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Dec 4, 2007 08:29 AM

Authentic Indian in London for first timer

I'll be going to London for my first time and i'll be visiting the sights for about a week. I'll be staying near Victoria Station and I was wondering if someone could give me some good recommendations for some good authentic indian restaurants that serve a variety of both vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes. I'm looking for some authentic restaurants not really any trendy/fusion type restaurants.

Thus far i've made two selections in Kastoori by Tooting Bec and Khan's by Covent Garden.

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  1. try Marsala Zone - indian street food in modern surroundings - there are several branches - Earls Court or Marshall Street which is near to Carnaby Street. If you like vegetarian food you could try Drummond Street which is near to Euston Station. There are loads of restaurants

    3 Replies
    1. re: manm10

      The places on Drummond are neither good nor authentic.

      1. re: JFores

        Agreed about Drummond St. restaurants, since Haandi's are now shut. Other places I've been to in Drummond Street have really gone downhill in recent years (developed severe food poisoning after eating at Ravi Shankar - this used to be one of my favourite places on Drummond St) Would still recommend Brick Lane, though it's a bit further afield from Victoria.

      2. re: manm10

        I'd avoid Masala Zone near Carnaby St as well - its by no means authentic and when I was there a few weeks ago three of our party of 6 fell ill after eating there (including me - it wasnt pleasant!)
        Maida in Bethnal Green is great - their lamb chops are amazing!

      3. Forget the rest, try the best - 'Tamarind'. Food definitely worth a Michelin star!

        14 Replies
        1. re: Charles Yu

          Have you also been to Benares? I'd love someone to compare the two as they exist right now... with Atul Kutcher having left Tamarind quite awhile ago.

          1. re: zuriga1

            Would Benares or Tamarind fit the OP's "authentic" requirement?

            That said, I'm unsure how "authentic" is "authentic" in the context of sub-continent restaurants in the UK. Few seem to step out of the well-known formula of anglicised dishes. No , of course, that I'm suggesting that Benares or Tamarind fit the formula of your local "Indian" :-)

            1. re: Brit on a Trip

              Yeah, I tried to think of a place which I would lable authentic, but I can't think of any yet. I haven't been to enough but of those I've been to I would call a couple good, but none "authentic." I'm able to find Bengali food that's pretty much what I would get out of a home kitchen in NY, but I haven't found something quite like that here.

              If we're talking authentic then we're talking a hike to somewhere that's not central for sure. Furthermore, the food scene in Southhall was barren. One of the places on a recent Balham review post sounded like it might fit the bill. Howler also recently praised a vegetarian lunch in Central, but again that's all veg. I guess you could say Tayyab's but is that authentic? Similarly, Ma'ida is apparently very good, but it is by no means Bengali home cooking. It's actually very fusiony with some Indian Chinese dishes and such.

              1. re: JFores

                Very many UK "Indian" restaurants have their origins in the Sylhet province of Bangladesh. And, as with all immigrant cuisines, dishes were adapted to suit the local indigenous customer base (hence the development of chicken tikka masala and so on). It's like I am always interested to see the considerable differences in dishes that have the same name on menus in US and UK Chinese restaurants.

                One of the great challenges for the UK "Indian restaurant" sector is to step out of the formula of providing the "any protein with any sauce" menu and actually cook some individual and interesting dishes (whether strictly authentic or not).

                We now have 3 or 4 good places in my part of the world (Greater Manchester). On my irregular trips south (to the Richmond/Kew area), I always enjoy the food at Poppadums in Brentford and would appreciate any comments, from those with more expertise in this cuisine, on how interesting or authentic the menu appears.


                1. re: Brit on a Trip

                  I always find the "authentic" tag to be quite contentious. Do we mean "authentic" as in how food is cooked at home? Or is it based on a retrospective view of a cultures food? Or do we include innovative chefs who are passionately moving their cuisine's forward?

                  My personal perspective is that "authentic" should be able to cover all of the above, and we should not exclude innovation just because it is not street food, or not how I ate food at home, or because it is new and innovative.

                  For example is Ferran Adrias food "authentic" Cattalan/Spanish? It clearly has strong roots in the culinary traditions of Spain and the Catalan region, but I doubt it is similar to what his mum makes. To me it is a reflection of how modern Spanish food is evolving - and yes that makes it authentic.

                  Indian food is quite similar. There are "authentic" restaurants that cook food in a very traditional/home style like Tayabs. There are others like Benares, Tamarind etc. that have innovative chefs who try to evolve the cuisine. To me both are authentic.

