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Great bowls of fire! Taste guide to London’s best curries

The historical relationship between Britain and curries is as deep and complex as the dishes themselves. It’s well documented that our most iconic takeaway dishes are in fact, very far from the original incarnations and some even invented on our own turf (we’re looking at you, Balti). We helped spread their popularity across the Commonwealth , spurred the creation of the Japanese katsu curry, and one haphazard attempt at recreating it ourselves resulted in Worcester Sauce. Phew.

Fast forward to the present day, and we’ve come a long way from the vindaloos and heat sweats of yesteryear. London has transformed into a melting pot of incredible curry restaurants, bubbling constantly with new outposts that aren’t afraid to champion regional styles and broaden our horizons with curry cultures as far-flung as West Africa and Tibet.

So with this much choice on our doorsteps, where should a hungry Londoner venture for the best curry in town? Read on for our guide to the restaurants serving up the best spice in London.

Best for Indian… Jamavar’s Dum Nalli Biryani with Hampshire lamb

Jamavar opened its doors in late 2016 to roaring success, prompting a wave of swooning reviews and the Best Newcomer accolade at the Harden’s Restaurant Awards. It came as little surprise to anyone, thanks to the stellar reputation of the team behind it (their Mumbai restaurant appeared in a Forbes Top 10 list), and the presence of Rohit Ghai (formerly of Michelin-starred Trishna) heading up the kitchen.

Inspired by the Royal Kitchens of the north and the fragrant spices of the south, Jamavar’s unique take on Indian cuisine refines and reworks classic street food dishes with sublime success. The small plates are a parade of exquisite ingredients draped in masterful spicing, including the likes of lobster tail with lentil stew and dumplings, and soft shell crab with damson chutney. They are the perfect preamble to main courses that pack all the right punches and leave no prisoners.

To the main event: the dum nalli biryani with Hampshire lamb, crispy onions and fresh mint. Arriving entombed in a pastry case, removing its flaky top feels like the start of some ancient religious ceremony as the intense aromas fill your lungs and send your tastebuds into spirals of delight. Inside is beautifully tender, buttery lamb, impeccably fluffed rice and a masterclass in deep, fragrant spicing. It is, without doubt, the best biryani in London.

There are puddings too. If you haven’t gorged too much on the preceding small plates they are a delicious reward for managing your ordering (it’s better than we did). Commendations all around.

Where to find it: 8 Mount Street, Mayfair, W1K 3NF

Best for British… Kricket’s Pumpkin, makhani sauce and fresh paneer

Cult restaurant Kricket follows true curry house tradition: offering distinct British takes on classic Indian dishes.  Head chef Will Bowlby cut his teeth at Cheval restaurant in Mumbai, before travelling the country honing technique and developing new dishes. His first venture upon his return to home soil couldn’t have been more of a home run: Kricket has hopped from accolade to accolade since it first launched from a shipping container in Brixton.

Kricket’s new Soho home has a touch of its industrial roots but is much more of a refined affair. There are flourishes of gold. The high bar stools from which to ogle the chefs and overdose on deliciousness are lined in luxurious lilac leather. Kricket has grown up, and means business. The menu induces immediate FOMO: a non-stop hit parade all threatening to be as good as the other. Quintessential British ingredients cosy up with Indian spicing and sensibility to form the perfect Anglo-Indian love child: think torched kasundi mackerel with gooseberry chutney, or lasooni scallop with goan sausage, poha and seaweed.

And amongst all this fish finery, bashfully jostling for airtime alongside Telanga beef pickle and Keralan chicken, is the unassuming pumpkin curry, bathing in mahkani sauce and adorned with fresh paneer, hazelnut crumble and puffed wild rice. A bowl of riotous orange and burnt ochre, like an autumnal forest day, it exudes warmth and joy. Jab a fork at the centrepiece pumpkin and watch it fall apart, succumbing to its richly spiced bath, a subtle heat that builds into a delightful crescendo, tempered with sweet pillowy paneer and crunches of puffed rice. It may not be the spiciest option on our list, so heat seekers look elsewhere, instead, it’s a comforting hug on a rainy day, the sound of your best mate’s voice after a tough week. It’s poetic stuff.

