Photography by Chris Osburn
Established in 1926, Veeraswamy is Britain's oldest Indian restaurant, one of London's oldest surviving restaurants and possibly one of its most lauded. Indeed, National Geographic reckons Veeraswamy is among the ten best “destination and special restaurants” in the world. Still owned by the same family (the folks behind the ubiquitous Masala World group) as when it opened, Veeraswamy is somewhat of a bastion of fine dining tradition.
Bringing back one of its original subcontinent ploys for impressing visitors and drawing walk-in customers, the restaurant recently reintroduced the services of a Darwan, an “imposing gentleman with a turban” doorman to greet guests upon entry. Londonist swung by yesterday evening to say hi to the Darwan (the third to fill the fancy dress position since the role was started back up late last year). He seemed like an affable chap and was most keen to ensure that we - and all guests - were initially received with a smile as he ushered us inside for a quick chat. According to him, the restaurant opened the 21st of April, 1926 (the same day as Her Majesty was born). In celebration of 85 years in the resto biz, the peeps calling the shots thought it might be fun to add a bit of old school hospitality to the Veeraswamy experience.
While there (and since we were offered) Londonist headed up to Veerasmay's comfortable and gracious first floor dining room to sample some of its dishes. If you've got the cash, love Indian cuisine and fancy a superb view over Regent Street, we suggest you do the same. Highlights included a starter course of irresistibly crisp green leaf and okra bhajias (whole okra and leaves of fenugreek, ruby chard and mint coated in a light rice flour batter, £9) with a particularly creamy coriander and mint sauce and a tangy tamarind chutney with pomegranate seeds. A main course of Sholay chicken tikka smoked with garam masala (£9 as a starter, £18 as a main) yielded some of the most tender chicken we've eaten to date. Charred just so and with a bit of kick, we'd be pleased to choose that dish again. A side of fresh pineapple curry (pineapple, curry, mustard and green chilli, £9) was perhaps the most unusually savoury sensation we've experienced this year. Highly recommendable, we'd go back for it alone. A couple of flaky on the outside/fluffy on the inside pieces of layered naam (£3.35) was delectable, while kaala jaam (large black gulab jamun with vanilla ice cream, £6.75) for puds ended our dinner on a moreish note.
As we left, our Darwan was pleased to find we had enjoyed our meal. We wondered if he enjoyed his doorman with a funny costume gig and if he thought it was a good job. “It's not about how hard or easy a job is” he explained, “it's about having fun.” Is the Veeraswamy reintroduction of the Darwan a colonial kitsch rehash or is it a fun and turbaned tip to tradition? Slide by Veeraswamy at Victory House, 99 Regent Street (entrance in Swallow Street) from 6pm to see for yourself. For more information about Veeraswamy visit www.veeraswamy.com.