Gymkhana is a startling addition to London’s plethora of Indian restaurants. Head-and-shoulders above your average cheap-and-cheerful curry house, it’s also not the the clinical corporate genre of posh Indian nosh. Named for old Indian sporting clubs, the place is decked out something like you might imagine a colonial pub; it feels decadent and reassuringly cosy all at the same time. Of course, it comes with pedigree. The founder, Karam Sethi, is also the guy behind Trishna, one of London’s only Michelin-starred Indian joints. No surprise then that the food has tongues wagging (and not just from the spice). Take a group so you can plough your way through as much of the menu as possible, taking particular care to order the goat keema and, if brave enough, the bheja (that’s brains) to go with it.
Dishoom, take 2, sees this popular Covent Garden staple head east, bringing with it its own brand of broke-down Bombay chic. Expect more of the same, with a slightly grungier edge; old school fans and a peeling paint job strip the spit and polish from the West End brunch. Never fear though, the food is still up to snuff from the now-classic breakfast bacon naan roll to the zingy curries and juicy grills. The one downside is that once you’re this far east, it’s hard not to make comparisons with Tayyabs, especially when it comes to lamb chops (double the price at Dishoom, it must be said). But, you’re paying a premium for atmosphere. You won’t be squashed in a corner here with no way to get to the loo, this is a more sophisticated affair (even when it’s pretending it’s not). The drinks are a dead give-away; a wide range of lassis and chais as well as exotically flavoured cocktails, perfect for big groups ready to get boozy.
That little bit of Marylebone just behind Selfridges used to be a culinary no-man’s land, but gradually little gems are popping up in-between the Italian chains and noodle bars. Roti Chai is one of these oases, specialising in fast and fun Indian street food. The décor is fun and quirky – colourful Indian groceries colliding with industrial cool. It’s nostalgia chic and it works, though stick with the upstairs street-food venue. Downstairs is way too cavernous and soulless, plus the service sucks. This is snack food, so go wild ordering and share, or don’t (the chicken lollipops definitely require multiple orders). Wash it all down with steaming hot cups of masala chai and finish with the creamy mango or pistachio Kulfi.
Modelled on Bombay café culture, this wistful, retro all-day diner oozes charm and nostalgia. Stylish to a fault, the funky interior mixes retro prints with marble table tops, giant clock faces and checkerboard floors. The atmosphere is always buzzy whether you go for breakfast and the dangerously moreish bacon naan roll or for a boozy dinner laced with spice-infused cocktails. The food is a bit of a weird fusion – Desi fish fingers anyone? But tastes pretty damn good so who’s complaining, it also means there’s no need to fear the heat levels. The food is well flavoured, but definitely not overly spicy. The staff, on the other hand, can be overly helpful – Yes, we get it, sharing plates, understood – but are always friendly. Book ahead, especially if you’re with a big group and if you can’t get a table in the Covent Garden branch, try the one in Shoreditch.
Perfectly-spiced Pakistani-style lamb chops have made this middle-of-nowhere kebab and curry house an east London institution. Be warned, the place packs out to the point of discomfort, despite the recent expansion to include an upstairs and downstairs, and the harassed staff can be less than friendly. Ignore the noise and focus on the food and you’ll still leave happy though. The long-standing rivalry with nearby Lahore Kebab House divides London opinion, but wherever you stand, there’s no denying the grill at Tayyabs is epic. Don’t be shy when ordering – this place is CHEAP, plus the BYOB policy helps keep costs down. Book ahead or be prepared to queue with the crowd that nightly spills out into the street – to do the whole thing stress free, take advantage of their delivery service. The experience can often be altogether more pleasant.