/ The London Traveler
London — By Andrea Kirkby on May 5, 2010 at 12:29 pm
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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 is quite a lot more tasteful than this! An Indian restaurant in Pimlico does what it says on the tin

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.

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