clock menu more-arrow no yes
Beef fry with parotta at Thattukdada in East Ham, one of London’s best south Indian restaurants
Beef fry with parotta at Thattukdada in East Ham
Tomas Jivanda/Eater London

London’s Best South Indian Restaurants

Kerala seafood, Hyderabadi biryani, vibrant meat fries, flaky parotta, feather-lite appam — and so much more

View as Map
Beef fry with parotta at Thattukdada in East Ham
| Tomas Jivanda/Eater London

This is part four in a six-part series to regional Indian cuisine in London. Check out London’s best North Indian, Western Indian, and Eastern Indian restaurants, too. An article explaining the ingredients, flavours, and preparations of each region will be published when the series is concluded.

South India is the region of Karnataka and Kerala on India’s southwest coast; and Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, and Telangana (of which Hyderabad is the capital) in the southeast. The cuisines of all of these states are found in London. For many people in Western countries, South Indian food is rapidly becoming their favourite — its lightness as compared to the thick gravies of North Indian dishes; its focus on vegetables, beans and grains; its quick sautés and stir-fries that give the dishes freshness, vibrancy and crisper textures, all of which are aligned to contemporary tastes.

Dosas are synonymous with the cuisine — but there’s much more to it than the ubiquitous pancakes that are increasingly Disneyfied, both here and in India, with chefs coming up with more and more outlandish fillings and sizes as though it were a spectator sport not an everyday breakfast item. There are also crunchy thorans and creamy coconut curries, multi-layered parottas, and aromatic rice dishes, and a great variety of steamed and fried snacks. Because spices grow everywhere in South India, most South Indian restaurants in London have them flown in from the owners’ hometowns: their freshness adding a piquancy, which registers a noticeable difference in the food’s taste.

Perhaps this is why there are no truly terrible South Indian restaurants in London — the standard is very high, ranging from good to excellent. Tooting was once a byword for South Indian food, but in the last 10-15 years it’s been trumped by East Ham, where the best — and best-value — South Indian restaurants are clustered, mostly along the High Street. So for the best South Indian food — and in fact, some of the best Indian food — this unassuming part of east London is the place to be.

Read More
Note: Restaurants on this map are listed geographically.

1. Chennai Srilalitha Veg Restaurant

Copy Link
196 Kenton Rd
Harrow HA3 8BX, UK

Small and chaotic it may be, but this Tamil vegetarian café serves some of the best South Indian food in north-west London. Ignore the rest of the large menu and go straight to the ‘signature dishes’ section where there are regional dosas, idlis, and an uthappam not easily found elsewhere. These are specialities from the regions of Andhra Pradesh (including the city of Guntur), Karnataka (including Bangalore), Malabar Coast, Hyderabad, and Tamil Nadu (Chennai, Karaikudi and Madurai). Paper-thin, khaki-coloured maharaja pesarattu is a great choice: made from whole green moong beans and stuffed with a scoop of snow-white upma (savoury semolina flecked with mustard seeds and curry leaves) and topped with chopped red onions. Madurai sandwich uthappam is also worth a try: pancake cushions tangy with properly fermented batter, stuffed with turmeric-golden mixed vegetables, and potatoes. The accompanying sambar is also good: redolent of black peppercorns and a comforting amount of pumpkin pieces.     

2. Saravanaa Bhavan Wembley

Copy Link
22-22A Ealing Rd
Wembley HA0 4TL, UK

This spacious, busy, no-frills Wembley branch is part of an absolutely massive international vegetarian chain with several restaurants in London. The menu is as large as its global ambitions, with a mind-boggling choice of idli, dosa, and vada — not to mention curries, noodles, rice dishes, breads, and a Jain menu. Kara dosa, made from toor dal, raw rice, coconut and spices such as dried red chillies, are stuffed with a gentle potato-onion masala. There’s a good selection of idlis here — regular and mini-sized, steamed and fried, smeared in ghee, or dipped in sambar. To drink, there’s an imaginative selection of freshly pressed juices: grape, pineapple, and ginger being a particularly refreshing combination.  

