21 Chapel Market
020 7278 8100
I'm going to attempt to coin a new phrase. I'm going to start talking about the New India Cuisine as if it's a real thing and see if it catches on.
In the not-so-distant past, Indian restaurateurs in London had to make a choice between pandering to the bhaji-and-beer, masala-and-farts British palate or make Indian food for Indians; all laminated menus, strip lighting and steel katoris on Formica tables. There have also, of course, been ill-advised experiments in faddish fusion (wasn't Indian tapas meant to be the food of the 21st century?), and there still exist some colonial throwbacks that unashamedly hawk Last Days of the Raj experiences to Last Night of the Proms audiences. The overrated Bombay Brasserie comes to mind.
But the New India Cuisine is different. It's not just about the food. It's about confidence, humour, pride, nostalgia and a sense of what it means to be Indian in the 21st century. When it comes to food, the NIC trio - Mooli's, Dishoom and Delhi Grill - aren't exactly ripping up the rulebook. Mooli's doesn't strive for authenticity - a mooli is essentially a burrito made with paratha or roti - but the Soho eatery is guided by the principles of good, old-fashioned Indian cooking. Dishoom takes its culinary cues from the old Irani cafes of Bombay, and the cooks at Delhi Grill are sworn to traditional recipes. They want to run a dhaba, an honest, straightforward local restaurant. And as any in-the-know Islingtonite will tell you, they're succeeding.
The India of the NIC trio isn't deferential, diluted or embarrassed. The British palate is becoming more adventurous - we can no longer order a chicken tikka masala without it feeling like an attempt at irony - and as India becomes a major global player in the 21st century, there's greater confidence in the quality of Indian goods and services. Opening an Indian restaurant in the UK is no longer something only first generation immigrants did because their options were limited. These are second- and third-gen British-Asians choosing to open Indian restaurants because they're passionate and proud of their heritage and their food.
The chaps behind these restaurants are in their twenties and their thirties. They communicate with their customers through blogs and through Twitter. While the Brick Lane bunch slowly comes to terms with the downfall of Geocities, the NIC have the sort of gorgeous websites Shoreditch design firms would be proud of. And their restaurant interiors are equally stylish; they're not shy about reclaiming Indian kitsch from the stuff of tourist board cliché, with Bollywood posters, street signs, Times of India front pages and Hindu paraphernalia creating a sense of playfulness and fun.
The food is excellent at all three NIC restaurants, but Delhi Grill might just be the strongest of the bunch. The titular dish, featuring chicken tikka, sheekh kebabs and lamb chops, was glorious. The kebabs fizzed and dazzled with a marinade of garlic, coriander and garlic; the slow-cooked chops were tender to the touch, and the chicken tikka was tastier than chicken ever has the right to be. The chicken makhani was thick, buttery and subtly spiced, while the rice and bread were spot-on. We paid £17 for two - great value for money.
All hail the New India Cuisine. You heard it here first.
* The photo was taken by Libby, whose Ravenous Libby blog is marvellous.