May is a merry month for this Spice Scribe – along with the annual and much-anticipated Indian and South Asian Alchemy Festival on London’s Southbank, it brings my birthday and, in turn, all sorts of spicy eating, drinking, and general merry-making.
As spring segues into summer days, there’s simply no excuse not to experience the events bringing a little flavour of India to London. So go forth and feed your mind, body and soul…
Throughout May: A String of Pearls – East African edition at Babur
South London’s Babur is celebrating thirty years of business with a series of ‘String of Pearls’ menus. Themed around Indian-influenced cuisines, the East African edition features dishes inspired by Raj-era Indian migration to Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. Try Lamb ugali with berbere chickpea puree or Beef and green banana with injera.
4-30th May: Decadent vegetable desserts at Cinnamon Soho
Carrot cake might be a common treat in the West, but how many Indian desserts can you name that contribute to your five-a-day? At Cinnamon Soho, Vivek Singh‘s limited-edition, quirky quintet of veg-packed puds includes spiced pumpkin crème brûlée and hot beetroot halwa spring rolls with iced clove cream.
Just two days before Maunika Gowardhan releases her very first cookbook, ‘Indian Kitchen’, the eponymous ‘Cook in a Curry’ will host an intimate dinner at Soho’s legendary Groucho Club. If the thought of authentic, region-roving Indian dishes gets your stomach rumbling, you’re in luck – for that’s precisely what makes up the menu.
6th May: Incredible Spicemen pop-up at Assado
Who better to cook you an incredible spicy supper than the Incredible Spicemen? On 6th May, chefs Cyrus Todiwala and Tony Singh, who collectively go by that very title, will be pairing up for their first (and hopefully not last) pop-up, serving forth a four-course feast and some very fine wines. For more, click here.
Hold your nose and you won’t taste much. Flavour perception is largely down to smell, an idea which enticed Pratap Chahal to build a supperclub around scent. Intriguing eats from a fragrant-oils-and-essences-infused menu include sandalwood monkfish, pea relish & saffron crispbread, and vetiver tartlet, melon, poppy & fennel seed brittle.
Word to the wise – it already says ‘sold out’, but the wait list awaits…
It’s an intriguing title for this edition of Surrey Spice’s supperclub – referencing the royal courts of an India of long ago. Guests will be dining in a private home, not a palace, but will dine like kings on four starters, seven mains and three puds made to recipes plucked from the repasts of the Maharajas and Nizams.
10th May: 15th Anniversary Feast at Abi Ruchi
If you missed Vishu and can’t wait until Onam to eat a Keralite feast from a banana leaf, you’ll be over the moon to learn that Stoke Newington’s Abi Ruchi will be serving an all-you-can-eat affair to mark its fifteenth birthday. From pazham pori to payasam via pachadi and parippu, it promises to be an awfully authentic affair.
Spice-and-ingredient specialist World of Zing is well-known for inventive award-winning, barrel-aged and batched cocktails – and for Pritesh Mody’s sourcing of some indispensible, oft-elusive Indian tipples. Offerings at the pop-up bar include blackberry and tamarind spiced rum punch, Persian lime and nori margarita, Thums Up, and Limca – all to be sipped as you stare at a showcase of WoZ’s rare wares.
15-25th May: Alchemy food market at Southbank Centre
The crowds are hectic, the queues are long, the atmosphere is sizzling. This annual market is simply marvellous; occurring over an eleven-day stretch, it’ll surely stretch your stomach and tickle your tastebuds. Get a taste of Horn OK Please, Kothu Kothu, Dosa Deli, Baba G’s, and Papi’s Pickles, and try treats from Pritesh Mody’s speciality ingredient emporium, World of Zing.
16th May: August Indian Supperclub
Meghna & Menaka return with May menu as full to bursting with fine food as you will be when you waddle from your hosts’ West London home. The sixteen-item Bihari superfeast features kebabs and moti roti prepared to the pair’s grandmother’s recipes, and ends with sweet, seasonal Indian mangoes.
23rd-25th May: Halal Food Festival
This year, the Halal Food Festival is heading for the great outdoors. On Ealing Common, punters will get the rare chance to eat all kinds halal-friendly foodstuffs, watch celebrity chef demos, and take part in masterclasses. The food might be exclusively halal, but the event is inclusive – warmly welcoming all cultures.