3. Murugan Idli Shop

Copy Link
315 High St N, Manor Park
London E12 6SL, UK

Idli and dosa are the two main ‘tiffin’ snacks in South India, sold in small casual joints where people drop by on their way to work, often eating quickly while standing up. While dosas have been heartily embraced in the west, idlis have been somewhat slow to catch on outside Indian communities. Part of a 25-year old chain, this small Tamil tiffin joint is unusual, then, as it specialises in idli rather than dosa. The simple, neat café is a newcomer to East Ham, having opened only a few months ago. There’s a relatively short menu of plain idlis that are soft and squishy, and ones wearing a feisty red cloak of podi — ‘powder chutney’ made from dried red chillies, lentils, peanuts, sesame seeds, and spices mixed with ghee. Other items of note are kara paniyaram — mini pancakes that are South India’s answer to Dutch poffertjes — and sweet pongal made from split yellow moong beans, rice, jaggery and cashew nuts, here deeply musky with camphor, cooked Iyengar style in a version that’s served in temples. 

4. Hyderabadi Spice

Copy Link
309 High St N, Manor Park
London E12 6SL, UK
020 8472 0255

Being one of the very few venues in London to showcase the exquisitely complex cuisine of Hyderabad, means this small, modest-looking East Ham café attracts large family crowds. So be prepared to wait. There are many classics from the region, such as nizami gosht, kuska bagara, and haleem — but the one thing everyone comes here for is the generously portioned, excellent-value biryani. It more than lives up to expectations: cooked dum style, but served without the theatrics of a pastry lid, the golden grains of rice are generously studded with beautifully spiced lamb, chicken, seafood, whole boiled eggs or vegetables, then topped with a tangle of crisp caramelised onions. This is also one of the few places to find khubani ka meetha, a classic pudding of stewed dried apricots and apricot kernels steeped in cream; and ‘Irani chai’, a strong, slow-brewed Persian tea made with reduced milk solids that’s ubiquitous in Hyderabad, but not widely available in London. 

Biryani, cooked dum style, at Hyderabadi Spice — one of the best Indian restaurants in London

5. Taste of India Pure Vegetarian Branch

Copy Link
293-295 High St N, Manor Park
London E12 6SL, UK

East Ham’s South Indian cafés are generally modest places with unremarkable interiors, but this vegetarian branch of an international chain is relatively smart and well-organised, with clued-up service by staff constantly kept on their toes by throngs of families who crowd the place. Dosas are a strong point, with soft, spongy sunflower-yellow ‘set dosa’ — which here come in a set of two — getting their vivid hue from a combination of chana dal, toor dal, and turmeric powder. This modern classic from Karnataka is served with vada curry made from coarsely crushed lentil fritters enveloped in masses of sliced onions, fennel seeds, and curry leaves. There are ‘5 taste’ dosa for the indecisive — five small pancakes with toppings ranging from green chillies to grated carrots — and squashy mini-muffin like paniyaram available on weekend evenings, if they haven’t sold out already. 

6. Vijay

Copy Link
49 Willesden Ln, Kilburn
London NW6 7RF, UK

Modest and cosy, this 55-year old Kilburn venue is one of the oldest surviving South Indian restaurants in London. It’s worth visiting for the sambar — particularly for lunch — layered with so many spices that the humble lentil broth is revitalised with an impressive depth of flavour. There’s a mild-mannered dish of pumpkin with black eyed beans cooked in a coconut and shallot paste; and green bananas blanketed under thick yoghurt sauce. Also on the menu are subtly tangy cuttlefish curry; and Cochin chicken enlivened with the citrusy blast of fresh lime leaves. The restaurant has seen better days, and its status as a celebrity haunt has long diminished, but that sambar will always be a draw.  

7. Anjanaas

Copy Link
57-59 Willesden Ln, Kilburn
London NW6 7RL, UK

Stylish in a minimalist way, this contemporary Kerala restaurant in Kilburn is the sort of place where regulars get chatting, exchange business cards, and sometimes end up doing business or holidaying together. It’s on the former site of long-established Geeta, a South Indian restaurant that changed hands several times before closing a decade ago. The cooking here is much better though. There’s BDF — beef dry fry in which wafer-thin beef slices are deep-fried with onions and curry leaves; and peppery duck roast from Kerala’s Christian community that’s ubiquitous in toddy shops during festivals. There’s also an intriguing dish of mushrooms with fresh coconut and ginger wrapped in banana leaves, slow-cooked on a tawa according to the chef’s mother’s recipe; sweet, mellow plantain curry in yoghurt and coconut; and amazingly flaky, multi-layered miniature coin parottas not seen elsewhere.

