By the late 1990’s it was claimed that Britain’s favorite dish was “chicken masala” outstripping traditional favorites such as “bangers and mash” and the “Sunday roast”. Every High Street in the country seems to have an Indian Restaurant and it has been widely assumed that this was a modern phenomenon.
However, the reality is that Britain, and London in particular, has had a close relationship with Indian food for many years. The first Indian restaurant to be opened in London was the Hindoostane Coffee House opened by Dean Mahomed in 1809 in Marylebone. Prior to this there had been many examples of reference to Indian food, such as Hannah Glasse’s cookbook “The Art of Cooking Made Plain and Simple” published in 1747 which gave recipes for curries and pilaus.
As Britain’s colonies grew more and more spices flooded into Britain and many through the ports in the east end of London. In fact many taverns were serving curries on their menus from the 1770’s onwards. At the start of the 20th century Bangladeshi sailors started opening restaurants for their own communities in London around Brick Lane, and the large influx of Bangladeshis following the war in 1970 resulted in the Indian Restaurants being dominated by Bangladeshis. Today 80% of Indian chefs come from Bangladesh.
The original Hindoostane Coffee House did not survive in business for long and it wasn’t until the start of the 20th century that there was a boom in Indian Restaurants. In 1926 the Veeraswammy became the first Indian restaurant to be opened that was aimed at Londoners. It still survives today in Regent Street and claims to be London’s oldest surviving Indian Restaurant. Since 1926 eating in Indian restaurants has become more and more fashionable and by 2003 it was claimed that there were over 10,000 operating in England and Wales alone.
With such a solid base of Indian cuisine in the capital, it is hardly surprising that there are large amounts of Indian restaurants in the city. The quality ranges from the typical High Street mass produced fare to top end quality dining. The leader in the pack is undoubtedly the Michelin-starred Gymkhana Restaurant in Albemarie Street, West London. The decor of the Restaurant is a lash back to the splendid architecture of Colonial India and the superbly prepared food gives the establishment a real exotic feel.
Another with a Michelin-star is the Atul Kochar owned Benares Restaurant in Berkley Square, Mayfair. Kochar became the first Indian chef to receive a Michelin-star when he received one when Head Chef at the Tamarind Restaurant in 2001. The Benares prepares wonderful dishes and serves magnificent deserts, which is not always a feature of Indian Restaurants. When in London one doesn’t have to pay the highest prices to eat the tastiest Indian food. A good example of this is the Lahore Kebab House in Whitechapel. This Pakistani run restaurant does not serve alcohol and is more of an opened plan café with a glassed off kitchen. The food served is traditional and produces magnificent lamb chops and mixed grills.
Each borough in London will have local curry houses with varying reputations. The borough of Southall has for decades been the location of the Brilliant Restaurant. Its reputation goes before it and attracts customers from far afield from both the Asian and Anglo communities. There is no city in the world than other London that gives such a magnificent opportunity to taste Indian dining at its finest.