Until very recently, Indian restaurants in the UK were cheap and cheerful. But there was always one big exception – Veeraswamy’s in Covent Garden. I think I’ve mentioned it before, but a recent visit to Holborn enabled me to renew my acquaintance.
Veeraswamy’s was founded in 1926. It wasn’t by any means the first Indian restaurant in London – that was the Hindostanee Coffee House, which provided hookahs as well as curry and coffee, and goes back all the way to the Regency period. (So next time you read a Regency Romance or Pride and Prejudice, you might wonder if there’s just a hint of spicy aroma sneaking into the air…)
It was incredibly posh – customers included Laurence Olivier and the aristocracy – and incredibly expensive. Prices are still on the high side – but you don’t need to be paying Supertax to afford a dinner here.
The food is a bit better than your average curry shop and the menu a bit more varied. Fresh pineapple curry is something you won’t find in many Indian restaurants, but you’ll find it here. Maybe nothing completely out of the ordinary – and there are probably better foodie temples, to be honest – but none the less, its ambitions are definitely a long way above serving up a chicken tikka masala.
But it’s the ambience you’re going to Veeraswamy’s for. It starts at the door, with the extravagantly dressed doorman in a turban – to give him his proper title, the darwan. (I was going to say the extravagantly moustachioed doorman, but a friend tells me the doorman has changed since I was last there.)
The restaurant still feels very 1920s – in a luxurious, dramatic way. A silver mirrored ceiling, a grab bag of Indian and Art Deco influences, it has the feel of the final generation of maharajahs going out with a shout – somewhere between Tippoo Sultan and Noel Coward mixed up with a few cocktails and a bit of spice.
I’m having a bit of an Indian food thing at the moment, so I’ll be posting up a few more Indian restaurants over the next few weeks – though I haven’t managed to get out to Ealing and Southall, where I’m told there is some fantastic Indian food. That’s a pleasure for later this year when I might manage to head west for a while.