8. Ananthapuram

Copy Link
241A High St N, Manor Park
London E12 6SJ, UK

A no-frills East Ham café that’s cramped with tables too close together: This Kerala venue attracts mostly male customers who come for the many stridently spiced beef, chicken, and seafood dishes. There’s a vast menu that includes fried silver pomfret, crab curry, and a range of chicken curries flavoured with roasted fresh coconut. Spongy discs of thattu dosa come with potent sambar astringent with asafoetida; and marvellously peppery avial, though a little dry, is crammed with pieces of earthy yams, raw green bananas, and vegetable drumsticks.

9. THATTUKADA

Copy Link
229 High St N, East Ham
London E6 1JG, UK

It’s pronounced ‘thattu-kda’ with an emphasis on the central two t’s, a word that means street food vendor in the Malayalam language. The small, bright green venue is owned by husband and wife Biju and Preeti Gopinath who’re originally from Kerala. The standard of cooking here is inconsistent, and the food is at its best when Preeti is in the kitchen. Betraying its origins as a pub, the venue continues to attract mostly male diners that once flocked to the place for drinks; but it’s also hugely popular with students, families, dating couples, and Londoners in the know for whom it’s the best-known South Indian in the area.

Everyone comes here for the fry dishes: Chicken fry, in which the bird on the bone is batter-fried until crisp and golden and showered with plentiful wisps of fried sliced shallots and curry leaves. Another notable dish is whole, gently spiced tomato paste-marinated tilapia steamed in banana leaves. There’s little here for vegetarians, and in fact the restaurant has been steadily removing meat-free dishes from its menu due to lack of demand — apparently vegetarians go to the area’s many other meat-free restaurants. (This seems unusual, but observant Hindus like their food to be ‘pure vegetarian’, cooked in separate kitchens or even in separate establishments altogether — which has prompted many South Indian chains to launch separate veg and non-veg branches).

Tomas Jivanda/Eater London

10. Udaya Kerala Restaurant

Copy Link
105 Katherine Rd, East Ham
London E6 1ES, UK

Located parallel to the main drag of the High Street in East Ham, this Kerala restaurant is the best in the area. It’s a neat, cosy place festooned with ornaments and paintings, including a striking nettipattam: a decorative shield used as an adornment for the trunks of elephants. 

Chicken 65 (with or without bone) and gobi 65, delicately spiced with cardamom and black pepper, are some of the tastiest versions found in London. Seafood is very much a strong point here, with lively spicing found in crab fry and squid curry. Fresh spices flown in from Kerala perk up a complex black chickpea curry, eaten with mashed cassava root that should be rolled into balls with fingers. Egg roast features whole, shallow-fried boiled eggs in a pool of thick gravy studded with dried red chillies, with crunchy cabbage thoran making an excellent foil. Don’t miss the lacy doilies of appams, spongy in the middle and crisp around the edges, that are better here than at other restaurants in the area.

11. Ooty and Ooty Station

Copy Link
66 Baker St, Marylebone
London W1U 7DJ, UK

Ooty is a mountainous region in Tamil Nadu, a ‘hill station’ at a higher elevation, and therefore cooler temperature, that was founded by colonial rulers to escape India’s scorching summer heat. It’s also the name of this ambitious (and notably expensive) new Modern South Indian in Baker Street. There’s a large restaurant with a basement cocktail bar with entrance in Baker Street; and a separate fast food concept named Ooty Station with an entrance to the side on Dorset Street. The restaurant and bar are plush in a hotel lobby kind of way, with framed botanical pictures and sinkable leather chairs. On the menu are thoughtful, subtly flavoured dishes such as tellicherry pepper duck with spinach thoran, olive upma, palm toddy jus and ribbons of chilli roti; and fennel-flecked paneer fingers with soft mashed paneer fritters, samphire pulaom and Hyderabadi tomato kut. Desserts such as jaggery-pineapple bake with smoked cardamom rice and black sesame ice cream are dramatically presented on black plates. 

