In an act of reverse colonization, London is home to some of the best Indian food in the world, thanks to its large population of Indian residents. A Zagat search for good Indian food near Picaddily Circus suggested a visit to Veeraswamy, said to be the oldest Indian restaurant in the United Kingdom still in business today. Established in 1926, the establishment has hosted famous personalities such as Winston Churchill, Gandhi, and Charlie Chaplin among others.
Diners are whisked upstairs via a private lift into an elegantly-furnished dining space, not unlike an Indian palace. Twinkling chandeliers and colorful Maharajas turbans adorn the ceilings, and fresh rose petals are scattered on tables lined with white linen. Ask for a window seats for a view of the bustling Regent Street.
Veeraswamy's menu walks through culinary traditions from all over India, ranging from Kashmir to Punjab. Amongst the dishes we ordered that evening, the Chicken Tikka Lababdar (£20) was the pick of the lot. Served in a cast iron vessel on warming lights, the sensationally aromatic curry goes down in my memory as one of the best things I've ever eaten. No drop was spared- we mopped up every last drop and sang lavish praises between bites.
The slow-cooked Hyderabad Lamb Biryani (£25) is said to be a dish from Veeraswamy's original menu in 1926, and one can certainly understand why it has been retained on the menu till this day. Tender lamb is nestled within the aromatic rice grains, which are saturated with the seductive flavors of saffron and ghee. Yet, the basmati rice is light and fluffy, with nary a trace of grease.
I've never had paneer as fine as that in Veeraswamy's Butter Paneer Lababdar (£19.50). The freshly-made cheese is seared with cumin and mint and is partnered with a rich onion and tomato sauce.
Grilled on a banana leaf, the mint and cumin marinated seabass was charred to moist, smoky perfection.
Dining at Veeraswamy is a pricey affair at about £40 per head, with a minimum spending levy of £25 per pax. But I'll be back for their curries in a heartbeat the next time I'm in London.