London Indian restaurants are as affordable as the amount of money in a person’s bank account. That is to say, if someone has endless amounts of cash and likes Indian eating, then he or she can spend every night of his or her life in Chutney Mary’s or Veeraswamy and not get bored. If, on the other hand, he or she has a mortgage to pay then an outing to London’s legendary high Indian dining establishments is a special treat rather than a usual experience.
Indian food is an odd thing. The flavours and quality of genuine Indian food vary only the tiniest bit between a great budget Indian restaurant and a great high end Indian restaurant. In other words: when you buy food in London Indian restaurants, the price difference between low and high is all about atmosphere and service, and sometimes may have nothing to do the increase in the quality of the food.
There is certainly elegance and a complexity to the presentation of Indian food, in high end London Indian restaurants. At the Cinnamon Club, for example, you can order a starter of carefully furled giant mushrooms detailed with edible gold leaf. This is hardly the sort of presentation or thought you would get at South Tottenham’s Curry Leaf, which slings great-tasting dishes at you on plastic plates for less than a fiver a go.
Indian food is all about sensory experience. At the less costly end of the market, the experience is wholly centred on smell and taste. Even the visual appeal of the dish may lose something when you are paying a couple of pounds for a wonderful curry: it’s likely to be very authentic in terms of street appearance, which is to say you’ll get some curry and a roti, and when you eat it you’ll be delighted.
At the more expensive end of the market, London Indian restaurants play with colour and architecture, constructing dishes that look as appealing as they taste. You’ll often find boutique versions of street food creeping up towards the high end, too, as the basic philosophy behind certain street dishes lends itself very well to a satisfactory visual presentation.
The Thali is an Indian classic, cooked and served in multiple regions across the country. It is normally served as a picking dish, with a number of small portions of different dishes served around roti and rice. The idea is that you eat different bits in turn, each with a little rice; and that this will give you all the balanced nutrients and ingredients you need to stay truly healthy.
London Indian restaurants span every kind of cooking, from every region of the country. It can be an excellent bet to go to a place where all the cooking comes from the same village, on the understanding that if all the food is regional, the chef is probably from that region and thus highly skilled in preparing that particular style of Indian food.
It’s hard to put a value on taste. At the end of the day, you pay for experience.