In contrast, Ooty Station is a small, walk-in sports bar that’s more suitable for a casual lunch or snack. Nibbling on paneer 65 stuffed inside super-soft bao buns, and sipping rare alphonso mango wine, is an excellent way of whiling away a leisurely hour. More conventional snacks, such as lamb mince dosas, are also very well executed.

12. DUM Biryani House

Copy Link
187B Wardour St, Soho
London W1F 8ZB, UK

Biryani is one of the few dishes remaining in India that’s hallowed, cooked to old time-honoured traditions with little messing about. There are many regional variations; and chefs can make their reputations based on this one dish — so it’s no wonder Indians get emotional about monstrosities such as biryani sandwiches and wraps sold in western supermarkets. In the U.K., where there’s little understanding of the dish, any spicy Indian rice with meat or vegetables is slapped with the name biryani; and restaurant critics invariably trip themselves up by commenting on the ‘authenticity’ or otherwise of ones served with pastry lids — a traditional cooking style popularised by Modern Indian restaurants like Gymkhana who use puff pastry rather than the more traditional chapatti dough. 

This first restaurant from Hyderabad-born Dhruv Mittal — a small basement venue in Soho — specialises in biryani cooked Hyderabadi style using dum technique. This involves steaming marinated meat with parboiled rice in a heavy cooking pot sealed with dough — here, yes, puff pastry. The chefs don’t cut through the lid while serving, so the best way to eat it is by making a semi-circle in the pastry with a knife, and setting it aside to dip into the accompanying green chilli, sesame and peanut gravy and okra raita; then mix up all the separate layers of rice, meat and vegetables before eating. Here the flavours are lively but not too spicy. Elsewhere on the menu there are delectable snacks from the neighbouring Andhra Pradesh, such as hot and sour chicken wings with ginger and curry leaves, and prawn fry spiked with dried red chillies and coconut.

13. Quilon

Copy Link
41 Buckingham Gate, Westminster
London SW1E 6AF, UK

Chef Sriram Aylur’s 20-year-old Westminster stalwart was the first South Indian to gain a Michelin star. It specialises in Southwest coastal cuisine that includes the states of Karnataka and Kerala, and is owned by the neighbouring St James’ Court, part of the Taj group of hotels. It’s a beautifully designed space, with a bar area leading to a dining room decorated with ornate ‘jaali’ screens and splashes of bold, bright watercolours; and a division bell for MPs from nearby Houses Of Parliament. Seafood is a speciality here, and two of the signature dishes include a gentle moilee of halibut and prawns, and subtly spiced baked black cod. Pulao of green jackfruit pieces that taste like artichokes, made substantial with lentil nuggets, is rich with ghee and sunny with saffron. Staff are lovely; and there are freebies thrown in such as papads with pickles, a palate cleanser shot of rasam, and cardamom-flavoured chocolate — so the strict no-tipping policy can feel awkward for diners who want to reward such great-value food and service.

14. Sagar Vegetarian & Vegan - Hammersmith

Copy Link
157 King St, Hammersmith
London W6 9JT, UK

Most Londoners mispronounce the name of this popular London-origin mini-chain as ‘say-gaar’ — in fact, it’s ‘saa-gar’, which means ocean. It’s one of the few South Indian restaurants to showcase the simple vegetarian food of Udupi in Karnatka, centred on fresh vegetables, beans, and grains. The elegantly austere Hammersmith branch is the original and by far the best. Opt for the generous Udupi thali, which comes with various dals and lentil broths, and a regularly-changing selection of vegetables that may include crushed potatoes with a tempering of urad lentils and curry leaves, a side vegetable that might include shredded white cabbage with carrots, or ivy gourd or swede, and chayote cooked in a mellow yoghurt and coconut gravy fired up with green chillies. The flavours are gentle and nuanced, in keeping with the confidently understated look and mood of the place.

