One of the many great things about living in London is the (for lack of a better phrase) Indian food. Jon and I eat a lot of it, and because of the large number of Indian restaurants in London, we’re lucky that the restaurants really run the gamut in price and quality (if only the same could be said of Italian food here). We’ve also learned that there are so many differences among Indian regions that the phrase ‘Indian food’ isn’t very meaningful, but I’m American, so I’ll stick with that label for now.
Jon and I have our favorite dives (Lahore Kebab House, New Tayyabs) and mid-rangers (Masala Zone, Vijay, Rasa), which I’ll motivate to post about the next time we visit any of them. But since we moved to London, we haven’t tried any of the high-end ones, mostly because the quality at the dives and mid-rangers is so good.
Well, on Friday night, we were walking along Piccadilly and passed Veeraswamy while on our way to Yoshino for sushi. It turned out Yoshino was closed (seriously, it was only 10 pm and they’re closed?!?) so we figured, why not give Veeraswamy a try. As tourists in London in February 2005, we’d loved our meal at Chutney Mary, and because Veeraswamy and Chutney Mary share an owner, we’d always meant to try Veeraswamy anyway.
Veeraswamy’s decor and prices put it in the category of high-end Indian restaurants. Appetizers are £6-10, and most mains are £15-25. Compared to, say, high-end French places in London, Veeraswamy’s prices aren’t eyewatering, but compared to prices at most Indian restaurants, Veeraswamy’s prices do make you think twice.
The service was friendly, but not super professional. For example, one waiter had to demonstrate to our waitress how to pour a glass of wine and twist the bottle to avoid drips, and nobody filled our water glasses during the hour and a half we were there. That sort of thing is amateur hour, especially at a pricey restaurant sporting the plush-carpet-chandelier look.
But back to the food. The paneer tikka (“grilled cheese”) was incredible. The cheese was creamy and firm like a good tofu with a pan-crisped exterior. Jon and I haven’t had paneer that good since eating in India. Ours was served like a sandwich filled with something spicy and sweet, and we happily dipped our paneer in a yogurt-coriander sauce
main courses of Nihara lamb (from Lucknow) and Kerala chicken stew were also delicious. The lamb had been braised until it was tender and falling off the bone in an aromatic tomato-based (I think) sauce. I’m not a good enough Indian cook to identify all the spices in different sauces, but I’m enough of one to tell you that it’s hard to get all those dozens of spices to blend together in a flavor as smooth and rich as what was in my Nihara lamb.
The Kerala chicken tasted like the perfect Malaysian dish – a blend of cultures. A little bit of spice, a little bit of sweetness (from the coconut milk). The chicken was tender breast meat, and the sauce was light but packed with delicate flavors. Two appams (rice flour pancakes – see photo above) arrived with our chicken, so we used the appams to scoop up as much sauce and chicken as we could and went to town
a bottle of a riesling (Blue Slate – way too sweet for me) and all the little extras (breads and rice, etc.), our tab for two came to £100 (£99.56 to be exact). Enough to have invited ten friends for a hefty dinner at the Lahore Kebab House, but then again, it’d be unfair to compare a bistro experience to eating at L’Astrance. So I guess I have to work harder to move past my food racism.
Overall, I’d love to go back to Veeraswamy, perhaps with ten friends in tow.