London’s best Indian restaurants
Where to find the finest curries in the capital
Gone are the days when, for British diners, Indian food meant generic curry in a foil tin and a paper bag full of greasy poppadoms. Now an increasingly vibrant restaurant scene is putting the spotlight on the country’s huge variety of regional traditions – and the innovative chefs at the cutting edge of Indian cooking.
A pioneer of British-Indian fine dining, Benares is still winning accolades and rave reviews from its exalted perch on Berkeley Square. It was the first Indian restaurant to win a Michelin star – an honour it regained earlier this year under the leadership of executive chef Sameer Taneja – and has just been named the best restaurant in London at the British Curry Awards. It’s not hard to see why: with its glossily furnished (and slickly staffed) dining room, Benares feels like a restaurant for special occasions. The menu combines the best of British produce (Scottish scallops, for example, or Gressingham duck) with Indian recipes that put the emphasis on fragrance and delicacy. An eight-course tasting menu (£119) can be paired with either “captivating” or “prestigious” wine pairings, for £65 or £95 respectively.
Don’t miss: tawa masala wild halibut with Portsmouth clam moilee (£38)
Soho, Brixton and White City
With three locations in the capital – in Brixton, Soho (above) and White City – and a stated ambition to expand yet further, Kricket has come a long way from its origins as a shipping container pop-up in South London. A satisfying blend of style and substance, all three restaurants turn out delicious small plates in small but beautifully designed spaces. A vibe-setting bar is at the heart of each dining room, and the cocktail list has been put together with almost as much care as the menu. Almost, but not quite. Dishes such as Keralan Fried Chicken (a spicy and far superior take on the fast-food stalwart with the same initials), skate wing in brown butter and cured Bengali trout with Kashmiri chilli leave little doubt about the prowess of the open kitchens.
It’s a measure of Bibi’s success that what could have been a weakness – its small, elongated dining room – has become a strength. By placing an open kitchen down the long side of the restaurant, its creators (the JKS group, also responsible for the excellent Gymkhana) have accentuated the narrowness. You can sit at the counter, watching the chefs at work, or plump for one of the tables or booths along the window. Either way, the atmosphere is at once both energetic and cosy. The food – a playful mix of elements from Indian street food, British curry house staples and fine-dining favourites – is equally creative. Dishes range from the vaguely familiar (the “Wookey-Hole cheese papad”, a sly take on the poppadom served with mint, cultured cream and mango chutney) to the truly inventive (the Orkney scallop nimbu pani, in which the raw shellfish is served, ceviche-style, in an Indian blood-orange lemonade). The simplest approach is to pick the chef’s selection, a satisfying six-course tour of the menu, for £65 per person. Just make sure you add the aged lamb chops, a succulent tour de force.
Honor Oak Park
Away from the restaurant-rich streets of central London, Babur, in Honor Oak Park, is well worth the ten-minute train journey from London Bridge. There’s no missing this southeastern stalwart: it has a life-sized sculpted tiger shimmying down the side of the building. Inside, the food is an alluring mix of regulars (try the organic chicken chop, from Suffolk via Kolkata, steeped in mace and green cardamom and served with a kalonji-seed paratha), and a monthly selection of specials, dedicated to a specific regional cuisine. The restaurant is evangelical about pairing wine with Indian food - each dish has a recommendation printed on the menu. A five-course tasting menu is £44.75, or £74.50 with matching wines.
Don’t miss: venison hunter curry, slow cooked with sweet potato, dark spices and tamarind (£19.25)
Named after a field guide to Indian plantlife written by two 19th-century Scots, Flora Indica (full review) promises to take diners on a journey around the country – and through time. Richly furnished in Harris tweed and assorted Victoriana, this is the ideal setting for a menu rich in hearty classics that span the subcontinent. Kashmiri rogan josh, made with Suffolk lamb shoulder, is a prime example, as is the coconut-infused monkfish and king prawn malai curry, hailing from the other side of the country. A full vegan menu is available alongside the regular a la carte offering, and a selection from both can be ordered for takeaway or local delivery.
Don’t miss: corn-fed bergamot lemon chicken tikka and makhani sauce (£15.50)
A short walk from Sloane Square, Kahani (full review) is a highly polished example of the modern British-Indian restaurant. A menu that marries Michelin-tinged ingredients with the more powerful flavour profile of the sub-continent - think steak kebabs in cumin and truffle oil or guinea fowl tikka - is complemented by an adventurous cocktail menu. Vegans, vegetarians and carnivores are all equally well provided for, and many of the dishes can be served as small sharing plates or traditional starters and main courses. A six-course tasting menu is available for £75.
Don’t miss: tandoori broccoli with honey, nigella seeds and tempered yoghurt (£14)
Small but perfectly formed, Kutir (full review) occupies an attractive Chelsea townhouse that was previously home to Vineet Basai’s excellent but short-lived VBL (and which is just around the corner from Kahani). While a little less formal than its tasting-menu-only predecessor, Kutir retains a sense of quiet grandeur. A la carte highlights include an unusually light chicken tikka masala, and the aloo tikki, a crisp potato cake that comes with tamarind and mint chutney. And for those who want the full experience, the seven-course “Expeditions” menu is £80 for carnivores, £75 for vegetarians or £60 for vegans. Gluten– and dairy-free menus are also provided.
Don’t miss: naan with masala scrambled quail eggs and truffle shavings (£12, small plate)
Bombay Bustle lives up to its name with a convivial atmosphere in its two compact dining rooms, decorated to evoke India’s glorious railway network. An eclectic menu offers small plates, biryanis, main-sized curries and a selection from the tandoor - served with an emphasis on sharing. Seafood is particularly well represented, but vegetarians have plenty to choose from too. Brunches, express menus and tasting menus (such as their current “winter carriage menu”, including five courses for £90) offer something for every occasion.
Don’t miss: adipoli prawns with garlic, curry leaves and fresh turmeric (£15)