This round up is based on original content by Ben O'Norum, and Sejal Sukhadwala.
Rounding up South Asian food is particularly tricky: not only are there countless regional variations, but their styles also range widely from dishevelled curry houses to high-end Michelin-starred spots. While we rate good value highly, on the flip side some places are so good that they are worth saving up for.
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Long before Brockley Market took hold, this 35-year-old Indian was the foodie face of the neighbourhood. Creative dishes such as clove-smoked lamb chops and tamarind-glazed quail are signatures, while the kitchen’s careful sourcing and delicate cooking of high-quality meat, fish and game really sets it apart. Big flavours come together rather than overpower each other, and suggested wine and beer pairings are given for each dish to ensure drinks do the same. A contemporary light and airy setting complete with modern art also bucks the curry house trend.
Babur, 119 Brockley Rise, SE23 1JP
There’s no modesty in the name, and little subtlety in the glittering dining space, but perhaps there doesn’t need to be. Brilliant is one of the best Indian restaurants in one of London’s largest Indian communities, and it’s been doing good business for more than 40 years now. Excellent Punjabi cooking is the reason for that, with elaborate spicing, expert grilling and good ingredients all coming into play. A touch of extra interest is added to the menu by the owners’ Kenyan roots (cassava makes a few appearances), but it’s no game changer. Put simply, it’s just brilliant at what it does.
Brilliant, 72-76 Western Road, UB2 5DZ
Chandni Chowk, Southall
Named after a legendary market in Delhi that’s home to acclaimed restaurants, sweet shops and street food stalls, this is a no-frills Punjabi café set over two floors. In the first-floor dining room, try fried, crunchy street food snacks, or parathas flavoured with various vegetables. Or opt for the classic cold-weather staple of sarson ka saag aur makki di roti (mustard greens curry with maize flour flatbread) – a Punjabi dish that’s the stuff of legends (though it may be something of an acquired taste). On the ground floor, a large, busy counter sells freshly made Punjabi sweets that are not to be missed.
Chandni Chowk, 106 The Broadway, Southall UB1 1QF.
The Cinnamon Club, Westminster
Housed in a Grade II listed old Victorian library, Vivek Singh’s Cinnamon Club makes an immediate impression. The food has no problem living up to it either; high quality ingredients, intricate spicing and precise cooking lead to elegantly presented dishes that boast layers of developing flavour and pleasantly contrasting textures. A marinated pheasant breast in pickling spices with a nutmeg and spinach sauce is exemplary of the kitchen’s fusion-minded approach to Indian food and it really does work. If the steep prices put you off, the City’s Cinnamon Kitchen and Covent Garden’s Cinnamon Bazaar are more accessible.
The Cinnamon Club, 30-32 Great Smith Street, SW1P 3BU
Dhaba@49, Maida Vale
This contemporary dining room serves up north Indian food in plush surrounds, says Londonist writer Ruth Hargreaves. But while the crushed velvets and mood lights don't go amiss, they're not the main reason to visit. The dishes are inspired by the region's roadside cafes — big on flavour and modest on price. Cheese, spinach, potato, chickpea, tomato, okra, lentils and mushrooms all take centre stage on a generous vegetarian curry list, but we find it hard to resist going full-out snack-tastic on their vast variety of chaat, samosas, bhajis and pakoras.
Dhaba@49, 49 Chippenham Road, W9 2AH
Dishoom, various locations
Following the success of the original Bombay café-styled restaurant in Covent Garden — recently open again after a big refurb to mark their tenth birthday — trendy Dishoom has spread across the capital with reliable queues at every outpost of a mealtime. What keeps people coming back? A classic Chicken Ruby, the keema, and deep-flavoured black dahl are signatures worth trying, while the buzzing atmosphere is reason to come again and again. A cheesy naan couldn’t be more comforting (or booze-absorbing) and, for the morning after, a bacon naan is the ultimate hangover-buster.
Dishoom has restaurants in Covent Garden, King's Cross, Shoreditch, Kensington and Carnaby.
Dosa N Chutny, Tooting
Don’t let the garish frontage, neon lights, and TV screen put you off. What this South Indian and Sri Lankan eatery lacks in interior design, it makes up for with cooking. The namesake components are particular highlights (the crisp, slightly chewy dosa are surely among London’s finest and you have over a dozen to choose from), while vegetarian curries — such as the rich and fragrant paneer kurma with saffron gravy — are also a speciality. The pleasingly sour and spicy Chettinadu fish curry is worth a try, while the still-warm freshness of the popadoms and naan bread are the icing on the cake.
