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Indian food in London -- how pervasive?

I've been curious about the state of food in London, esp. with Indian food. Chicken tikki masala is the most ordered out food, bypassing fish and chips. It wasn't that long ago British was considered the dregs. Has anyone been to London to witness the scene? Does the average person indulge in curries? Is there a conneisseur mentality or it a corner-stand set up?

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  1. I was in London about two years ago, they have a lot of Indian restaurants....especially in the neighborhood I stayed in....lots of Indians and Muslims in the city. Surprising really. I went out of my way to try the Chicken Tikki Masala because I heard it was very popular there..lots of "hole in the wall" types.

    1. Was in London in May, it's definitely made it onto the local menus. Even saw it on some gastropub menus. We made a special trip out to Southall and checked out Rita's based on some chowhound recs. Fantastic hole in the wall. Ran into a fellow chowhounder there. He was visiting from Vancouver! We're heading back to London in a couple of months, looking forward to checking out some more neighbourhood joints.

      1. I moved to England 3 years ago and can assure you that 'Indian' food can be found in just about every small town in the country - regardless of size. Most of the restaurants are run by people who have come from Bangladesh but searches here will reveal other cuisines from the different areas of India proper. I think a curry has now been officially named as the most popular 'British' food. And let's remember that's a very broad term with there being so many types of curry dishes from very hot to mild.

        1. Indian food is London is probably the best Indian food in the western hemisphere, because:
          1. London has the oldest cosmopolitan sub-continental restaurateur community: in the 1950s many of the classic standard dishes such as prawn puri were invented right here. Chicken tikka masala incidentally was a concoction based on a survey of British taste preferences whereby tomato ketchup was added to an older recipe. Yuck.
          2. The range of cultures is huge: sure it's mostly Pakistan/Bangladesh, but there are restaurants specializing in most of the regions of India, not to mention Nepal, Afghanistan and so on.
          3. The range of venues and prices is huge: you can pay crazy money in a swish joint and have great food but likewise you can pay £5 and have an equally exciting and valid experience.
          4. The customers know their stuff. The community is feeding itself (mostly at the lower end of the price range) and the culture has been here long enough for an entire demographic to grow up who know and love Indian food very well.
          Eat and have fun!

          2 Replies
          1. re: mbalax

            Not even the best in England or Britain - try Bradford, Manchester, Birmingham and especially Glasgow - and New York and Toronto both kick London's a** these days as far as Indian food goes. Best Indian meal I have had in the last 12 months was in Milpitas California at Tirupathi Bhimas.

            1. re: butterchicken2nan

              Are you saying the general state of Indian food in London isn't that good or are you saying there aren't *any* restaurants here that compare well with Indian restaurants elsewhere?

              Which restaurants have you tried in London?

              I don't think the standard everywhere is very high (just look at the typical Brick Lane place) but there are certainly some gems out there.

          2. "Indian food is London is probably the best Indian food in the western hemisphere"

            sadly, no. new york's just as good and certainly better at the lower end of the price scale.
            and as over 90% of the sub-continental restaurants are curry shops run by bangla deshis coooking faux indian food, most of what passes for indian food in the uk is bangla deshi pretend versions of moghlai/punjabi fare.

            the range of cultures here in the uk isn't huge - its in fact distorted in that most indian immigrants to these shores are gujarathis via east africa or pakistanis via mirpur. and the numbers currently entering these shores are tiny. on the other hand, the usa gets an even and ongoing distribution of immigrants who are indians from india.

            the ONLY decent places i have eaten at in london that would pass muster in bombay are the bombay brasserie, quilon, gaylords, moti mahal and perhaps new tayyabs seekh kebabs. the fabled sakornis in harrow would last about five seconds in bombay. ditto parsee in highgate.

            2 Replies
            1. re: howler

              I have to disagree. I'm a New Yorker who spent a fair amount of time in Britain last year, and I was absolutely shocked, amazed and delighted at how absolutely English Indian restuarant blew away the ones in New York. I mean, even hole-in-the-wall places in the suburbs--the complexity of flavours really amazed me compare to our bland, muddy stuff in NY. I'd need to go to Queens--Spicy Mina's and the like--to approximate your random suburban curry shop in England. I was in heaven, and I understand that it's not necessarily authentic "Indian" cuisine, but I have to go with mbalax on this--the best I've had in the west.

              1. re: Mandymac

                The quest for authenticity (whatever the cuisine) in cities like London and New York is overrated in my opinion. We should glory in the fact that we have available to us such a diverse and outstanding selection of eateries of all types.