Udupi thali at Sagar in Hammersmith, one of the best Indian restaurants in London

15. Radha Krishna Bhavan

Copy Link
86 Tooting High St, Tooting
London SW17 0RN, UK

This Kerala stalwart in Tooting has been around for over 30 years; and the owners also run two central London restaurants, Malabar Junction and Ragam. It’s cosy as a sitting room in a Kerala home, with comfy leather chairs, dusky pink and bare brick walls festooned with ornaments like nettipattam, and almost life-sized figures of deities. Cashew nut pakoras are a retro dish not seen in London’s South Indian restaurants much these days, so order them whenever they’re found to nibble with drinks; here, they’re both tender and crunchy at the same time. Kerala’s own KFC — Kerala fried chicken, with or without bone — comes with warm notes of fresh ginger, garlic, and curry leaves. Seafood is notable, with Malabar fish curry and king prawn Malabar both flavoured with the intriguing back note of kudampuli, a tangy, smoky fruit that’s known as ‘fish tamarind’ due to its liberal use in seafood dishes of the region. Even those who don’t like okra are guaranteed to love the version here, the bright green pods steeped in a gravy given wonderful depth of flavour from tamarind, coconut, and liberal use of spices.

1. Chennai Srilalitha Veg Restaurant

196 Kenton Rd, Harrow HA3 8BX, UK

Small and chaotic it may be, but this Tamil vegetarian café serves some of the best South Indian food in north-west London. Ignore the rest of the large menu and go straight to the ‘signature dishes’ section where there are regional dosas, idlis, and an uthappam not easily found elsewhere. These are specialities from the regions of Andhra Pradesh (including the city of Guntur), Karnataka (including Bangalore), Malabar Coast, Hyderabad, and Tamil Nadu (Chennai, Karaikudi and Madurai). Paper-thin, khaki-coloured maharaja pesarattu is a great choice: made from whole green moong beans and stuffed with a scoop of snow-white upma (savoury semolina flecked with mustard seeds and curry leaves) and topped with chopped red onions. Madurai sandwich uthappam is also worth a try: pancake cushions tangy with properly fermented batter, stuffed with turmeric-golden mixed vegetables, and potatoes. The accompanying sambar is also good: redolent of black peppercorns and a comforting amount of pumpkin pieces.     

196 Kenton Rd
Harrow HA3 8BX, UK

2. Saravanaa Bhavan Wembley

22-22A Ealing Rd, Wembley HA0 4TL, UK

This spacious, busy, no-frills Wembley branch is part of an absolutely massive international vegetarian chain with several restaurants in London. The menu is as large as its global ambitions, with a mind-boggling choice of idli, dosa, and vada — not to mention curries, noodles, rice dishes, breads, and a Jain menu. Kara dosa, made from toor dal, raw rice, coconut and spices such as dried red chillies, are stuffed with a gentle potato-onion masala. There’s a good selection of idlis here — regular and mini-sized, steamed and fried, smeared in ghee, or dipped in sambar. To drink, there’s an imaginative selection of freshly pressed juices: grape, pineapple, and ginger being a particularly refreshing combination.  

22-22A Ealing Rd
Wembley HA0 4TL, UK

3. Murugan Idli Shop

315 High St N, Manor Park, London E12 6SL, UK

Idli and dosa are the two main ‘tiffin’ snacks in South India, sold in small casual joints where people drop by on their way to work, often eating quickly while standing up. While dosas have been heartily embraced in the west, idlis have been somewhat slow to catch on outside Indian communities. Part of a 25-year old chain, this small Tamil tiffin joint is unusual, then, as it specialises in idli rather than dosa. The simple, neat café is a newcomer to East Ham, having opened only a few months ago. There’s a relatively short menu of plain idlis that are soft and squishy, and ones wearing a feisty red cloak of podi — ‘powder chutney’ made from dried red chillies, lentils, peanuts, sesame seeds, and spices mixed with ghee. Other items of note are kara paniyaram — mini pancakes that are South India’s answer to Dutch poffertjes — and sweet pongal made from split yellow moong beans, rice, jaggery and cashew nuts, here deeply musky with camphor, cooked Iyengar style in a version that’s served in temples. 

315 High St N, Manor Park
London E12 6SL, UK

4. Hyderabadi Spice

309 High St N, Manor Park, London E12 6SL, UK
Biryani, cooked dum style, at Hyderabadi Spice — one of the best Indian restaurants in London

Being one of the very few venues in London to showcase the exquisitely complex cuisine of Hyderabad, means this small, modest-looking East Ham café attracts large family crowds. So be prepared to wait. There are many classics from the region, such as nizami gosht, kuska bagara, and haleem — but the one thing everyone comes here for is the generously portioned, excellent-value biryani. It more than lives up to expectations: cooked dum style, but served without the theatrics of a pastry lid, the golden grains of rice are generously studded with beautifully spiced lamb, chicken, seafood, whole boiled eggs or vegetables, then topped with a tangle of crisp caramelised onions. This is also one of the few places to find khubani ka meetha, a classic pudding of stewed dried apricots and apricot kernels steeped in cream; and ‘Irani chai’, a strong, slow-brewed Persian tea made with reduced milk solids that’s ubiquitous in Hyderabad, but not widely available in London. 