Dosa N Chutny, 68 Tooting High Street, SW17 0RN
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Inspired by the street food of southern India, Ganapati excels in strong-flavoured dishes that match the colourful, bohemian surrounds of this unique, off-the-beaten-track restaurant. Vibrant fish curries laced with coconut milk and stuffed dosas are strong points, while even the requisite poppadoms are enlivened by homemade chutneys and pickles. Lime, coriander, ginger, tamarind and garlic take starring roles in place of too many dried spices, in dishes to be eaten at large communal tables: think English country kitchen goes to India. There’s a decent range of cocktails and beers, and a couple of Indian wines make the drinks list, too.
Ganapati, 38 Holly Grove, SE15 5DF
Gymkhana is a tongue-in-cheek but seriously slick operation. It kicks off with Indian punches and cleverly spiced cocktails at the bar and keeps running through to a decadent orange and cardamom caramel custard. Dishes such as a muntjac deer biryani and a sharp, well-rounded vindaloo made with slowly-cooked pigs’ cheeks are fine examples of classic curry house fare taken to blinding new levels. Add accomplished, friendly service and it’s no wonder that it was awarded a Michelin star in 2014. Prices are less eye-watering than you might think, given the quality and location.
Gymkhana, 42 Albemarle Street, W1S 4JH
Indian YMCA, Warren Street
There's no point in pretending you're getting fine dining at the Indian YMCA; it simply isn't true. But Londonist writer Ruth Hargreaves believes this great (nay, unbeatable) value canteen, attached to the YMCA Indian Student Hostel, has a place on any best curry in London list. Home-cooked curries, biryanis, dals and all manner of sundries are plonked with little ceremony on your plate, then taken back to formica tables to devour under strip lighting. No fusion cuisine or gastronomic surprises — just simple, plentiful food that's jam-packed with flavour. Oh, and fish curries for £3.50. Who's complaining?
Indian YMCA, 41 Fitzroy Square, W1T 6AQ
Lahore Kebab House, Whitechapel
It was a nephew of Mohammad Tayyab (who founded Tayyabs restaurant in Whitechapel) who was responsible for bringing us this similarly-minded outpost around the corner more than 40 years ago. As at Tayyabs, the grilled lamb chops are legendary and an absolute must-try: charred on the outside, gently spiced and a tender pink within. Stick with lamb in the form of juicy minced kebabs or a dark, richly-spiced dry curry. But there’s little to go wrong with the chicken, fish or vegetable options either. You just might have to ignore the big screens if cricket or Bollywood hits aren’t your thing.
Lahore Kebab House Whitechapel, 2-10 Umberston Street, E1 1PY
Needoo Grill, Whitechapel
This BYO Punjabi spot just around the corner from Tayyabs (see below) was opened in 2009 by a former manager there. While it has nowhere near the reputation or footfall of Tayyabs, the food it offers isn’t far off. The lamb chops in particular are beautifully succulent and tantalisingly spiced, and anything grilled or meaty tends to be a good bet. The haleem here is also exemplary and the naans are fluffy and light. This is a particularly good place to know about if you forget to book ahead and just can’t handle the Tayyabs queue.
Needoo Grill, 85-87 New Road, E1 1HH
Raunka Punjab Diyan, Southall
Lucky, lucky Southall. Not content with already having one of the best places for Indian food in London (see Brilliant, above), they also have a second. As the name suggests, Raunka Punjab Diyan serves up top-notch Punjabi fare like fabulously rich dal makhani (lentils stewed in spices, butter and cream) and Amritsari fish pieces so tender they fall apart the moment they hit your mouth. The pride for their region extends to the decor, and you'll dine surrounded by hand-painted murals of rural Punjab.
Raunka Punjab Diyan, 466 Lady Margaret Road, UB1 2NW
Roti Chai, Marylebone
This two-tiered modern Indian eatery offers snacks and small plates in its upstairs ‘street kitchen’, and is particularly strong on the vegetarian front. Spiced and steamed chickpea cakes, tikka potato burgers, and oh-so-crunchy bhel puris with a tangy tamarind kick all cry out to be shared among friends. But if it's a little something special you're after, the downstairs dining room offers specialities from varying regions, all intricately spiced, carefully cooked and prettily presented. Try a regal lamb gosht, slow-cooked to perfection and served with cumin-infused spinach, or tuck into a creamy paneer and fenugreek dish that makes all your comfort eating dreams come true.
