Corners in London that are deliciously Indian
Vir Sanghvi lists his Top 5 Indian restaurants in Britain. Don’t go looking for lager’n’chicken tikka masala in London.india Updated: Jul 31, 2010 22:24 IST
Vineet Bhatia (photo below) is the world’s most successful Indian chef with Michelin stars for this restaurant and for his operation in Geneva. Bhatia left the Oberoi group to go to London and win acclaim at Zaika, the first Indian restaurant to win a Michelin star. Zaika was owned by Claudio Pulze who owns restaurants all over London and finally Bhatia tired of working for him. He set up Rasoi, his own operation, as a small gastronomic restaurant and has consistently won acclaim for his innovative cuisine and his mastery of Indian flavours. Bhatia is now a celebrity chef with restaurants all over the world but Rasoi remains his showpiece.
The Bombay Brasserie
Perhaps the most influential of them all. The Brasserie was the first truly upmarket Indian restaurant in London. (Shezan, a Pakistani restaurant, was expensive and well regarded in the 70s but was never trendy and really upmarket.) Owned by the Taj group, it aimed for the clientele of such then-trendy London restaurants as Langan’s Brasserie and very quickly became the place to be seen at. In terms of food, it was also a breakthrough because it served Bombay — rather than Punjabi — cuisine and included such starters as sev puri and invented new dishes like tandoori scallops, which have now been passed on to a new generation of chefs.
Owned by the Panjabi sisters, Camellia and Namita, along with Namita’s ex-banker husband Ranjit Mathrani, this was the first Indian restaurant to win such awards as Restaurant of the Year (across all cuisines), get rave reviews from London critics, attract a celebrity clientele and win a Michelin star, all within a year or so of opening. The Panjabis own other restaurants in London, some of which are arguably better (Chutney Mary, for instance) and also run the wildly successful Masala Zone chain of low-priced Indian street food eateries, but I suspect that they will be remembered for the high wattage glamour of Amaya and for the way in which the restaurant has re-interpreted traditional Indian kababs.
Not taken very seriously by critics these days but hugely influential in its time. When Gaylord opened in London’s Mortimer Street in 1966, it was one of the few genuinely Indian restaurants in a sea of East Pakistani (Bangladesh was created in 1971) curry houses. Other restaurants had installed tandoors before, but it was Gaylord that really popularised tandoori cuisine in Britain.Its menu comprised the sort of Punjabi restaurant cuisine that was popular in India in the 1960s (chicken tikka, lamb pasanda, keema matar) but was largely unknown in Britain in that era. If Gaylord had not popularised tandoori cuisine in Britain, the Brits may never have discovered the chicken tikka and its many bastard offspring.
Another Taj group operation run by chef Sriram (photo below) who made his reputation at Bangalore’s Karavalli. Sriram is one of the most talented and innovative Indian chefs cooking in Britain, but has been hamstrung by both location (at the Taj-owned St James Court hotel at the edge of Victoria) and décor (the restaurant has a truly hideous room). Nevertheless, the excellence of his South Indian food (some of it re-interpreted for Anglo-Saxon sensibilities) has overcome these disadvantages and Quilon finally has a Michelin star (many years too late). This is the best South Indian food in England and Quilon would be a success were it to serve food of this calibre in any Indian city.