309 High St N, Manor Park
London E12 6SL, UK

5. Taste of India Pure Vegetarian Branch

293-295 High St N, Manor Park, London E12 6SL, UK

East Ham’s South Indian cafés are generally modest places with unremarkable interiors, but this vegetarian branch of an international chain is relatively smart and well-organised, with clued-up service by staff constantly kept on their toes by throngs of families who crowd the place. Dosas are a strong point, with soft, spongy sunflower-yellow ‘set dosa’ — which here come in a set of two — getting their vivid hue from a combination of chana dal, toor dal, and turmeric powder. This modern classic from Karnataka is served with vada curry made from coarsely crushed lentil fritters enveloped in masses of sliced onions, fennel seeds, and curry leaves. There are ‘5 taste’ dosa for the indecisive — five small pancakes with toppings ranging from green chillies to grated carrots — and squashy mini-muffin like paniyaram available on weekend evenings, if they haven’t sold out already. 

293-295 High St N, Manor Park
London E12 6SL, UK

6. Vijay

49 Willesden Ln, Kilburn, London NW6 7RF, UK

Modest and cosy, this 55-year old Kilburn venue is one of the oldest surviving South Indian restaurants in London. It’s worth visiting for the sambar — particularly for lunch — layered with so many spices that the humble lentil broth is revitalised with an impressive depth of flavour. There’s a mild-mannered dish of pumpkin with black eyed beans cooked in a coconut and shallot paste; and green bananas blanketed under thick yoghurt sauce. Also on the menu are subtly tangy cuttlefish curry; and Cochin chicken enlivened with the citrusy blast of fresh lime leaves. The restaurant has seen better days, and its status as a celebrity haunt has long diminished, but that sambar will always be a draw.  

49 Willesden Ln, Kilburn
London NW6 7RF, UK

7. Anjanaas

57-59 Willesden Ln, Kilburn, London NW6 7RL, UK

Stylish in a minimalist way, this contemporary Kerala restaurant in Kilburn is the sort of place where regulars get chatting, exchange business cards, and sometimes end up doing business or holidaying together. It’s on the former site of long-established Geeta, a South Indian restaurant that changed hands several times before closing a decade ago. The cooking here is much better though. There’s BDF — beef dry fry in which wafer-thin beef slices are deep-fried with onions and curry leaves; and peppery duck roast from Kerala’s Christian community that’s ubiquitous in toddy shops during festivals. There’s also an intriguing dish of mushrooms with fresh coconut and ginger wrapped in banana leaves, slow-cooked on a tawa according to the chef’s mother’s recipe; sweet, mellow plantain curry in yoghurt and coconut; and amazingly flaky, multi-layered miniature coin parottas not seen elsewhere.

57-59 Willesden Ln, Kilburn
London NW6 7RL, UK

8. Ananthapuram

241A High St N, Manor Park, London E12 6SJ, UK

A no-frills East Ham café that’s cramped with tables too close together: This Kerala venue attracts mostly male customers who come for the many stridently spiced beef, chicken, and seafood dishes. There’s a vast menu that includes fried silver pomfret, crab curry, and a range of chicken curries flavoured with roasted fresh coconut. Spongy discs of thattu dosa come with potent sambar astringent with asafoetida; and marvellously peppery avial, though a little dry, is crammed with pieces of earthy yams, raw green bananas, and vegetable drumsticks.

