Forget the debate over a new runway at Heathrow or rising house prices, there are few more contentious subjects in the city than than where to get the best curry in London. People get weirdly defensive about their favourite, often taking it as a personal affront if you dare question their choice’s credentials as king of the curries, which has made this selection particularly tricky.
The parade of restaurants on Brick Lane, adjacent to Qbic, are a big part of the local area, and often where many a local pub crawl has ended up. However, they’ve not managed to make the cut for our final five.
Our selection will no doubt raise hackles from fans of the many great restaurants in Southall in the west and Wembley in the north. We’ve also omitted legendary upmarket restaurants such as Cinnamon Club and Tamarind. Now go and take your appetites, test them out yourself, and tell us where we’ve gone wrong.
Let’s get it out of the way first. It’s the undisputed superstar. The one that’s been packing them in for decades and continues to pull in bankers, students, families, creatives, couples and curry aficionados from far and wide. Even the most feared food critics sing odes of adoration to Tayyabs’ lamb chops. Many restaurants get the label ‘an institution’ but this really is one.
It’s also so close to Qbic you can practically let your nose guide you there. Beyond the famous lamb chops, its ‘dry meat’ dish is terrific, there’s the unlikely hit of a baby pumpkin curry and the naan breads are triumphantly charred and fluffy.
That said, its fame has made it an unpleasant experience if you join the hoards on a Friday or Saturday night. And the the thick cloud of spicy meat fumes in the air seems to penetrate deep into the fibres of even the robust clothing. So take note from the regulars and turn up in your worst rags.
Strand, London WC2R 1LA More Info
Dishoom serves Indian food done with a knowing wink. The whole enterprise pays tribute to the old Irani style cafés in Mumbai and the references are all over the place: old copies of the Times of India, Indian signs, metal cups, and of course the dishes.
Rare for an Indian restaurant, it runs a breakfast service, which is a pleasant alternative to the traditional morning offerings for breakfast.
It’s walkable from Qbic, located in the heart of Shoreditch (on Boundary Street) and is an ideal place to soak up the damage from a Shoreditch bar crawl.
We’d suggest roomali rotis, bhel, lamb raan and the chicken ruby. There are also some terrifically quirky desserts worth checking out too. The Kala Khatta Gola Ice is well worth a punt; weird, but remarkably tasty. And of course, you shouldn’t leave without a classic Indian chai.
7 Boundary Street, London E2 7JE More Info
Lahore Kebab House
LKH is the unstarry and often overlooked curry house around Whitechapel, outshone by the all conquering Tayyabs. Like Tayyabs, LKH is a rare Punjabi restaurant and east London stalwart surrounded by the more ubiquitous Bangladeshi restaurants in the area.
It would be a disservice to say the best thing about Lahore Kebab House is the shorter queues and crowds that frankly dent some of the pleasure had from eating at Tayyabs, but it is partly true.
Eating the thrillingly spicy and blackened seekh kebabs at LKH is made all the more enjoyable by its comparably less chaotic ambience.
It also hits the high notes with its superb nihari, a slow cooked lamb shank in a gingery, spicy stew, where a puffy naan bread is a mandatory accompaniment.
2-10 Umberston St, London E1 1PY More Info
Should Indian food exist at the fancier end? It’s a question that purists often respond to with a firm no. It’s probably down to the appalling black marble and mirror abominations with mediocre food that have mired most attempts to crack upmarket Indian dining to date.
Trishna in Marylebone was the breakthrough restaurant that proved this didn’t have to be the case. It’s an elegant little restaurant in elegant Marylebone, completely modern without trying to be modern, with outstanding food.
The founders set up Gymkhana in Mayfair earlier this year which has basked in a confetti-flecked round of critical praise and awards. But we think Trishna is just as good, and may even be better. It’s certainly easier to get a table.
It has an emphasis on fish just like its namesake in Mumbai, and the point is unequivocally made by two masterful dishes: the hariyali bream and the seafood biryani.
Well worth a trip if you’re around the West End.
15-17, Blandford St, Marylebone Village, W1U 3DG More Info
‘Indian’ food usually served in British restaurants is typically Bangladeshi (see Brick Lane) or North Indian (the hearty, meaty cooking has been a hit with the mainstream British palate for over 40 years), but it fails to reflect the diversity of Indian cooking.
South Indian food is a world away from the traditional ‘curry’, and demonstrates that flavours can be subtle, the food less rich and extend beyond the carnivores.
A trip south of the river is a chance to sample the delights of Ganapati. The curries are lighter than those traditionally found in northern India with fresh coconut and chilli at the heart of many curry recipes.
The south Indian staple is the dosa – an enormous, thin rice flour pancake rolled into a tube and typically filled with spicy potato. It’s served with coconut chutney and sambar on a large coconut leaf. The fish, chicken or vegetarian thali, another staple dish, is served with rice and a selection of different curries.
It’s also outside of Qbic’s immediate vicinity, and one for the adventurous type willing to trek to south London for south Indian food.
38 Holly Grove, Peckham, SE15 5DF More Info