian I Will Cross The River For™. Always relishing regional cuisine, Cinnamon Culture’s Christmas menus are made up of dishes drawn from all over India. Hearty party platters include Rajasthani laal maas ka sula and clove-smoked Kandahari lamb chop, followed by a feast for the table to tuck into. Ayurvedic celery soup with almonds gets Christmas Day lunch off to a light start, building up to a fine finale of spiced bread and butter pud.
So this is sold out, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t keep an eye out lest suddenly someone can’t make it to Pratap Chahal’s feast fit for kings on 19th Dec. Carefully researched from historic cookbooks, the Maharajah’s meal is delivered with all the style you’d expect from a chef who’s done time in Michelin kitchens. I know few who’d rather taste turkey than ‘camel’s hump kebabs’, Emperor Shah Jehan’s last stew, and quirky quinoa kheer.
It’s no secret that supperclub host Rajiv Kc likes a knees-up. Just as well-known is that fact that he cooks cracking Nepalese food with or without a glass in his hand. On 20th December, guests will be given a cocktail masterclass by mixologist David Hamilton, then filled up with four courses of quality Nepali nosh; each accompanied by a perfectly-paired tipple. Yes, momos are on the menu; and yes, you’ll leave more stuffed than the turkey.
The Khaadraas Club was welcoming diners as if Cafe Spice Namaste was their own living room when most supperclub hosts were still in nappies. The festive edition of Cyrus and Pervin Todiwala‘s intimate monthly communal feast on 22nd December is guaranteed to get even the Scroogiest amongst you firmly in the mood for a cracking Christmas; perfectly pairing Parsi bhonu with various Glengoyne single malts.
Like to be beside the seaside come Christmas? Then a seasonal spread at Euan Sey and Kanthi Thamma’s Brighton-based Curry Leaf Cafe should suit. Try dishes from Indian communities who celebrate Christmas: the tongue-twisting, tastebud-tickling Keralite aad ularthiyathu, or Goa’s Portuguese-influenced chicken cafreal. Cinnamon and carrot halwa ice cream from local folks Boho Gelato is an unmissable ending.
Goans know a thing or two about celebrating Christmas. The state has a large Catholic community and a cuisine that still shows plenty of Portuguese influence. At Cyrus Todiwala’s Assado, festive fare includes rissois – diminutive breaded pancakes filled with creamy prawns; addictive pickled octopus; and a typically searing beef curry whose gravy is flavoured with butternut berries and tart tamarind. Multi-layered bebinca is a singularly splendid sweet.
If you love the idea of an Indian Christmas feast with a little bit of Brit, then yabba dhaba do book a spot at Arti and Upma’s Walthamstow pub pop-up on 22nd December. Cinnamon and aniseed chicken tikka ticks the ‘seasonal seasoning’ box, whilst sides with your Mangalorean roast meat include spiced-up sprouts and curry leaf mash. Even the bread’n’butter pudding comes with cardamom.
If you’re after atmosphere then there are few who offer as much ambiance as La Porte des Indes. The sweeping stairways, 40-foot stone waterfall and plant-packed Jungle Bar feel festive year round, but never so much as at Christmas time. Chef Mehernosh Mody‘s menus allow you to sample an extensive selection of the restaurant’s regional dishes, from Parsi fish to Pondicherry aubergine. Don’t miss the drinks.
Named for its proprietress Asha Bhosle, the legendary Indian playback singer Cornershop offered an ode to with their own nineties song hit, ‘Brimful of Asha’, the Birmingham restaurant is a jolly place to Celebrate Chrimbo.There’s a trio of party menus featuring a generous amount of diverse North Indian nosh, which, combined with the killer cocktail list, will have you wishing it really could be Christmas every day.
Throughout December, Baba G is bringing ‘Bubbles, Baubles & Bhangra’ to Brixton’s Market House with Christmassy canapes for crowds: surf’n’turf or pakora platters that are great for eight or more revellers to relish. On Sundays, try Bhangra Burger’s ‘Royal Raj Roasts’; tikka turkey crown,with bhangra bhangers and chai-spiced cranberry chutney is surely the most seasonal -and therefore the only – option.
Just off the culinary wasteland that is Leicester Square lies Salt’n Pepper – a famous Pakistani chain whose London outpost also offers Indian Punjabi cuisine. This Christmas, canapes, a glass of fizz and a full 3-course feast will leave you with change from £30. Traditionalists will be particularly pleased by turkey tamatar; those of a pescatarian persuasion by the salmon and paneer khichri with dal shorba, boiled egg’n raita.
You’ll thank me for making some noise about Horn Please’s pitch at the Southbank Centre‘s Christmas market – a rollicking riverside bazaar that’s taken up residence for the remainder of the year. Tummy-warming tucker from the desi street food stars includes dosas, masala fries, and awesome anda rolls. Should Sandhya or Gaurav pour a peg of Baileys into your masala chai, your cockles will be all the warmer.
If you go down to Dishoom’s Godown today (or indeed either of the other branches) be sure of a big surprise. ‘Cause every Bombaywalla that ever there was will gather there for certain because the team is doing Christmas in its own inimitable style. That means flamin’ tasty flaming turkey raan, cranberry-chilli chutney, masala winter greens and Bombay spuds… basically a big old party on a plate.
Bombay bonus! For Naved Nasir’s gunpowder potatoes recipe (pictured), click here
Take heed: Gymkhana’s elegant ambiance might be somewhat disrupted by you shouting out crappy cracker jokes to the other people in your party – so save it. But the food alone will make you merry, especially if you opt for the 5-course festive game menu which features a partridge not in a pear tree but a pepper fry. Forget mulled wine – it’s all about the aroma unleashed when the pastry on the wild munjac biryani is pierced.
- Fancy cooking up Christmas like Britain’s best Indian chefs? Get the recipes here
- After Indian-inspired gift inspiration? Click here
- How can you add a sprinkle of South Asian spice to your festive feasting? Menu tips here
- For an exhaustive round-up of regional Indian Christmas recipes, click here
- To learn about how Christmas is celebrated by different Indian communities, click here
Horn Please image credit – @southbankcentre on Twitter