Food writer and cookbook author Yasmin Fahr spills the beans on where to score the best Indian food in London.
A spread from Dishoom. Photo courtesy of Yasmin Fahr/LokaPack
“The only good places to eat in London are curry houses.” You would have heard many people say this back in the day (curry houses are how Brits loosely refer to Indian restaurants). That’s a saying of the past, as London’s food scene is way underrated and has seen a tremendous amount of positive growth, particularly from chefs like Yotam Ottolenghi, Jason Atherton, and Nuno Mendes, but the fact that it’s the best place to eat Indian food outside of India itself remains undisputed.
The current problem, however, is that there’s an excess of not-so-great curry houses. Every neighborhood and block seems to have one. Take Brick Lane, for example: What was once a narrow, winding street full of Indian restaurants is now a massive tourist trap where diners get upcharged for everything, only to walk out with empty wallets and unhappy stomachs. Brick Lane is definitely worth a visit for its Sunday market and the overall vibe of the street, but be prepared to be jostled and cajoled by hosts standing outside the restaurants. Don’t give in to their sweet-sounding offers!
Indian food, of course, is a broad term used to encompass the vast regional differences in the cuisine, be it broadly grouped as northern, southern, eastern, or western (with even greater differences within those regions). This is the stuff that whole books are written about. Rather than go into that, we’ll touch upon the most delicious Indian restaurants in London, regardless of regional specialty.
From Mayfair to Whitechapel, fine dining to BYOB, these are our picks for the best Indian restaurants in London (with a little Pakistani thrown in for good measure).
Karahi chicken tikka masala, from Tayyabs (Eat Your World)
An upscale Michelin-starred restaurant in Mayfair, it tends to be very difficult to secure a reservation here, so going for lunch is a great idea. Decorated like a 17th-century sporting club, Gymkhana has dark wooden booths and a calm interior that transports you worlds away from the pristine English streets. The restaurant is split into two parts, with the downstairs bar area being noisier and more informal than the quieter upstairs—that’s where you want to dine. Be sure to order the lamb chops; they are among the best in the city, along with its sister restaurant, Trishna (see below). The menu covers a range of Indian dishes with a focus on bold spices, offering tandoor grill items, curries, and biryani. gymkhanalondon.com; 42 Albemarle St., map
Trishna’s chops, courtesy of Yasmin Fahr/Lokapack
Gymkhana’s smaller and more intimate older sister, located in the upscale residential neighborhood of Marylebone, is ideal for a night out or date night. Start with the signature gin balloons, cocktails garnished to enhance and highlight the flavors and botanicals of this favorite English spirit. The aloo tokri chaat, a blend of potato and masala chickpeas, along with the tandoori lamb chop, should not be missed. While reservations are tough to snag, it’s much easier here than at Gymkhana. trishnalondon.com; 15-17 Blandford St., map
With several locations around London, Dishoom serves cuisine influenced by the old cafes of Bombay. Each location has eclectic decor, usually separated into various rooms with a relaxed, casual, cafe-like setting. The menu is best enjoyed shared, whether you’re coming for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Order a variety of plates for the table, such as the pav bhaji: sweet, intensely flavored mashed vegetables with a buttered housemade bun. The housemade dal may sound less exciting than some of the other dishes on the menu, but it isn’t—trust us. The cocktails are also impressive and a great way to pass the time if you’re forced to wait (you almost always are, as it takes reservations only for groups of six or more). Some locations make you wait in line outside and will offer you hot tea to pass the time, while the Shoreditch location will give you a buzzer so you can saddle up to the bar. dishoom.com; multiple locations including 22 Kingly St., Carnaby; map
The newest restaurant on the London Indian scene, Gunpowder opened in 2016 in a narrow, tiny space in Spitalfields. With limited tables and no reservations, the restaurant often has a long line, so be prepared to put your name down and head around the corner to a pub for a pint (or two) until they text you. The wait is worth it to enjoy some of the homestyle dishes on the constantly changing menu. Some dishes tend to be mainstays, like the lamb chops and grilled mustard broccoli (delicious), but take advantage of the newcomers. A new location is rumored to be opening soon. gunpowderlondon.com; 11 White’s Row, map
A steaming mixed-meat platter from Tayyabs (Eat Your World)
Though it’s a London institution for young adults, people of all ages frequent this BYOB Punjabi restaurant in Whitechapel. Expect to walk out of there smelling like lamb, especially if you make like everyone else and order the lamb chops (something you should do) as they arrive sizzling at your table, the warming aroma wafting onto your clothes. The interior is minimal, very lively, and noisy. It’s as much about the food as the experience here, and it’s great for both groups and the wallet. tayyabs.co.uk; 83-89 Fieldgate St.; map
Lahore Kebab House
The exterior, and interior for that matter, doesn’t accurately depict the deliciousness of the food that awaits here. Curries, grilled meats, and naans will fill the table, and your meal will likely end with you feeling overstuffed and quite pleased when you see the bill (it won’t be high). Also located in Whitechapel, this Pakistani grill house is worth the trek. lahore-kebabhouse.com; 2-10 Umberston St., map
About the author: Yasmin Fahr is a food writer and author of Keeping it Simple, a cookbook full of easy, weeknight one-pot dinner recipes.