One of the most enjoyable aspects of dining at Kricket is the fatigue choosing a favourite dish induces. They may have made it onto this list for their pumpkin, being a curry round up and all, but it is one hit on an album of chart toppers. Come for the pumpkin curry, stay for the samphire pakoras with date and tamarind chutney, and return for the shahi tukda with buttermilk ice cream and dulche de leche. You won’t regret it.

Where to find it: 12  Denman Street, London, W1D 7HH, United Kingdom

 

Best for Himalayan… Madame D’s pork Nepali

So you’ve never eaten Himalayan curry before? We’ll level with you: it was a first for us too, and will definitely not be the last. Madame D’s is the second venture from the husband and wife duo who brought you the best curry in Shoreditch, aka Gunpowder. Conveniently located a stone’s throw away from its older sibling and located on the first floor above a pub, you could quite easily lose a whole day bouncing between the two venues; boozy, a few pounds heavier but incredibly well fed. It’s on our bucket list.

Madame D’s has the same casual charm and outstanding, understated dishes that made Gunpowder such a hit. From the opening salvo of prawn crackers with Szechuan pepper salt, you know you’re in for an unforgettable journey. Nestled amongst the lip-smackingly moreish Szechuan sauce are little pickled prawns, gloriously plump and dripping in fiery ferment. It’s fight-for-the-final-mouthful stuff.

The concise menu is best enjoyed with a group of friends, and all at once. There is no simpler joy than dipping in and out of sultry buffalo paneer, doused in sweet chilli sauce and tossed in and peppers, followed by a tussle with hot-as-you-like tiffin masala lamb noodles and a fried egg. Apparently, they rose to prominence in ration packs for travelling armies. Sign us up. Top all this gloriousness off with pork Nepali, hunks of sweet, succulent pork belly drenched in Nepalese spices, soy and tomatoes. It isn’t a dish for the easily cowed, a ball-busting flavour train of intense chilli heat, umami soy and sweet pork that lingers well after the last mouthful and leaves you yearning for more. Rise to the challenge, it’s totally worth it.

Where to find it: Second Floor, 76 Commercial Street, E1 6LY

Best for Thai… Farang’s Chian Mai egg noodles with braised beef cheek, mustard greens & smoked squash

If it wasn’t for the parade of incredible reviews threatening to engulf the internet, you’d be forgiven for passing by Farang with only a cursory glance on an evening’s stroll through Highbury. This long-term pop-up/residency by tipped-for-greatness chef Sebby Holmes, occupies an unassuming corner plot within a rickety old Italian in the much-less-trodden area of Highbury. But pass by at your peril.

Inside is quite frankly, the hottest restaurant ticket in town. Head chef Sebby Holme’s personal story reads like a round-up of the best Thai restaurants in London (it’s coming, we promise), starting with Peckham’s critically-acclaimed The Begging Bowl and by way of a head chef gig at Smoking Goat, regularly touted as one of London’s best restaurants, even without the Thai prefix.

So we’re in safe hands then. The menu is a zeitgeisty mix of on-trend street food and reworked Thai classics, with plenty of opportunities to scoop and dunk with your hands. Ceremoniously kick off the proceedings with home-cured sea trout with green mango, jackfruit and dill. The delicate little parcels purport an innocence on the eye that is immediately abandoned as a juggernaut of fresh, sour spices hit you square on the chin and leave you gasping for more. Crispy noodles with smoked salmon and crab offer a pleasing respite from the heat, boasting a delicate flavour profile not dissimilar to a British sandwich staple.

Once recovered, it’s time to tackle the order of the day: curried egg noodles with braised beef cheek, mustard greens and smoked squash. To achieve its signature tenderness, the beef is cured and slow cooked in the old pizza oven (Farang occupies the site of Sebby’s step-dad’s former Italian restaurant) for 6 hours, an ingenious re-use that results in a beautifully mouth-meltingly soft meat. It sits atop a shimmering broth of intense flavour and soul-hugging heat, rich with noodles and desperate to be devoured. It’s enough to turn any Pad Thai quibbler into a convert in one mouthful. Hotfoot it to Farang at the first opportunity you get, you won’t feel like a Farang (outsider) for long.

Where to find it: 72 Highbury Park, Highbury East, London N5 2XE

 

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