London curry houses
There are certain types of food travelers should dare not miss when visiting favorite cities. In Rome, head for the pasta. Paris? Onion soup is a must. Tokyo? We’ll bet on sushi. But if scheduled for a stopover in London, we actually recommend something that just may surprise you - some good ol’ fashioned “ruby murray.” (Huh? That’s “curry” for all you non-Cockney speakin’ gents and lasses.)
Now we know what you’re saying... Indian food is hardly indigenous to England! But with the 1950s and 60s seeing an incredible influx of immigrants from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, London has since cultivated a unique spin on the cuisine that hardly compares to others we’ve tasted elsewhere. And the best part is, unlike the Swinging City’s newer top-notch dining spots, this quality food usually fits right into your budget!
Brick Lane is arguably the be-all/ end-all when it comes to Indian curries, and you can bet that any one of the countless restaurants that line “Banglatown’s” five Brick Lane blocks will offer you similar, passable food. In the past, we’ve enjoyed Sheba, Bengal Village and Nazrul. The last offers saag paneer and papadoms in an atmosphere you just have to see to believe! Brick Lane has undergone quite a whitewashing in the past decade or so, and though some rather startling street art tries to hold onto the neighborhood’s former edge, locals opine gentrification “progress” as more a dilution of community. (Set of Drifters tip: Brick Lane is here where London graffiti gods like Banksy and D*Face and Drab found much of their early fame.)
Of course, Indian eats are not exclusive to Brick Lane. On our most recent London excursion, we forfeited the usual Banglatown curry hunt in exchange for Maharani, a more modern-vibed restaurant located in the heart of Camden. Though a recently revamped décor wipes clean the red-flocked wallpaper you’ll often find in London’s East End, at Maharani, excellent Indian flavor still remains. We suggest some rather tasty murgh badam pasanda (butter chicken tandoori), served alongside pilao rice. Don’t forget some traditional sag aloo, as well as sweet peshwari naan with a variety of chutneys.
As you will find in most Indian restaurants, the service at Maharani was excellent. (We’re not sure what it is about their culture, but Indian restaurants always seem to be very friendly and formal - even when drunk and unruly patrons are afoot. Not that we consider ourselves among this lot, mind you!)
At Maharani, “ruby murray” is yours for lunch daily from 12:00 Noon until 2:30 PM, and then again for dinner from 6:00 PM until Midnight. The restaurant is open from 12:00 PM until midnight on weekends. Set of Drifters tip: Be on the lookout for specials. A free bottle of Kingfisher is yours when you spend 20 pounds, while a free glass of house wine comes to you when you spend 30 pounds. Not bad, eh?
Sheba - 136 Brick Lane, Shadwell, London E1 6RU, (011) 44 20 7247 7824, http://www.shebabricklane.com/
Bengal Village - 75 Brick Lane, Shadwell, London E1 6QL, (011) 44 20 7366 4868, http://www.bengalvillage.com/
Nazrul - 130 Brick Lane, Shadwell, London E1 6RU, (011) 44 20 7247 2505, http://nazrulbricklane.co.uk/
Brick Lane information (including more restaurants, shopping and art) - http://www.visitbricklane.org/
Maharani Restaurant - 109 Camden High Street, London NW17 7JN, (011) 44 20 7387 6551, http://www.maharanicamden.co.uk/
Pasha Hotel and Kyrgyz Kazakh House Restaurant
a recent visit in February of 2012, a friend of ours let us know she
would be performing one night with a dance group. Gobbling up the
invite, we gathered the troops, checked the address and headed to...
London’s Camberwell in one of those areas a bit off the beaten track. Best to catch via bus, the neighborhood was a stomping ground for Set of Drifter Doug during his “former life” in Brixton. Some 20 years ago, the area had not much going for it, save for a few pubs and Indian restaurants that enticed with strong smells of “Ruby Murray.” These days however, in preparation for the 2012 Summer Olympics, it seems the whole of London is undergoing a grand transformation, and with it, the neighborhood of Camberwell.
To be honest, the makeover was long overdue, and that is precisely why we found Pasha, a unique Turkish-run hotel and spa tucked just away from Camberwell High Street, such a welcome surprise!
Before the show, we sneaked quietly inside to have a peek at Pasha’s lobby, spa and other public areas. With multiple candles lit, and the aroma of incense wafting through the air, we were instantly transported to somewhere in the Middle East. Next, we ventured downstairs to the hotel’s Kyrgyz Kazakh House Restaurant. As it turns out, the intoxicating venue has been hosting monthly belly dancing events for the past few years. Lucky for us, our friend had clued us in on just the right weekend!
