London’s first Modern Indian — though the term was not in use at the time — was Bombay Brasserie, which opened in 1982. Until then, Indian restaurants were largely cheaper ‘curry houses’. True, there were a few exceptional contemporary venues (most have since closed), but they weren’t game-changers like Bombay Brasserie, which received global fame and attracted Hollywood A-listers.
During the 1990s and early 2000s, sisters Namita and Camellia Panjabi took over and relaunched Veeraswamy, and opened Chutney Mary and Amaya. These two visionary women were extraordinarily influential and changed the face of Indian fine dining, yet younger people know little about their restaurants beyond the Masala Zone chain.
So what is Modern Indian, as opposed to ‘modern Indian’ or ‘contemporary Indian’? It’s about the look and feel of the place, the thought and skill that goes into the cooking, the creativity and storytelling, the attitude and purpose behind it, how influential it is — and, yes, the money that’s been poured into it. This is what makes the term, coined sometime in the 1990s, hard to pin down.
Modern Indian restaurants are currently opening at an alarming rate in London with newer, younger chefs and restaurants making the décor and food lighter, brighter and more eclectic. They have become a playground for recently confident, globalised, wealthy, jet-setting Indians who divide their time between living in Mumbai and Mayfair. Whereas once London’s Indian chefs had to battle conservative attitudes in India and honed their creativity in London instead, now India itself is opening more and more Modern Indian places.
Note that a few restaurants from this category can also be found in the four regional Indian maps.
This is part four in a six-part series to regional Indian cuisine in London. Check out London’s best North Indian, Western Indian, Eastern Indian, and Southern Indian restaurants, too. An article explaining the ingredients, flavours, and preparations of each region will be published when the series is concluded.Read More