Outside of India, London is one of the best places in the world to eat Indian food - and we’re not talking about that chicken bhuna you heated up in the microwave the other day. You can eat at homely curry houses, noisy Punjabi grills, and incredible high-end places that’ll give anything on the subcontinent a run for its rupees.
It’s worth noting that there are loads of great places in areas like Southall, East Ham, and Tooting, but that’s a list for another day. Here, we’re focusing on the best Indian restaurants in central London. Whatever the occasion, you’ll find an excellent option below.
Gymkhana is London’s best Indian restaurant, and an essential restaurant to the city overall. The food is classic Indian that’s elevated, inventive, and absolutely mind blowing - but also stays true to each dish’s origins. The wild muntjac biryani is the standout from the menu, but even a simple dhal or crunchy rice bhel will be better than any you’ve had before. Unfortunately, dinner at Gymkhana is not a cheap affair. But if you want the experience and don’t want to spend loads, the £30 lunch menu is the way to go. However you do it, just do it.
There are a lot of different kinds of Indian restaurants in London, but there’s nothing like Gunpowder. The food here is an innovative take on traditional dishes, so your spicy rasam soup comes in a shot glass, and your keema mince is packed into an incredible little crunchy ‘doughnut’. Be warned that there’s usually a wait (pop down the road to Hawksmoor for a drink), and we’d also advise rocking up earlier in the evening before they run out of those doughnuts.
There are two things you need to know about Trishna. The first is that it leans towards fish and seafood instead of meat, and the second is that it’s in Marylebone, so the price of admission is high. That said, a meal here is worth every penny. And while it will always be associated with its sister restaurant Gymkhana, Trishna is more laid back in appearance and service. It’s definitely one to book when you have a corporate card on hand or when that rich relative that you don’t talk to very often is in town.
Restaurants around the corner from Oxford Circus tend to be one of three things: overpriced, overrated, or - worse - both. Bombay Bustle is none of those things. It’s a seriously good restaurant. You want to come with more people rather than less, as the kind of glitzy train carriage vibe suits a group getting a bit of biryani, a bit of dosa, some chops, a curry, and whatever else takes your fancy. Bombay Bustle is an excellent option and probably one of the tastiest as well.
Dishoom changed Londoners’ expectations of what a good Indian restaurant could and should be - and it changed the game in London. This is an essential establishment for a few reasons, most important of which being that the restaurant serves excellent homestyle food in retro surroundings that don’t feel lame, and are appropriate for any meal, any time of day. Dishoom has been incredibly successful, with four locations in London. They’re all equally good, but if we had to pick one, Shoreditch is our favorite space thanks to the outdoor garden.
Hoppers is special because it brings food that you’d normally have to schlep to Tooting for into a situation that’s pure Soho. The menu is drawn from Tamil and Sri Lankan influences, and while it’s hard to go wrong, you absolutely must eat an egg hopper (sort of like a bowl-shaped pancake you use to mop up curry and the bone marrow curry, washed down with a durian cream soda (trust us). Hoppers is always busy, but it’s worth the wait, and you can always grab a drink at one of these bars to pass the time.
Back in 1997 everybody was singing ‘Things Can Only Get Better’ and they did, at least for vegetarian Keralan cuisine, because Rasa opened in Stoke Newington. This is a bit of a north London institution with its bright pink decor, and, most importantly, its excellent food. Dosas and daals are essential, and don’t expect to pay more than a tenner for a main.
Tayyabs is what you would get if you crossed an East End curry house with a street riot. By this, we mean that you’ll have to physically elbow and shove your way into the restaurant, and then up to your table. It’s sweaty, exhilarating, and actually kind of fun. Once settled, you’ll be rewarded with cracking old-school Punjabi food, and a room full of happy people around you taking down dry lamb curry and chops by the pile. Just make sure to bring friends and beers from the off-licence around the corner - Tayyabs is BYOB.
There are plenty of posh Indian restaurants in London that are pretentious or stuffy or both. And while Jamavar is certainly an upmarket Indian restaurant in Mayfair, it’s neither of those things. The service is laid back, and the music will be bumping to the point that you’ll feel like you’re eating in a bling Hindi music video. Jamavar’s seafood game is particularly strong, but make sure not to skip their butter chicken. This is an experience that’s worth gathering your mates and putting on a fresh shirt for.
Biryani is usually one of the best dishes on any Indian menu, and at Dum Biryani, it gets a big stage light, a pair of snakeskin trousers, and an epic guitar solo. It’s the star. The biryani you’ll eat at this Soho restaurant is the South Indian kind, and of the several on offer, the lamb shank is the one to get. Hit it with a few friends, and it’s also worth remembering that getting a table here is easier if Dishoom and Hoppers are quoting you a two-hour wait.
A meal at Delhi Grill perfectly captures everything we love about Indian food in London: eating with our hands, the smell of a good curry, and the sound of sizzling lamb chops being brought to your table/face. It’s a classic Islington restaurant that we’ve been coming to for years. Prices are low and you’ll get a ton of food for your money. Bring friends.
Sagar is a pure vegetarian Indian restaurant that specialises in the kind of food our South Indian friends would make at home, especially when they haven’t had us over for a while. The food is excellent, it’s easy to get a table, and it’s also in central London. The dosas and thalis are particularly fantastic, and order the papadi chat to share, which is a mixed salad of lightly fried bread, potatoes, yoghurt, and tangy tamarind sauce. You didn’t actually think we came here to eat vegetables, did you?
The food at Darjeeling Express is like the best home-cooked Indian meal you’ve ever had, but in a restaurant. The owner was simply making food for family and friends before opening the restaurant, and the cooks alongside her in the kitchen were all doing the same before starting here. The methi chicken curry and crunchy puchkas (pani puri) are can’t miss items, and it’s also very popular, so book ahead.
Most of the vegetarian Indian restaurants that our herbivore friends like to visit tend to either be a bit dull, or involve a schlep to zone 4. Gujarati Rasoi has neither of these problems, and more to the point, the food’s legitimately what a Gujarati family would make at home. There are dishes here you won’t find at most other Indian restaurants, like rajma, the classic stew with red kidney beans.