Despite the name, this event takes place not in a dark cinema but Curry Leaf Cafe’s dining room, and all the theatre is provided by the food inspired by favourite films; as created by CLC’s own Kanthi Kiran Thamma, Jeremy’s Restaurant’s Jimmy Gray, and The Set Restaurant’s Semone Bonner.
30th May: Chin’s Kitchen’s High Chai
Chintal Kakaya’s mad baking skillz are too broad for a menu merely covering one cuisine; so her all-veg High Chai fuses flavours from India, East African-accented Gujarati cuisine, and a bit of Brit. Proceeds are destined for the close-to-Chin’s-heart Hillingdon Autistic Care Society – given what’s on the table, the amount should be sizeable.
Various dates throughout May: The Spice Angel’s cookery classes
Whether you’re determined to master street eats like Bombay frankies and batata vada, Brindian curryhouse classics, or the art of home-made paneer to use in traditional vegetable dishes, ‘Spice Angel’ Rani has a class to suit and something devilishly good up her sleeve – catering amply to both veg and non-veg students.
This intimate North London half-day crash course is small on numbers and big on hands-on participation. Starting with a Spice Masterclass, you’ll also cook kebabs, bhuna chicken, Goan fish and learn to make rice to really entice. Love what you’ve learned? Good, because you’ll head home with enough food for two.
15th & 31st May: Jenius Social’s Indian Street Food class
Street food is social by its very nature, as are Jenius Social’s cooking classes. Led by the resident expert head chef, you’ll learn to handle knives (and yourself) in the kitchen, marinate meat like a master, and bring balance to your flavour combinations. The evening ends with a shared-feast-cum-spicy-social-mixer.
Master the contents of a masala dabba with Ren’s renowned whistlestop tour through an Indian spice box before commencing the cooking part of this half-day course. Along with the host’s chicken-curry-with-the-most, you’ll get to savour saag aloo, vegetable pakoras, and chapattis – all created with your own fair hands and hard labour.
29th May: Masterclass with Alfred Prasad
Chef Alfred’s approach to Indian food is a refreshing blend of respect for tradition, the desire to expose under-represented niche subcontinental cuisines, and the impulse to innovate and render age-old recipes relevant to today’s novelty-loving diners. The chance to cook a three-course banquet under his steer is a treat to be relished.
8th May-27th June: Beyond Bollywood at The London Palladium
Mumbai-made and now London-landed, Beyond Bollywood is set to get a rave reception. The technicolour tale is structured around protagonist Shaily Shergill’s journey to India in order to revive her family’s failing theatre by staging show as splendid as the performance in which the story is depicted – written, choreographed and directed by Rajeev Goswami.
14-20th May: A Passage to India exhibition
This week-long show hosts works from artists Lucille Nesbitt-Comaskey, Jann Singh. Dorothy Morris and Allison Rudd-Mumford; the paintings depicting the diverse lives and landscapes of India as interpreted by four individuals each with a distinctive style and their own interpretations of the themes and subjects.
Art that smells as good as it looks? You read that right – for this spice-led show, award-winning artist and food historian Tasha Marks of AVM Curiosities has used World of Zing’s richly-hued raw ingredients to paint pictures conveying their origins; using antique Indian woodblocks to create very contemporary canvases.
21st-24th May: Nirbhaya at Southbank Centre
There’s no doubt that the dramatisation of the Nirbhaya story won’t be an easy watch, but it will certainly be a powerful piece of theatre. The creation of acclaimed playwright and director Yaël Farber, the play addresses the wider theme of gender-based violence; removing shame and potentially stimulating debate and change.
22nd-25th May: Bollywood Fever at Bargehouse
Just a scamper up the Southbank from all of the Alchemy’s festivals activities you’ll find Bargehouse going barmy for Bollywood. Over four days, over twenty films will be screened, with a fine fringe where you’ll find Desi dance, streetfood, music, mendhi and more. Expect golden oldies, cult classics, and modern movies.