We plunged into our seats and ordered several small dishes to share as the show began. (Hoummus, spicy lamb meatballs and an aubergine dip with onion and garlic are just some of the small dishes to nibble on. And it goes without saying, copious amounts of red wine made everything go down just right!) As for the show itself, expect a collection of snake charmers, coaxing scarves and bejeweled booty-shakers. And since we are living in modern times, you can be assured that bare midriffs from both female and male hoofers will be on display!
Our festive evening culminated when the crowd finally got into the mix of things. Depending on your tolerance level for silly drunken booty-shaking, this can be either a good or a bad thing! Set of Drifters tip: Seating is limited inside Kyrgyz Kazakh. Make sure you call ahead for a reservation if you want to sit in the cozy section replete with silk pillows and tapestries!
Accompanied by other plush settings and tranquil music throughout, Pasha Hotel seems the perfect recommendation for those looking for a unique place to stay in London, but keep in mind, its location could prove a challenge if your are visiting for more than a few days.
Set of Drifters video: Check out our YouTube Channel for video from this event!
Pasha and Kyrgyz Kazakh House Restaurant - 158 Camberwell Road, London SE5 0EE, (011) 44 20 7277 2228
Set of Drifters
Doug here... London has always been a melting pot of cultures from
around the world, but particularly more so since the United Kingdom
became part of the EU back in the early 1990s. These days, people from
all corners of Europe have descended upon England’s capital to not only
enrich it with new sources of creativity and energy, but also something
truly invaluable - new traditions in food! That’s a good thing since
London has often battled the reputation of being a world-class city
without world-class food!
But that all seems to be changing. In fact, since my very first visit in 1988, and all the way through the 12 years I lived there, culinary choices have only improved, and along with them, London’s overall food quality.
On a recent trip in
2012, my good friends who live in Holloway turned me onto their local
Italian restaurant. Ironically, it just so happened to be named after
my favorite vintage car, the Fiat Cinquecento, or “500.”
Cinquecento showcases savory Italian fare with a focus on cured meats
and unusual flavor combinations (risotto with smoked eel, milk and
parsley, anyone?) But you wouldn’t know it walking down High Street.
From the outside, Cinquecento is cozy and quaint, belying the
sophisticated pasta dishes and exquisite wine list proffered inside.
Stand-out dishes include pan-fried prawns served with borlotti bean mash
and vanilla, and slow-cooked venison ravioli in a tomato and red wine
sauce. We loved the fact that although the menu showcased some rather
stellar concoctions, the vibe inside was not the least bit pretentious.
Set of Drifters tip: Make sure you save room for some of gelato or sorbet! Varieties at “500” include pistachio, cinnamon and blueberry.
Cinquecento is open for dinner from 6:00 PM until 10:30 PM Monday through Saturday, and also for lunch on Fridays and Saturdays from 12:00 PM until 3:00 PM. Sunday hours are a bit unusual, opening at 12:00 PM and closing at 9:30 PM. Since this place gets very busy at night, we recommend booking a reservation directly from their website!
Cinquecento - 782 Holloway Road, London N19 3JH, (011) 44 20 7272 3406
During a visit to London’s Camden Town in February of 2012, an unusual structure immediately caught our eye as the focus of a brand new complex. Literally rising out from the ashes of 2008’s horrendous Camden fire (see "goodies" for more information), the modern three-level glass building was certainly in sharp contrast to the famous old stables and markets that once existed. (We smell insurance fraud.) Ultimately, we’re not complaining. How many checkerboard scarves and football jerseys can once really buy anyway?
Paramount to the new complex is super-venue Gilgamesh, a restaurant/ bar/ nightclub/ tea room that we surmise could easily hold 1,000 people within its 15,000 sq. feet of space. Borrowing heavily from Sumerian art, the decor is absolutely, unequivocally opulent. A monstrous, hand-carved “Tree of Life” acts as Gilgamesh’s centerpiece. The curving wooden relief certainly rivals those found in the British Museum, and we bet you won’t be the only ones stopping for a photo when hopping up and down the adjacent staircase!
Though we actually dined off of Gilgamesh’s incredible lunch special, an assortment of four different dishes for an affordably-priced £12 (about $19 USD), the regular dinner menu runs the gamut from Japanese sushi to Thai curries and even dim-sum. We even noticed the “Babylon VIP bar” serving Peking Duck on a rolling trolley! We likey indeed. (Beginning to wonder if the Ancient Middle East theme runs only skin deep? Don’t worry. Spice lamb fillet is also on the menu.)
Decorated to imbue a cozy harem space with comfy sofas and flowing drapes, the lounge bar is worth a stop if you’re in the mood for exotic cocktails from an extensive cocktail list. The Studio Nightclub and Tea Room look equally impressive. With so much on offer at Gilgamesh, we would imagine you’ll need to come back multiple times to get the full experience. This, my friends, is another Set of Drifters MUST!