                I grew up in the UK in a Punjabi Indian household and I have never found in any restaurant in the UK or US food that compares to my mum's food, the food served to us in Gujurati friends' houses or the stuff we've eaten countless times in households and on streets in India but that doesn't mean that there isn't tasty fare to be had in the so called Indian restaurants in these two countries.

                I also have to disagree with the suggestion that New York is now on a par with London for Indian cuisine - I was in London for 15 years, I've been here for 18 months and, whilst I don't disagree that Indian food in London may be somewhat overrated, I have been very underwhelmed by the Indian food I've encountered here.

            2. To Howler's list I would add The Painted Heron, Benares, Rasoi Vineet Bhatia and Tamarind. They are high end "cheffy" restaurants but they are interesting for individual cheffy takes on Indian food

              1 Reply
              1. re: Tony Finch

                Perfectly reasonable to recommend these so called high end places especially for US tourists coming to London who are probably the majority readers of these London threads.

                Is it authentic fare whatever that means? No but who really cares and it's not holding itself out to be authentic in any case.

                Is it top notch fare? Hit and miss if you ask me as with a lot of experimental places but then again restaurants like these are one reason why foodlovers like ourselves choose to live in cities like London, and why foodloving visitors choose to visit cities like London - they want to sample something different and out-of-the-ordinary. Long may it continue.

                A recommendation of my own - a place called Eriki in Swiss Cottage (second branch recently opened in St Johns Wood) - was a favourite place of mine and my family's for the last 2 years of my time in London. They have a new chef and I haven't been there since the change of chef so unfortunately can't vouch for current quality.

              2. happy new year tony.

                let me ask you this. a simple maharastrian dinner of say

                a) rice with cream and milk
                b) an aamti from masoor daal
                c) usal from matki
                d) three vegetable dishes, elegantly and lightly spiced, say one with potatoes, the other with eggplant and the last with farasbi (a sort of french beany thing)
                e) fresh hot chappatis from the tava

                will blow away anything at rasoi vineet bhatia etc. in terms of flavour, nuance, length and harmony.

                and we aint even got to meat or fish!

                so why do these guys bother with the faux frenchiness when they can't get the basics right?

                1. Wholeheartedly agree with mbalax, above. Great Indian and sub-continental food is one of the things I miss most about not living in London.

                  - Sean

                  1. I'm in agreement with mbalax.

                    In addition, some attention should be paid to the various styles available in particular parts of London, e.g. Tooting, Southall, Whitechapel . . .

                    The 'cheffy' types are doing something distinct from the trad. basics. It's a bit like comparing Sheekey with a fish and chip shop.

                    Also, a dish shouldn't be dismissed just because it's Anglo-Indian (e.g. Chicken Tikka Masala) - judge dishes on their own merit (i.e. do they/can they taste good?)

                    1. <<Also, a dish shouldn't be dismissed just because it's Anglo-Indian (e.g. Chicken Tikka Masala) - judge dishes on their own merit (i.e. do they/can they taste good?)>>

                      Very good advice from Howard V. DOn't forget, a lot of sub-continental cuisine is a product of the Raj. On the cocktails side, you only have to think of the ubiquitous gin and tonic, for example.

                      Chutney is another example.

                      - Sean

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: Sean Dell

                        "a lot of sub-continental cuisine is a product of the Raj."

                        thats the funniest thing i've read in a while. i can only compare it to us indians teaching the british how to speak english.

                        1. re: howler

                          He said 'a lot', not 'most'.

                          The Raj is just a period of rule, right? I don't think he's claiming that the British invented all that stuff.

                          And there is a lot of Anglo-Indian food - some good, some very bad.

                          I prefer the non-Anglo stuff myself, but there are some dishes there that are worth eating - kedgeree for instance. Though I must confess I haven't tried the dish it was derived from, kichidi.

                      2. Just an FYI, some posts about where to eat Indian in New York have been moved over to the Manhattan board here: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...

                        1. The cheffy Indian restaurants in London are a genre unto themselves.They have nothing to do with the traditions of the cuisine. They take their cue from the techno chefs cooking around Europe. They emphasise technical elaboration, innovation and presentation at the expense of authenticity and tradition. I happen to find them very interesting but then again I'm not hung up on authenticity and tradition.

                          If you're in London it seems silly not to try at least one or two of them. I'd recommend Rasoi Vineet Bhatia and Benares. Moti Mahal and Quilon are also very good

                          1. i have tried them - several times - on business dinners. and i am always underwhelmed.

                            its not that i'm hung up on authenticity and tradition either. its just that the offerings can't even compare with simple utterly delicious home-cooking, and so my gripe is that i'd love to see money, time and effort spent on serving up maximal deliciousness rather than faux french.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: howler

                              I wasn't really wondering if you'd tried the cheffy places, rather if you'd tried some of the good trad./regional restaurants in London?