23rd May: Beyond Roots at Bridgewater Hall
East meets West when it comes to multi-instrumentalist Rekesh Chauhan’s musical education. Having shared stage space with the likes of Ravindra Jain and Talvin Singh, the modern classicist is now celebrating the launch of his new breakthrough solo record, Beyond Roots. He’ll be tinkling the ivories, with Kousic Sen on tabla.
23rd May: Shreya Ghoshal live at Southbank Centre
Fans of Bollywood song hits might know Shreya Ghoshal’s vocals from movies including Devdas and Jism. As part of the Alchemy Festival series, the lyricist will reprise her previous sell-out concerts at the Royal Festival Hall; additionally meeting-and-greeting those who shell out for top-whack tickets.
29-30th May: Dirty Paki Lingerie at Richmix
A controversial title for a controversial production: an engaging play focusing on the post 9/11 Muslim Pakistani-American experience through the lives of six variously-aged females. Billed by The Wall Street Journal as stereotype-shattering, previous stagings have sold out all over the world.
2nd-4th May: Drawing Mudras at Richmix
Inspired by a Rabari embroidery made in Kutch, Gujarat, with workshops led by artist Sarah Lawton, this concise exhibition and event series focuses on expressive gesture as an art form. Works depict the ‘mudras’ (Sanskrit hand gestures for wellbeing) through prints, drawings, and embroidery; whilst ‘hands-on’ workshops are literally that.
Fancy a curry and a craft brew or two with Hardeep Singh Kohli? Your wish is my command – or it will be if you can make it to Edinburgh. The menu at this venue is curated by the man himself, and on this evening he’ll be in da house serving up quiz questions, quite probably pukka pints from a changing selection, and unlimited cracking curries.
The inimitable Angus Denoon is taking his trolley, bells, whistles, and all sorts of Kolkata chaat across to the Emerald Isle; kicking off his Irish adventures with a food-fuelled screening of his street food film at Dublin’s Fumbally Stables. From there, he’ll head to the Sunday Fusion market, Mahon Point Farmers Market, and the Ballymalloe Food and Literature Festival; dropping into the bars and combing the beaches that take his fancy along the way.
8th & 9th May: Sharing Stories – Dishoom at Asia House
Ever attended one of Dishoom’s spellbounding storytellings with the inimitable Vayu Naidu? At Asia House on Friday night, you can catch her in conversation on the topic of tale-telling, whetting your appetite for cocktails and Seema Anand’s seventeenth-century story. The Saturday morning session is for families; involving face-painting, mithai-munching, workshop-participating, story-listening, and encounters with wandering characters from myth and legend.
13-25th May: Alchemy Festival at Southbank Centre
Now in its sixth incarnation, Alchemy’s annual multi-arts showcase has cast its expansive net even wider to incorporate exclusive performances, exhibitions, and pioneering events. With a wealth of free and ticketed events spanning endless genres, the best thing I can do is point you to the programme.
16-17th May: Jaipur Literature Festival at Southbank Centre
Despite the exotic name, this lively litfest is occurring right here in London. Over two days, visitors will delve deep into not just the written word, but also history and heritage, oral and performing arts, dialogue and debate, Bollywood and politics. Attendees be welcomed with music and see the event out in style with a party.
20th-21st May: Let It Burn – The Science of Spice at Southbank Centre
This cool interactive workshop promises to answer all your burning questions about all things chilli. Co-hosted by Dr. Fiona Smith of King’s College London and World of Zing founder Pritesh Mody, it involves a tasting of rare and red-hot examples from WoZ’s range and a prior private viewing of the co-located Aromatic Art Exhibition.
Avoid half term headaches and ennui – at least for a day – with Shared City’s fun, family-friendly India-themed experience at London’s Bhavan Centre. Incorporating and introducing authentic South Asian music, dance, and costume, there’s also the opportunity to order and enjoy a splendidly-spicy lunch on-site.
- To read about the best Indian eats in London from the mouths of chefs and experts, click here
- To read about last year’s South Asian Alchemy festival on the Southbank, click here
- To read about more cookery experiences at The Spice Monkey cookery school, click here
- To read about more Indian desserts and sweets, click here
- To read more about the Incredible Spicemen pop-up at Assado, click here