The first Indian restaurant in Britain opened more than two centuries ago – almost as long ago, in fact, as the earliest Scotch whisky distilleries – so it’s no surprise that curry is so firmly embedded in the nation’s psyche. But the days of the homogenous chicken tikka masala or korma are firmly in the past, as a new breed of restaurateurs have spiced up the nation’s palate with their original thinking and modern perspectives on Indian cuisine. And despite a tumultuous year for the restaurant industry, this culinary revolution shows no signs of abating.
Think of game-changing Indian restaurants in Britain and a leading contender has to be Dishoom. Inspired by, and putting a fresh twist on, the Irani cafes of Mumbai, it sparked a wave of new restaurants, all bent on pushing boundaries and unearthing the richly-varied culinary lore of India.
Dishoom’s Birmingham restaurant (top); the acclaimed menu features small plates and regional specialities
“Before Dishoom, certainly in London, there was a sense of Indian food just being about curries,” says its co-founder Shamil Thakrar. “Dishoom allowed for more regionally-focused Indian cuisine, and for people to mess around with small plates and cocktails. When others saw we were successful, they thought: ‘We could do something like that.’ There are some fantastic restaurants that have come up subsequently, like Gymkhana or Gunpowder.”