241A High St N, Manor Park
London E12 6SJ, UK

9. THATTUKADA

229 High St N, East Ham, London E6 1JG, UK
Tomas Jivanda/Eater London

It’s pronounced ‘thattu-kda’ with an emphasis on the central two t’s, a word that means street food vendor in the Malayalam language. The small, bright green venue is owned by husband and wife Biju and Preeti Gopinath who’re originally from Kerala. The standard of cooking here is inconsistent, and the food is at its best when Preeti is in the kitchen. Betraying its origins as a pub, the venue continues to attract mostly male diners that once flocked to the place for drinks; but it’s also hugely popular with students, families, dating couples, and Londoners in the know for whom it’s the best-known South Indian in the area.

Everyone comes here for the fry dishes: Chicken fry, in which the bird on the bone is batter-fried until crisp and golden and showered with plentiful wisps of fried sliced shallots and curry leaves. Another notable dish is whole, gently spiced tomato paste-marinated tilapia steamed in banana leaves. There’s little here for vegetarians, and in fact the restaurant has been steadily removing meat-free dishes from its menu due to lack of demand — apparently vegetarians go to the area’s many other meat-free restaurants. (This seems unusual, but observant Hindus like their food to be ‘pure vegetarian’, cooked in separate kitchens or even in separate establishments altogether — which has prompted many South Indian chains to launch separate veg and non-veg branches).

229 High St N, East Ham
London E6 1JG, UK

10. Udaya Kerala Restaurant

105 Katherine Rd, East Ham, London E6 1ES, UK

Located parallel to the main drag of the High Street in East Ham, this Kerala restaurant is the best in the area. It’s a neat, cosy place festooned with ornaments and paintings, including a striking nettipattam: a decorative shield used as an adornment for the trunks of elephants. 

Chicken 65 (with or without bone) and gobi 65, delicately spiced with cardamom and black pepper, are some of the tastiest versions found in London. Seafood is very much a strong point here, with lively spicing found in crab fry and squid curry. Fresh spices flown in from Kerala perk up a complex black chickpea curry, eaten with mashed cassava root that should be rolled into balls with fingers. Egg roast features whole, shallow-fried boiled eggs in a pool of thick gravy studded with dried red chillies, with crunchy cabbage thoran making an excellent foil. Don’t miss the lacy doilies of appams, spongy in the middle and crisp around the edges, that are better here than at other restaurants in the area.

105 Katherine Rd, East Ham
London E6 1ES, UK

11. Ooty and Ooty Station

66 Baker St, Marylebone, London W1U 7DJ, UK

Ooty is a mountainous region in Tamil Nadu, a ‘hill station’ at a higher elevation, and therefore cooler temperature, that was founded by colonial rulers to escape India’s scorching summer heat. It’s also the name of this ambitious (and notably expensive) new Modern South Indian in Baker Street. There’s a large restaurant with a basement cocktail bar with entrance in Baker Street; and a separate fast food concept named Ooty Station with an entrance to the side on Dorset Street. The restaurant and bar are plush in a hotel lobby kind of way, with framed botanical pictures and sinkable leather chairs. On the menu are thoughtful, subtly flavoured dishes such as tellicherry pepper duck with spinach thoran, olive upma, palm toddy jus and ribbons of chilli roti; and fennel-flecked paneer fingers with soft mashed paneer fritters, samphire pulaom and Hyderabadi tomato kut. Desserts such as jaggery-pineapple bake with smoked cardamom rice and black sesame ice cream are dramatically presented on black plates. 

In contrast, Ooty Station is a small, walk-in sports bar that’s more suitable for a casual lunch or snack. Nibbling on paneer 65 stuffed inside super-soft bao buns, and sipping rare alphonso mango wine, is an excellent way of whiling away a leisurely hour. More conventional snacks, such as lamb mince dosas, are also very well executed.

66 Baker St, Marylebone
London W1U 7DJ, UK

12. DUM Biryani House

187B Wardour St, Soho, London W1F 8ZB, UK

Biryani is one of the few dishes remaining in India that’s hallowed, cooked to old time-honoured traditions with little messing about. There are many regional variations; and chefs can make their reputations based on this one dish — so it’s no wonder Indians get emotional about monstrosities such as biryani sandwiches and wraps sold in western supermarkets. In the U.K., where there’s little understanding of the dish, any spicy Indian rice with meat or vegetables is slapped with the name biryani; and restaurant critics invariably trip themselves up by commenting on the ‘authenticity’ or otherwise of ones served with pastry lids — a traditional cooking style popularised by Modern Indian restaurants like Gymkhana who use puff pastry rather than the more traditional chapatti dough. 