Roti Chai, 3 Portman Mews South, W1H 6HS
Sagar, Covent Garden and Hammersmith
This popular mini-chain specialises in vegetarian food from Udupi, a small town in the coastal region of the Western Ghats mountain range, close to Bangalore. There are lots of South Indian classics here like dosa and idli, but try the Udupi thali for a more distinct regional taste.
Sagar, 157 King Street, W6 9JT
A vast all-you-can-eat buffet is the mainstay of this vegetarian South Indian and Gujarati restaurant where loud Indian music sets a fun tone. And at £16.50 for unlimited food and soft drinks of an evening, it’s easy to see why it’s popular. A full a la carte menu is also available, offering excellent dahi vada dumplings and richly flavoured dhal alongside all manner of curries. The Indo-Chinese dishes on the menu may come as something of a surprise, but look around and you'll notice half the other diners merrily tucking into plates of chilli paneer. You won't regret following their lead.
Sakonis, 127-129 Ealing Road, HA0 4BP. Further locations in Hatch End and Hounslow.
This restaurant will always have a place in history: when it opened in 1995 it was the first Indian restaurant to embrace fine-dining, and it later became the first Indian restaurant in the world to gain a Michelin star. The setting is somewhat stuffy and the prices are high, but the carefully-spiced food is endlessly decadent, elegant and intricate.
Tamarind, 20 Queen Street, W1J 5PR
It had to be included. This backstreet Punjabi restaurant has been pleasing locals since 1972, and many staff, relatives and general acquaintances of Tayyabs have gone on to find culinary success elsewhere in the capital. If you really want to find out what makes this spot such an icon on London's Indian food scene, it'd be criminal not to try the sizzling, super-tender lamb chops. Bhajis, dahls, tikka and meat-rich curries don’t pale too much in comparison, and you’ll want to get in on some naans-as-big-as-your-face that are delivered red hot and slightly charred straight from the tandoor. Tayyabs is big, bustling and, despite its success, cheap as
Tayyabs, 83-89 Fieldgate Street, E1 1JU
Older sister restaurant to Gymkhana (see above), Trishna may not boast quite the same 'cool' as others on this list, but it focuses its efforts on elegance and quality instead. Pale wood panels are evocative of beach huts, while the menu majors in fish and seafood, alongside meat, game and vegetable dishes. The experience is a lighter and fresher one than at most Indians, though a sumptuous Dorset crab steeped in butter is an unmissable indulgent signature dish that is anything but. Optional wine pairings for every single item on the menu is a nice touch.
Trishna, 15-17 Blandford Street, W1U 3DG
Vijay India Restaurant, Kilburn
Even if you're not local to Kilburn, Vijay remains one of the best restaurants in London for southern Indian food. After all, an extra 10 minutes on the Overground is a darn sight easier than a return trip to Kerala. After honing their curries for more than 50 years, you can be sure their Keralan cuttlefish is a masterclass of flavour, lip-smackingly tangy tamarind sauce balanced out by the deep warmth of the spices. Londonist's Lydia Manch opts for the chicken chettinand with its "hot sweep of cumin, black pepper and yoghurt sauce". The somewhat retro decor just adds to its charm.
Vijay India Restaurant, 49 Willesden Lane, NW6 7RF
We reviewed Zumbura when it opened back in 2013, serving small plates of modernised north Indian food and some very decent cocktails to match. We liked it then but have been back since and think it’s got better still. The thoughtfully chosen dishes here are all inspired by recipes from the owner’s Indian mum, but rather than feeling challengingly authentic they are fresh-faced and vibrant, full of herbs and spices rather than chilli, and presented in pickable portions on pretty plates. This is Indian cooking at its most London-y.
Zumbura, 36a Old Town, SW4 0LB
More of London's best Indian restaurants:
- Amaya, Belgravia
- Chutney Mary, Chelsea
- Gandhi’s, Kennington
- Hot Stuff, Vauxhall
- Mirch Masala, Tooting
- Moti Mahal, South Kensington
- Namaaste Kitchen, Camden
- Rasa N16, Stoke Newington
- Potli, Hammersmith
- Quilon, Westminster
- Shayona, Neasden
- Veeraswamy, Mayfair
This article is part of our Best of London Food and Drink series. Visit the page for more recommendations of where to enjoy the capital's top food and drink, categorised by cuisine, food type and more.