                  I also believe that another problem with authenticity is that the "restaurant culture" in a lot of countries (India, Thailand, China etc.) is comparatively new compared to other countries (France, Italy, Spain etc.)l. Most people ate and cooked at home and it was only royalty that had cooks and kitchens. So when migrants (often forced by economic or political challenges) settled in the UK and set up restaurants they did so based on home cooking rather than restaurant cooking. Could be argued that UK restaurants will then evolve their own authenticity? (like Heston's chicken tikka masala maybe)

                  The problem with UK Indian food is also probably based on simple economics. Most restaurants are small, with few staff in the kitchen. The dishes come from a couple of standard curry sauces augmented with pre-cooked meats, and a few extra spices and vegetables. As a result they all taste the similar. OK there are a few small restaurants that manage to produce good food but most don't/can't. So to eat good Indian food in the UK it may also mean paying more - after all the same is true for other cuisine's where top restaurants have 30 chefs in the kitchen, and a staff ratio of 1:1 for customer. Why should it be different for Indian/Thai or Chinese?

                  Thus is the better question to ask - Are they good and are they traditional or modern?

                  1. re: PhilD

                    What I mean by "authentic" is a place where the chef is cooking traditional Indian dishes without altering them to either maximize profits (as mentioned above creating a few premade sauces and then adding the different contents to them) or tries to take traditional dishes and modernizes them to become "trendy".

                    So in other words i'm just looking for a decent place that has some good meals but not anything too fancy like Tamarind or Chutney Mary's...just a place that I can get a good meal which is fresh.

                    1. re: rapsrealm

                      In that case, and for all the reasons mentioned above, I think it will be hard to find "authentic". Finding "good" and "interesting" and "excellent value" and "enjoyable" should be very easy.


                      1. re: rapsrealm

                        I wouldn't dismiss "fancy" ones as you may just find they are more "authentic" than you give them credit for. Best suggestion is to pick a range to assess what is happening in the UK Indian food scene. A cheap "hole in the wall" (covered extensively on the site), a good mid range and one of the top end.

                        A few suggestions that I enjoy:

                        "Haandi" (7 Cheval Place, Knightsbridge) is good value and has great food, last time I was there it had an official Sikh function underway.

                        "Mela" (152 Shatsbury Avenue) is always reliable, and has good flavours. Probably a far better bet than Khans in Convent Garden, I haven't eaten there but it doesn't look great - did you actually mean the Khans in Westbourne Grove?

                        "Red Fort" (77 Dean Street) which has been going for nearly 20 years, it is more upmarket but the food is quite traditional.

                        Howler (who knows his food) rates the weekend buffet at the Bombay Brasserie (Gloucester Road), I haven't been for years but it used to be very good. He also rates Quilion (41 Buckingham Gate), I have had their food as room service in the attached hotel and it is good.

                        1. re: PhilD

                          Thanks for the suggestions!

                          I've heard of Haandi from a few people so I may add that to my list.

                          The Khan's I was talking about is by Bayswater?

                        2. re: rapsrealm

                          The term fresh can be interesting with South Asian food. As far as fish or tandoori items goes, yes that's the way to go. Don't shun steam tables though. Many families that I knew back home would cook "curries" the day before so they could sit in the fridge for a day. If you ordered rogan gosht and it comes out of the kitchen in 10 minutes, be afraid. That's an 8 hour or so dish traditionally.

                        3. re: PhilD


                          You articulate my thoughts better than I can.

                          In a recent thread, I reviewed a visit to one of Manchester's "new wave" Indians. In amongst the more interesting items, were a series of baltis (recommended on a local website). It's a "bog standard" dish everywhere but this was a world of difference away in taste and texture. I have no idea as to its authenticity, nor do I care much.

                          My brother in law is Mallorcan and will often comment that Catalan/Balearic food he sees on Brit TV is not "authentic". By this he means its not how his mother would have made it. It does not mean he wouldnt enjoy eating it.

                          Similarly, if I had to eat the food my mother used to cook when I was growing up in the 50s and 60s, it would be a dreary meal by modern tastes. As I know you'll appreciate, it's only comparitively recently that we've recaptured traditonal Brit dishes and put a new spin on them in many places up and down the country.

                        4. re: Brit on a Trip

                          The Bengali pop here is mostly Sylheti, but the food doesn't reflect it at all. I haven't seen any Sylheti specialties on any menus. Brooklyn has a very large Sylheti concentration on Church Av and a few of my friends were Sylheti. Oh how funny their arguments on Sylheti and Bangla being so different were... While a Bengali friend across the train criticized Sylheti dialect viciously...

                          1. re: Brit on a Trip

                            first, the 'authentic issue': there is good bad food, bad bad food, bad good food and good good food.

