There are two types of guides on good Indian restaurants in London. The first lists different restaurants in different parts of the city – and of course the user assumes that these are the best examples of Indian cooking in the capital. The other, which perhaps is more capable of leading the user to ever newer discoveries, tells you how to spot a good Indian restaurant; and explains some of the things you may expect to encounter inside.
The first thing to say is that there are dozens of different cuisines in India – so some restaurants stick only to one while others try to cherry-pick from across the board. In general terms, it is a good sign when a restaurant chooses to cook from only one region – this often means that the chefs are all from that region, and that the food is therefore being cooked by people who know and love it.
Some good Indian restaurants in London do cook food from varying regions. In order to do this with total success, it is really necessary for such a restaurant to employ chefs from all the regions it cooks from; allowing each native chef to prepare his or her native dishes for the customers.
In reality this is not always the case: however, plenty of good Indian restaurants feature chefs who are able to learn the food of other regions and cook it with aplomb.
There is a basic distinction in Indian food between “dining” food and “street” food. The flavors may cross over, as many of the ingredients. One, however, is designed to be enjoyed in a home or palace environment, at leisure and with a great many courses. The other (the street food, of course) is intended to provided flavor and nutrition quickly, often to workers in the middle of their day.
There are both types of restaurant in London – and when you know where to go, or what to look for, a lot of them are good. Indeed, on any list of good Indian restaurants in London you will always see at least one Masala Zone (which is a group set up in various popular locations to provide Indian street food inspired dishes, quickly and cost effectively); as well as one or two of the all-time legends of fine Indian dining. Veeraswamy, which has been educating the bold and the beautiful of Regent Street for nearly 100 years, is usually mentioned – as may be Chutney Mary in Chelsea, or the Cinnamon Club.
The real question, for a person actually out and about in London and is looking for somewhere to eat good Indian food, is – what’s near, and how am I dressed or in the mood for? A fine dining restaurant, for instance, carries with it some expectation of dress code (you would be unlikely to get into Veeraswamy wearing shorts and a vest); and you will also have to wait longer for the food to be prepared and presented. A street food style restaurant can be much quicker and more informal.
Bell Hookies is a London restaurant writer. She has just finished writing a book on how to spot good Indian restaurants in London.