Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Veeraswamy: A London Icon of Fine Indian Cuisine

A glittering oasis of fine Indian cuisine, Veeraswamy is chic and glamorous with an exotic decor evoking Maharajas' palaces of the 1920s, with silver painted ceilings, glittering latticed screens, a sea of Moghul carpets which line the dark wood floor and an original 1920’s Venetian chandelier from when the restaurant opened in 1926. Delicate crimson rose petals are lightly scattered on each table, and elegant wine glasses reflect the room's deep jewel-toned scones and vibrant colours of silk Maharaja’s turbans that line the walls. Everything is so beautifully appointed, stylish and sexy — even the menu shimmers. Along one whole wall large palladian-style windows offer great views over Regent Street, but the real star of this show is the stunning cuisine.

Veeraswamy's jewel toned interior today

Colourful hanging glass lanterns cast a warm glow over the restaurant

Veeraswamy's Raj inspired opulent interiors when it opened in 1926

Established in 1926 by the grandson of an English General and an Indian princess, Veeraswamy is the oldest surviving Indian restaurant in Britain. Recognized by critics and loved by stars, Veeraswamy has long been a favourite for lovers of Indian cuisine from around the world, as well as the rich and famous, with notable diners including King Gustav of Sweden, Pandit Nehru, Indira Gandhi, Charlie Chaplin, King Hussein of Jordan, Marlon Brando and many others, including myself. My favourite Indian restaurant for years, making reservations at Veeraswamy is one of the first things to do whenever I'm in London.

Veerswamy's menu full of fabulous Indian dishes

A cold Jaipur IPA beer amid rose petals that are scattered on every table

Raj Kachori, one of Veeraswamy's signature dishes, 
elevates humble street food into a dish that is visually stunning and delicious

Homemade Organic Paneer Tikka

Kashmiri Rogan Josh, an intensely aromatic lamb curry of small shanks of lamb 
with saffron and cockscomb flower

Chicken Jalfrezi

Lemon Rice with mustard seeds and cilantro

Aloo Muttar

Veeraswamy's warm fluffy and chewy Naan

Culinary legend Camilla Panjabi, one of Veeraswamy's original owners, works with Chef Uday Salunkhe and a team of regional cooks, each producing their own specialities from their native cuisines, and in some cases, creating innovative variations of traditional dishes from India's northwestern frontier to the tropical shores of the Indian Ocean. Credited with introducing regional Indian cooking to the UK, Panjabi is a legend throughout the culinary world. She mentors her cooks, and those who embrace her philosophy — no pre-prepared sauces, no frozen food and all spices ground to order — are given unparalleled opportunities. "I often lend my chefs to European restaurants, so they can learn about French and Italian dishes, and they in turn teach those chefs about Indian food," says Panjabi. "Many of my chefs are now working in top-class restaurants all over the world." Her best-selling cookbook, 50 Great Curries of India, which has sold over a million copies, is a modern classic for Indian food lovers and a treasured cookbook in my own library at home.  

Camellia Panjabi's inspiring cookbook - 50 Great Curry's of India

Bengali Chicken Dopiaza
Serves 4

Recipe courtesy Camilla Panjabi

2 1/2 1b small roasting chickens
9 medium onions
8 small potatoes
3 tsps red chilli powder
4 oz full fat yoghurt
3 tbsp vegetable oil
6 plump garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 bay leaves
2 tbsp ginger purée
2 cinnamon sticks
6 cardamom pds
1 1/2 tsp whole black peppercorns
12 cloves
3 whole red chillies
1/2 tsp turmeric
2 tomatoes, chopped
1 tbsp butter or ghee
3/4 tsp white sugar
1 1/2 tsp garam masala

Cut the chicken into eight pieces on the bone. Cut three of the onions in half. Chop two of the other onions coarsely. Extract the juice from the remaining four onions by grating them and squeezing out the juice through a cheesecloth, discarding the pulp. Peel the potatoes. Mix the chilli powder to a paste with a little water. Whisk the yoghurt.

Heat the oil in a heavy pan and fry the chopped onions until light brown. Remove, drain on kitchen paper and set aside. In the same oil, fry the garlic, bay leaves and, after a couple of minutes, add the cinnamon and cardamoms. Two minutes later, add the peppercorns, cloves and red chillies.

After 30 seconds, add the ginger purée, chilli paste and turmeric and stir continuously. Add the chicken, potatoes and tomatoes, followed by the butter, yoghurt and sugar. Cook for 10-12 minutes, stirring so that the spices do not stick to the bottom of the pan and add a little water if necessary.

Now add the onion halves, followed by the onion juice and salt to taste. Stir for 2-3 minutes, then transfer to a baking dish and cook in the oven, preheated to 325°F and cook for 20-25 minutes. When the chicken and potatoes are cooked through, add half the fried onions and sprinkle over the garam masala powder. Sprinkle with fried onions before serving.