UK’s love affair with Indian food shows no signs of flagging. Once a market filled with the scarcely inventive, beer fuelled ‘curry houses’, there appears to be a renaissance now taking place, at least that is, in London.
Owing to a combination of erudite Indian chefs, sophisticated consumers and increasingly discerning palates, a wave of refined, regional Indian cuisine is being charmingly embraced. Of course, the age-old curry house still plays host to the palates of many avid patrons but consumer’s perceptions of India have changed dramatically and consequently, their appreciation of its cuisine. Gone are the days of envisaging the time of the Raj or poverty stricken villages; India’s enchanting mystique has spread, captivating UK consumers with the Taj Mahal, Bollywood romance and its eclectic make up of culture, religion and food.
London hosts an amazing cross section of Indian cuisine within exceptional hosting grounds, each of which represent their heritage cuisine with much flair. Far from the homogenous offerings presented by some, these establishments plate up a multitude ofdishes that are bold and innovative whilst still capturing the inherent traits of their roots. Recently published Capital Spice, by Chrissie Walker brilliantly showcases the extent to which regional Indian cuisine is represented in the UK, profiling 21 top Indian chefs and their recipes. Reading through the chef bios and their signature dishes will not only make one sit up and take heed of the caliber of the capital’s Indian fare but will also awaken the innate sense of pride we have for incredible India.
The search for top quality Indian food in the capital leads one on a short journey. Classically trained chef and CEO of Cinnamon Club, Vivek Singh, has masterfully changed the face of Indian cuisine through his brilliant execution of food that is not only relevant, but which goes beyond the realms of authenticity alone. Abdul Yaseen, head chef at Cinnamon Kitchen, sister restaurant to Cinnamon Club, offers up an inspiring mélange of modern Indian cuisine. Known for his striking canapés, he highlights their importance as equal to those of the main course; clearly evident, as each bite-size piece is complex, multifaceted in flavour and visually stunning. With the succulent bite of grilled tilapia with coconut, mustard and red pepper the palate is ignited, leaving behind an explosion of flavours; it’s not hard to understand the impact such chefs have made in the industry.
Chef Sriram Aylur of Michelin starred Quilon, marked as one of the top five chefs in India by The Telegraph (India) in 1997, heralds modern and light south Indian flavours that are progressive without displacing their roots. Dishes such as duo of black leg chicken with lentil crust, coriander and curry leaf are examples of such. Specialising in cuisine from the subcontinent’s south west coast, Quilon boasts an exquisite range of modern yet traditional flavours.
Chef patron Cyrus Todiwala OBE, DL and recent entrant to the GG/EE Power 101 List of Britain’s Most Influential Asians, and his wife Pervin, form the forceful yet grounded partnership behind Café Spice Namaste; a pan Indian restaurant that also draws on their Parsee roots. Along with an endless list of awards and accolades, Café Spice boasts a sophisticated menu that demonstrates Cyrus’s renowned commitment to British produce. In addition to a rather chic and far from typical dishes such as venison samosas and springbok bhuna, Cyrus and Pervin also play host at their ‘Khaadraas Club,’ more of a private dining occasion where a three course Parsee feast is served, offering the opportunity to be looked after by the gracious hosts themselves.
Unsurprisingly, Indian wine is also making its mark. The ever-increasing demand and awareness of quality wine by consumers in India naturally resulted in Indian vineyards feeling the pressure to aspire to an international benchmark. Consequently, names such as Ritu, Soul Tree and Anokhee Wines have now made their way to the UK, causing a timely cultural shift in the traditional British custom of ‘beer and a curry’.
Soul Tree Wines, brainchild of Alok Mathur and Melvin D’Souza, are sourced from a range of independent vineyards in India. Since their inception in 2011, Soul Tree has notched up a number of awards and now dresses the tables of over 300 restaurants in the UK. Through numerous projects, the MBA duo aim to make an impact across the entire Indian wine industry
Another fine example of Indian wines that are making headway in the industry is Anokhee Wines. Their peppery noted Sauvignon Blanc and intense barrel aged reds are produced by the first boutique winery in Nashik Valley. Barry Das, the key force behind Anokhee Wines is intent on changing the way in which wines are associated with Indian food today.
Paramount in this continued shift is a more widespread realisation and understanding of the breadth and quality of regional Indian food and wine. Where the responsibility lies may be questionable, but for the time being, the capital offers some exceptionalexamples of those currently taking charge in doing so.