Veerasawamy (December 2012)

Do not be put off either by the location (close to Piccadilly Circus) or the potentially tourist-inducing claim as “London's oldest Indian restaurant.” For me, Veeraswamy ranks among the best Indian dining experiences the capital has on offer. I first went here in 2000 for a function in the restaurant's private dining room and have been back 20+ times since, both for business and for pleasure, it thereby remaining a firm favourite. Begin with the anticipation: one enters through a small door on a side-street into a mirrored lobby and then awaits a lift to go up to the main dining room. Despite having been open for over 80 years, the restaurant has received several make-overs, most recently in 2005. The style is modern but with a very obvious nod to the art déco glamour which would have been associated with the restaurant’s opening in 1926; think, more mirrors and eccentrically tasteful lighting for example. There are few ‘bad’ tables in the restaurant. My preference is for the two-person booth, left and round the corner when one comes in, perfect both for intimacy and people-watching, while the tables overlooking Regent Street provide a privileged position from which to observe life outside. Next the drinks: inventive cocktails and also an updated wine list since my previous visit. The wine list is compiled by expert Matthew Jukes and is surprisingly broad. Far from the most obvious (to my mind) pairing of Riesling with Indian, only one such wine (and from Austria rather than either the New World or Germany) appeared on the menu, many other choices were available. My dining comrade and I were impressed with an Italian Fiano, crisp and refreshing, a bracing contrast to the food. Now, the food: one reason to favour Veeraswamy is that it caters well for vegetarians in addition to the more carnivorous. Therefore, while I was able to enjoy a robustly gamey venison kebab with tamarind sauce for my starter, my comrade partook in paneer kebabs, which met with approbation. For our main, we shared one of the three vegetarian options (kofta – or fried balls of chickpeas and other vegetables – in a superbly creamy yet spicy sauce) along with three vegetarian sides. This proved more than ample and gave us a chance to sample a variety of dishes. The ‘aubergine caviar’ remains one of my all-time favourite dishes, which I have not seen bettered elsewhere. No complaints, and I will be sure to be returning soon.