This first restaurant from Hyderabad-born Dhruv Mittal — a small basement venue in Soho — specialises in biryani cooked Hyderabadi style using dum technique. This involves steaming marinated meat with parboiled rice in a heavy cooking pot sealed with dough — here, yes, puff pastry. The chefs don’t cut through the lid while serving, so the best way to eat it is by making a semi-circle in the pastry with a knife, and setting it aside to dip into the accompanying green chilli, sesame and peanut gravy and okra raita; then mix up all the separate layers of rice, meat and vegetables before eating. Here the flavours are lively but not too spicy. Elsewhere on the menu there are delectable snacks from the neighbouring Andhra Pradesh, such as hot and sour chicken wings with ginger and curry leaves, and prawn fry spiked with dried red chillies and coconut.

187B Wardour St, Soho
London W1F 8ZB, UK

13. Quilon

41 Buckingham Gate, Westminster, London SW1E 6AF, UK

Chef Sriram Aylur’s 20-year-old Westminster stalwart was the first South Indian to gain a Michelin star. It specialises in Southwest coastal cuisine that includes the states of Karnataka and Kerala, and is owned by the neighbouring St James’ Court, part of the Taj group of hotels. It’s a beautifully designed space, with a bar area leading to a dining room decorated with ornate ‘jaali’ screens and splashes of bold, bright watercolours; and a division bell for MPs from nearby Houses Of Parliament. Seafood is a speciality here, and two of the signature dishes include a gentle moilee of halibut and prawns, and subtly spiced baked black cod. Pulao of green jackfruit pieces that taste like artichokes, made substantial with lentil nuggets, is rich with ghee and sunny with saffron. Staff are lovely; and there are freebies thrown in such as papads with pickles, a palate cleanser shot of rasam, and cardamom-flavoured chocolate — so the strict no-tipping policy can feel awkward for diners who want to reward such great-value food and service.

41 Buckingham Gate, Westminster
London SW1E 6AF, UK

14. Sagar Vegetarian & Vegan - Hammersmith

157 King St, Hammersmith, London W6 9JT, UK
Udupi thali at Sagar in Hammersmith, one of the best Indian restaurants in London

Most Londoners mispronounce the name of this popular London-origin mini-chain as ‘say-gaar’ — in fact, it’s ‘saa-gar’, which means ocean. It’s one of the few South Indian restaurants to showcase the simple vegetarian food of Udupi in Karnatka, centred on fresh vegetables, beans, and grains. The elegantly austere Hammersmith branch is the original and by far the best. Opt for the generous Udupi thali, which comes with various dals and lentil broths, and a regularly-changing selection of vegetables that may include crushed potatoes with a tempering of urad lentils and curry leaves, a side vegetable that might include shredded white cabbage with carrots, or ivy gourd or swede, and chayote cooked in a mellow yoghurt and coconut gravy fired up with green chillies. The flavours are gentle and nuanced, in keeping with the confidently understated look and mood of the place.

157 King St, Hammersmith
London W6 9JT, UK

15. Radha Krishna Bhavan

86 Tooting High St, Tooting, London SW17 0RN, UK

This Kerala stalwart in Tooting has been around for over 30 years; and the owners also run two central London restaurants, Malabar Junction and Ragam. It’s cosy as a sitting room in a Kerala home, with comfy leather chairs, dusky pink and bare brick walls festooned with ornaments like nettipattam, and almost life-sized figures of deities. Cashew nut pakoras are a retro dish not seen in London’s South Indian restaurants much these days, so order them whenever they’re found to nibble with drinks; here, they’re both tender and crunchy at the same time. Kerala’s own KFC — Kerala fried chicken, with or without bone — comes with warm notes of fresh ginger, garlic, and curry leaves. Seafood is notable, with Malabar fish curry and king prawn Malabar both flavoured with the intriguing back note of kudampuli, a tangy, smoky fruit that’s known as ‘fish tamarind’ due to its liberal use in seafood dishes of the region. Even those who don’t like okra are guaranteed to love the version here, the bright green pods steeped in a gravy given wonderful depth of flavour from tamarind, coconut, and liberal use of spices.

86 Tooting High St, Tooting
London SW17 0RN, UK

Related Maps