Until relatively recently, you’d struggle to find refined Indian food in the UK. Anglo-Indian fare was a law unto itself – not the complex, masterfully spiced cooking that exists in South Asia. Instead, it erred on the oily, heavy side with paving stone slabs of naan bread, more often than not used to soak up excessive beer consumption. This is not necessarily a bad thing; who doesn’t love a curry night? But it’s done little to assert the nuances – and diversity – of authentic Indian cuisine.
Whereas cooks such as Madhur Jaffrey showed us how to cook Indian at home, and there’s a busy curry house on every high street, high-end Indian restaurants were sorely lacking on British soil. When Vivek Singh, executive chef at the highly regarded Cinnamon Club, opened his restaurant in 2001 he wanted to challenge “people’s perception of Indian food.” Cyrus Todiwala of Café Spice Namasté fame, and an enduring presence on the Asian culinary scene, also recognised the public’s view of Indian food as “cheap and cheerful fodder”, but admitted that it’s changing.
Michelin recognition eluded Indian cuisine – then in 2001, at the age of 31, Indian chef Atul Kochhar won a star for Tamarind, in London’s Mayfair. In 2003, he opened Benares in Berkeley Square, which won a star in 2007. Kochhar combines his culinary heritage with British gastronomy, creating modern versions of originals from his motherland that have earned him many accolades.