Veeraswamy has considerable importance in the culinary history of Indian food in the UK. It was established in 1926 by Edward Palmer. These days it is common for restaurants to start as pop-ups before moving to permanent premises, and this was actually the case here. Mr Palmer, a retired army office who had set up a company in Hornsey (called “Veeraswami and Co”) to trade and promote Indian foods in the UK, was invited to run a restaurant at the British Empire exhibition of 1924 in Wembley. So successful was it that he decided to open a permanent version of the restaurant in Regent Street. In 1997 the restaurant was acquired by MW Eat, the same group that run Amaya, Chutney Mary and Masala Zone. In 2016 it was awarded a Michelin star. It is the oldest surviving Indian restaurant n the UK. The head chef is Uday Salunkhe, who has worked in the same group since 2002 as executive chef of the original site of Chutney Mary, and has been at Veeraswamy since 2006.
The dining room is on the first floor overlooking Regent Street, and is accessed via an entrance in adjoining Swallow Street. You take a lift up to the dining room, which is smartly decorated, carpeted and with the outer tables having tablecloths and inner ones not. The menu reaches across India for inspiration, with dishes from Kerala and Mumbai (where the chef grew up) as well as more familiar north Indian dishes.
The wine list had labels such as The Crossings Sauvignon Blanc 2015 at £35 for a bottle that you can find in the high street for £11, Loimer Lenz Riesling 2015 at £45 compared to its retail price of £12, and Vincent Morey Chassagne Montrachet rouge 2011 at £75 for a bottle that will set you back £28 in a shop. There were a few prestige labels as well, such as Sandrone La Vigne 2009 at £200 for a bottle whose current market price is £72.
We tried a variety of starters. Crispy quail was the least convincing, flavoured with curry leaves and green chilli, served on the bone and a touch dry, though the meat was cooked well (12/20). Better was tandoori prawn, a pair of large Madagascar tiger prawns flavoured with coriander, mint and a little chilli. These were precisely cooked and the spice blend was particularly well judged (14/20). Venison and quail Scotch egg with tamarind glaze was a Keralan recipe, and worked very well. The quail egg at the centre was soft and the meat filling was enlivened by spices, the tamarind adding sweetness (14/20). In some ways the best of all was the vegetarian raj kachori, a large wheat puri containing chaat and splashed with chutneys. This was a visually striking dish and the blend of textures and flavours in the filling was excellent, a tamarind chutney meaning the dish was not too dry (15/20).
For the mains we tried sea bass flavoured with cumin and mint baked in a banana leaf. The fish was lightly cooked and the cumin flavour came quite through well (13/20). Chicken biryani was carefully cooked, the rice light and fluffy. The thigh meat avoided the dryness that can often afflict this dish (14/20). As side dishes, jeera gobi retained its texture quite well and was nicely spiced (14/20), and a west coast dish of pineapple curry with coconut, turmeric and curry leaves worked well, the fruit and the spices working surprisingly well together (13/20). Breads (naan and roti) were served hot and were pleasantly pliable in texture (14/20).
To finish, gulab jamun was suitably rich and sweet, served with vanilla ice cream (13/20). Service was excellent, led by a manager who used to work at Amaya. The bill came to £70 a head with just lassi to drink, though to be fair we definitely over-ordered, as portions were very generous. If you ordered a bit less food and shared a modest bottle of wine then a typical bill here is still going to come to around £75 a head, which is obviously not cheap. However the ingredients used here were good, there is a lot of technical skill involved and the service experience was very slick, so you are definitely getting something for your money. I enjoyed Veeraswamy, which is definitely much improved in recent times.