London is studded with wonderful Indian restaurants that have sprung up systematically since the very first one over 200 years ago – hard to believe, as one tends to think that they have only been around for the last 50 years or so, when ‘having an Indian’ was synonomous with a ‘late Friday night offering after the pub closed’! Little did Sake Dean Mohamed know when pioneering the first Indian café ‘The Hindoostane Coffee House’, that many years later, they would have become part of English everyday cuisine, with certain dishes making it to the Top 10 favourite dishes voted by the British public. What would have been a bigger surprise, is that their popularity has marched on into Michelin star ratings,with the crowning glory being awarded to Tamarind, slap bang in the middle of London’s West End – the very first Indian restaurant in the world to receive one of these coveted awards.
Tamarind located in its subterranean venue in Mayfair, has all the glitz and glamour of India during the Raj period, with gold coloured fixtures, crisp white linen cloths and the opulence of an Indian palace. Serving Moghul-style cuisine from north-west India at prices that belie your surroundings, it is certainly a favourite amongst diners who enjoy attentive but discreet service.
Around 20 years ago, a quiet, unassuming but ambitious young chef started to create eclectic but authentic Indian dishes and take Indian food to new heights, both in flavour and presentation. His name is Atul Kochar – now Michelin-starred himself, but the forerunner of this star-studded restaurant. Meat, fish and game are available on their menu, all presented with a twist but still maintaining ethnicity.
Chef Peter Joseph is now at the helm continuing the ‘Taste of Tamarind’ theme throughout their set and a la carte menus. Using authentic Tandoor ovens, the food is supreme – sweet and tender-fleshed lamb chops with papaya, fennel and star anise are lipsmackingly good, as is the grilled baby chicken with fenugreek, and the juicy scallops with soft, smoky peppers and their secret recipe tomato chutney. Not to be missed – the set menu is available at a very competitive £75 per person, with a more expansive a la carte menu costing you around £100 a head.
Tamarind, 20 Queen Street, London W1 5PR, Tel No. 0207 629 3561.
Talking of Atul Kochar, whilst no longer that young, this relatively shy chef now has his own group of restaurants, with his flagship being Benares. If you have been buying a Bentley (!) at Jack Barclay’s in Berkeley Square, you will not need a huge wallet to eat at Benares, located almost next door. This upstairs restaurant serves great cocktails as well as amazing food from the ‘Kochar Kitchen’. The food is almost unrecognisable when it arrives on your plate, but the first taste will transport you to Indian heaven. Beautifully presented without the plate size overtaking the food, you will certainly need a snooze in the taxi after you have eaten the delicious dishes here. Benares gained Michelin status several years ago and has continued to delight with Atul making full use of vegetables, the like of which you have never tasted before. Stand out dish using guinea fowl is a typical Atul invention- Kadai Junglee Murgi is a crushed coriander and chilli spiced delicately balanced piece of meat, with peppers and onions softened to perfection but still with a bite. Try any dish that includes ‘puffed rice’,a far cry from the usually bland pilau, in fact – it doesn’t even resemble rice in taste or texture when it has the Atul touch.
There are options of set menus from 2 courses at an amazing £29 per head, and 3 courses at £35 per head. A la carte is mind-blowingly full of Atul’s unique creations, but trust us – portions are of a healthy size and a 3-course set menu will more than satiate a curry lover!
Benares, 12a Berkeley Square, London W1 6BS. Tel 0207 629 8886. www.benaresrestaurant.com
Our third choice would have to be Gymkhana, a relatively new kid on the block in comparison. A great addition to the ‘upmarket curry brotherhood’ and again, centrally located in London W1. It is not unique in style, having the same opulence as an Indian sporting club from the old Regency days,where mainly the British met to talk and dine, or perhaps play a little polo! You are assured of a great meal – once again, Michelin stars were pinned on this restaurant in the early days of its existence and understandably so. Oak predominates in design, with added touches from the old Raj and memorabilia from Jaipur. Tables are brass-edged, and seating is’banquette-style’ in rich brown leather. Very club, and very atmospheric, you feel as if you are certainly in the Empire days of old India.
The difference in cuisine is shown in their ‘sharing platters’ – a tasty and economical way of sampling Gymkhana’s offerings, but stand out dish for us is the Lamb Nalli Barra – delicate lamb, enrobed with turmeric and a hint of ginger, and served with Indian pickles. If you prefer to dally with the unusual, try the wild board or venison curry.
Gymkhana, 42 Albemarle Street, W1S 4JH. Tel 0203 011 5900. www.gymkhanalondon.com
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