Hot on the curry trail: From Lucknow to London

By Jack Southan on August 12th, 2016

When India finally claimed its independence from British rule in 1947, it was the breakup of a one-sided love affair. India didn’t want them and Britain didn’t really want to go. But these things happen, and so separate they did.

But the British men and women who lived there and had grown up there took a keepsake home, one that is still as valuable to the people of Britain as ever: curry.



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You will always hear people who have been to India talk about how British curry is nothing like the real thing. But it’s actually not as simple as that. The journey of the humble curry to the UK changed the face of British cuisine. The exotic spices of the sub-continent became highly profitable and fashionable to have in the home. So people began cooking a western version of the recipes brought home from India.

But the dishes created this side of the world were suited to western tastes. Thick gravy, large chunks of meat and vegetables made up the base of British curry. But in India, things were done differently. Curry as we know it doesn’t really exist there, at least not in the same way.

So, in celebration of Indian Independence Day we have put together a list of our favourite London curries, and their traditional (and original) Indian counterparts to set the record straight and show where Britain’s national dish really comes from.

LONDON: Gunpowder - Maa's Kashmiri Lamb Chops



It may be just a stone’s throw away from Brick Lane, the traditional Indian haunt of London, but the quality of food at this home-style Indian restaurant in Spitalfields is light years ahead. This is no more evident than with the Maa's Kashmiri Lamb Chop. Two lamb chops marinated with yogurt are served smoky from the grill. The warm aromatic flavor will have you gnawing at the bone. The menu, influenced by family recipes and designed to share, also includes Chettinad pulled duck and sigree grilled mustard broccoli.

BANGALORE: Adupadi - Chettinad Kari Kulambu



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A zesty, tangy, spiced mutton dish cooked in traditional Chettinad style and served with delicious Appam (soft centred lacy pancake made of fermented rice & coconut) best enjoyed at Adupadi restaurant in Bangalore.

LONDON: Gymkhana



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Gymkhana, which just earned its first Michelin star, is inspired by Colonial Indian gymkhana clubs set up by the British Raj for members of high society to socialize, dine, drink and play sport. The interior is rich with dark oak wood panelling and rattan-trimmed booths, sepia hunting photographs, ceiling fans and cut glass wall lamps from Jaipur. On the menu, main courses are divided among curry and biryani, kebabs, game and chops. In the kitchen, chef/owner Karam Sethi's contemporary Northern Indian cuisine uses seasonal British ingredients finished in a traditional tandoori oven. The result is food with a serious kick, such as spiced curry of sweet minced goat flavored with nutty fenugreek; chicken butter masala; Dorset brown crab with garlic and pepper; and suckling pig vindaloo. Waiters dressed in black Nehru jackets deliver entrees by trolley in silver dishes.

DELHI: Moti Mahal - Butter Chicken



Butter Chicken (Murgh Makhani) was invented in the 1950s by Kundan Lal Gujral at Moti Mahal (Palace of Pearl) in Delhi. The Indian dish of chicken, served in a mildly spiced curry sauce, revolutionized Punjab cuisine and placed it firmly on the global food map. The restaurant, which specializes in tandoori delicacies, also invented Dal Makhani — black gram lentils with tomatoes, cream and butter. India’s first education minister was to have once said to the Shah of Iran: “Visiting Delhi and not going to Moti Mahal is like going to Agra and not visiting the Taj Mahal.”

LONDON: Kricket - Keralan Fried Chicken



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Serving Indian-inspired small plates from a tiny container inside the Pop Brixton market, Will Bowlby and Rik Campbell have gained a loyal following. The quality of food produced in this tiny space is astonishing. The menu changes regularly but the Keralan Fried Chicken is a customer favorite and there is a reason it has never been taken off. The tender morsels, batter-fried and pungent with curry leaves and lightly pickled mooli, is unlike any other fried chicken you’ll find in London.

CHENNAI: Buhari - Chicken 65



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Chicken 65, a spicy, deep-fried chicken dish, originated in Chennai, India, as an entrée or quick snack. The flavor of the dish can be attributed to red chilies, but the exact set of ingredients for the recipe vary. Prepared using boneless or bone-in chicken, it usually is served with onion and lemon garnish. While the name Chicken 65 is universally used to refer to the dish, there are many theories claiming its origins. One says Chicken 65 was introduced in 1965 at the Buhari Hotel restaurant in Chennai by its founder, A.M. Buhari. Season 1 of Amitabh Bachchan Kaun’s television show “Banega Crorepati,” featured Chicken 65 as a Buhari invention, as did Siddharth Basu's "Quiz Time" on Doordarshan in the 1990s and a report in “The Hindu” in 2013. .

LONDON: Tayyabs - Tandoori Lamb Chops



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Serving traditional Punjab cuisine since 1972, Tayyabs is the home of the best tandoori lamb chop in Whitechapel. The lamb chop is sparingly spiced and cooked for a very short time in the tandoor so it becomes nicely charred from the outside and slightly pink near the bone. Served still sizzling from the grill, the chops are accompanied with yogurt and mint, mango and spicy tomato chutneys. An interesting side note: To promote the book “Meatspace” by Nikesh Shukla, filmmakers decided to launch the tandoori lamb chop from Tayyabs on a weather balloon from Upper Slaughter, Cotswolds, in June 2014. When the camera pod was found four months later, the story went viral and won the filmmakers a spot for their photograph on Tayyabs “Hall Of Fame,” right next to The Ramones.

MUMBAI: Khane Khas - Tandoori Chicken



Here the Tandoori Chicken is awesome and delicious. This is typically a very Indian dish that can be incredibly tender and juicy. With a crisp smokiness and exotic flavors of roasted cumin, yogurt and other special spices, it is best found at Khane Khas. The ambience is simple with no frills, and service is excellent.

LONDON: Jai Krishna Vegetable - Thali and Kachori Chaat



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Serving up outstanding South Indian cuisine in a simple but authentic environment, Jai Krishna is famous in North London for making some of the best sub-continental food outside of the home country. It is no-frills and unassuming, but the selection of incredibly delicate and flavorful dishes more than makes up for it. The Vegetable Thali is more than enough for one person, coming loaded with a selection of vegetable curries, tarka dal, chapati or poori, rice and chutneys. It is beautifully seasoned and flavored to perfection. Also on the menu is the Kachori Chaat. This is probably the best side dish I have ever eaten outside of India and it is worth visiting Jai Krishna just for this dish.

MUMBAI: Pancham Puriwala - Pancham Thali



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Pancham Puriwala, established in the 1840s by Pancham Sharma, is arguably the oldest running restaurant in Mumbai. The small, two-storied restaurant opposite the historic Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus station is a no-frills, unairconditioned place with shared seating. Fans are lured by the Indian flatbread. More than 4,000 puris are fried fresh every day. There are three versions: sada (plain), masala and palak. These come with a variety of vegetarian side dishes or you can go in for the full-blown thali. The vegetables are made every day and nothing is stored overnight, one reason why they didn't keep a refrigerator until recently. Meal prices range between ₹ 60 to ₹ 160. Fans also recommend the lassi and buttermilk.


Meet the author
Jack Southan

Jack Southan is a freelance journalist specialising in food and travel. He has worked his way around the world sampling the tastiest dishes and strongest local brews, but now lives in London and writes for magazines from the comfort of his armchair. ... More