                            its been my experience that you are much more likely to find good food when its made by immigrants cooking for other immigrants and the reasons for that are obvious. on the other hand, talent can show up anywhere - and so you can sometimes find very good inauthentic food, though the chances of it surviving for long (i think) are small.

                            it is very very sad that indian cuisine is so under represented in its restaurants. in fact, restaurant food might as well be a seperate cuisine in india and the reason is this: going out to eat is an occasion and nobody wants to go out to eat home cooking. but the true glory of all the cuisines in india are the phenomenal varieties of its vegetarian cooking handed down over millennia (yes millennia) from mother to daughter-in-law.

                            if you want to gauge the expertise of the cooks, forget the meat dishes. eat vegetarian: from the menu you list, try 32, 34, 36 and 38. along with plenty of roti and some yoghurt, thats a very satisfying meal if made well.

                            it also looks like the guys are genuwine punjabis - none of the obvious misspellings - so i'd stay away from the south indian side of
                            the menu.

                            and if the foods clean, fresh and doesn't leave you burping and dehydrated half an hour later (a common failing of excess oil and ghee), why you've got a winner.

                  2. Folks, let's try to help the man out.

                    There's no really great authentic Indian food to be had in London, but decent certainly. I'm not knowledgeable enough to add too many recommendations, but as an example Chai Pani (64 Seymour Street) serves authentic Rajastani food (for example, gatta subzi, moongdal khichadi, bajra khichadi -- these are things you just can't get elsewhere).

                    Having said that, I wouldn't travel too far out of my way to go here. The food is good, but not outstanding. Authentic, however, I believe so.



                    3 Replies
                    1. re: bombaybeauty

                      Interesting. I've never had Rajastani food. Could you tell me what the prices are like?



                      1. re: JFores

                        Here's a list of indian cuisines according to wikipedia:

                        North India
                        Punjabi – Uttar Pradeshi –
                        Rajasthani – Mughlai -
                        Pahadi – Bhojpuri –
                        Benarasi – Bihari

                        South India
                        Kerala – Tamil –
                        Andhra – Karnataka –

                        East India
                        Bengali – Oriya
                        North-East India
                        Sikkimese – Assamese –
                        Tripuri – Naga

                        West India
                        Goan – Gujarati –
                        Maharashtrian/Marathi –
                        Malvani/Konkani – Parsi

                        Indian Chinese – Nepali –
                        Historical – Jain (Satvika) –
                        Anglo-Indian – Sindhi –
                        Chettinad – Udupi

                        bear in mind that each of these categories is very broad - the european equivalent will be british, french, italian, czech, german etc - ie, within each category is a tremendous variety. thats why i insist that anybody claiming to be an expert on indian cuisine is barkers - its impossible. its also why i dont understand the faux french indian version of wannabe indian chefs: with all that variety and greatness to draw on, why bother 'innovating'? show us you can manage a proper dhansak and i'm open to your version of boar intestines in a saffron cream sauce. execute a flawless dal, bhaji and roti and i'm excited to see how you can improve on it. but faux french for the hope of a michelin star is unnecessary at best and boring at worst.

                        i wish we could imitate the lebanese: true, its a tiny country and the cuisine variety isn't that huge that you can pass any dish off as 'lebanese', but in any case lebanese restaurants here in london offer fresh, well executed versions of pretty much of what you get at home - while a 'dhansaak' at your local curry house resembles the real thing as much as a slab of chicken liver resembles foie gras.

                        1. re: howler


                          I'd really appreciate your comments on the authenticity/interest of the menu listings of the Brentford place I linked to earlier. As with art, I claim no expertise but know what I like - and I like it there. It seesm to me the sort of place we need many more of "up north".



                    2. in my not so humble opinion, kastoori aint worth the trip and khans (westbourne grove) is standard bangla fare. i'd avoid both with extreme prejudice.

                      6 Replies
                      1. re: howler

                        Kastoori falls into the good not great category for me, plus I find it relatively pricey, compared to some of its peers. Agree that it's not worth the trip.

                        1. re: limster

                          Lately, I have been extremely satisfied with meals at Ma'eda in Bethnal Green Road. I cannot vouch for its authenticity, but on both recent occasions it was packed with happy customers.

                          1. re: loobcom

                            I would like to withdraw my previous recommendation of Ma'eda, to use one of Howlers favorite phrases, with extreme prejudice.

                            When I ordered their Deluxe Chefs Kebab Selection, I expect the items to be fresh from the grill and not items from the lunchtime service that have been reheated in a microwave.

                            It comes as no surprise that other than our table there were only three others in the restaurant.

                            1. re: loobcom

                              Oh boy... Sticking to the fish if I go....

                              1. re: JFores

                                Er, the fish was pre-cooked and re-heated too!