Curry is Britain’s favourite food – but up and down the land, restaurants are pushing beyond familiar staples like chicken tikka masala and prawn korma with distinctive – and innovative – approaches to subcontinental cuisine. We pick 10 of the best curry houses in the UK.
Britain is becoming as famed for its curry houses as the Indian subcontinent – a sign, perhaps, of a nation that’s happy to embrace the richness of other cultures and absorb their influences. But what makes the British curry truly noteworthy is its way of taking the diverse styles and flavours of the subcontinent – from the Punjab to Kerala – and mixing them with European influences. So, in honour of National Curry Week, we celebrate some of the best of the UK’s South Asian cooking across the country.
Tucked down a small street in Whitechapel, Tayyabs might be easily missed – were it not for the queue of eager diners outside. Since 1972, this Punjabi curry house has delighted Londoners with its famous grilled lamb chops, and smallish but finely honed menu. The attitude of the three Tayyab brothers, who now run the restaurant founded by their father, Wasim, is that it’s better to have one restaurant and make the food perfect than to expand. It’s what makes the queuing worthwhile.
Run for 40 years by the Anand family, Brilliant serves up Punjabi curries with an added twist, thanks to the family’s Kenyan-Asian heritage. The Prince of Wales is among those who have dined here, and Gordon Ramsay spent a brief spell working in the kitchen, when he featured the restaurant in his Channel 4 series Ramsay’s Best Restaurant. Even with a 120-seat upstairs banqueting area, cookery courses and TV fame, Brilliant has a truly local feel, based on a passion for dishing up the kind of food they would eat at home – a passion that has lasted for three generations.
The Chilli Pickle, Brighton
The Chilli Pickle is well loved in Brighton. Run by Alun and Dawn Sperring, it’s a rare example of an Indian restaurant run by non-Asians. Alun credits an inspiring stint with The Cinnamon Club’s Vivek Singh for firing his enthusiasm for Indian cuisine. Committed to high-quality ingredients and consistently innovative, the Sperrings have won multiple awards, including the accolade of being one of only two Indian restaurants to win a place in 2012’s National Restaurant Awards’ list of the UK’s top 100 restaurants.
Thali Cafe, Bristol
Restaurants that started life as street-food vans seem to be two a penny these days. The Thali Cafe in Bristol is one of them, though, in truth, it was well ahead of the curve. It started life 15 years ago as a food van called Noddy, serving summer music festivalsl then, in 1999, Thali Café opened as a permanent site in Bristol’s Montpelier district, serving a selection of thalis with rice, raita and salad. Today, it has four branches across Bristol. If you opt for a takeaway, you’ll receive your order in a neat stack of tiffin tins, which you can re-use for future orders. It’s the cornerstone of Thali Cafe’s aim to be waste-free and sustainable, which has gained it a three-star “champion” rating from the Sustainable Restaurant Association.
Mint and Mustard, Cardiff
This Cardiff restaurant has a stated mission to be “natural all the time”, and its food has people queuing outside, even at the takeaway branch in Penarth. It has kept its fresh-flavoured Keralan dishes resolutely authentic, refusing to compromise for the sake of being trendy. As Mint and Mustard is one of just a few Welsh restaurants to win a Michelin Bib Gourmand, it’s a commitment that has clearly proved worthwhile.
Birmingham is famous for its balti restaurants, but in the Jewellery Quarter there’s a gem that offers something more inventive. Lasan is particularly renowned for its fish dishes – chef Aktar Islam contributed the fish course to the BBC2’s Great British Menu in 2011. Birmingham born and bred, Islam learned his culinary craft from his mother, who should probably be officially thanked by the city. Last year, Lasan was cited by The New York Times as one of the reasons why Birmingham was one of its must-visit cities. Enough said.
This family-run Gujarati restaurant had humble beginnings in inner-city Bradford back in 1990, and recently made a surprise move to a larger site in a former pub in Drighlington, a village between Bradford and Leeds. The change of location hasn’t diminished the restaurant’s popularity, nor the quality of its vegetarian menu. Prashad’s subtly spiced dishes reflect the recipes that founder and chef Kaushy Patel learned when growing up in northern India. If you can’t visit the restaurant, you can still experience Kaushy’s food; her Prashad cookbook contains not only recipes but also menu plans, so you can replicate a Gujarati banquet in your own home.
Valley Restaurant, Corbridge
One of a group of three restaurants based in the scenic Tyne Valley, the original Valley Restaurant in the Northumberland village of Corbridge is the most novel. As well as having picked up many awards and commendations for their food along the way, they run an unusual service called A Passage to India: a “curry train” starting from Newcastle Central station, which allows diners to have a drink and order from a menu en route. Diners are then free to enjoy their meal without fretting about how to get back home at the end of it.
Located on Edinburgh’s Leith Docks, Mithas represents a mission to offer “redefined” Indian cuisine. Don’t expect pakoras and bottles of Cobra here; instead, get ready for the likes of spinach and fig tikka, inventive partridge, and a wealth of locally sourced seafood, followed by twists on British classics such as ginger-toffee pudding and rhubarb tart. Mithas’s accolade of Best Curry House in Scotland is well deserved.
Mother India, Glasgow
Glasgow’s Mother India is the place for those who occasionally struggle with the bewildering choice of dishes on many curry-house menus. It adopts a sharing-plates approach – Indian tapas, so to speak – allowing diners to enjoy the gamut of its north Indian cuisine. Look out for the point on the menu where the Punjab meets the Atlantic coast: dishes such as ginger and green chilli fish pakora and seasoned Scottish haddock with Puy lentils. There’s a sister restaurant in Edinburgh, and an Indian deli and two smaller curry cafés elsewhere in Glasgow.
Read this feature as it originally appeared on Flavour