Before 1926, Indian restaurants were aimed at Indian people. But when Edward Palmer opened Veeraswamy in Piccadilly that year, he revolutionised London’s dining scene, making it fashionable for everyone to eat Indian.
I don’t often eat Indian food, due to my allergies, but somehow a dire week at work led me to this narrow doorway just off Regent Street, seeking both culinary satiation and escape. Before me, stood a man in glorious technicolour, a turquoise embroidered gown reflecting in the glow of his gold silk turban. Above him a rainbow of lanterns twinkled in the perfect antidote to the grey outside as I requested a table for one.
As I asked he gestured to his right. I followed his gaze and instantly my immersion in this magical world was broken as there sat a smartly dressed, yet distinctly un-embroidered young lady who, after a few words into a telephone, directed me down a short, narrow corridor to the lift. Inside, I couldn’t quite decide if the pink lighting was more exotic cocktail bar than erotic shop but by this time I felt committed to whatever awaited me.
The doors slid open to reveal two more suited ladies who swiftly saw me to my seat on a long couch with a view of Regents Street. My overwhelming feeling, however, was that this place was conflicted. On one hand, with its polished maple tables, silverware and white tablecloths, this felt like an impersonal, stiff upper lip, prim and proper fine dining restaurant, but its slightly grubby junkshop rug and smattering of more of the multicoloured lanterns I’d seen downstairs suggested it was trying to create a certain ambience, and aesthetic which was quite the opposite.
The cocktail menu was frustratingly skinny, but I settled on a hibiscus drink which transpired to be little more than cheap fizz poured over a jar flower. Then I tackled the menu which I had anticipated being difficult for me as someone with allergies to onion and tomato, but, credit where it is due, the manager proposed a suitable solution.
The starter, Raj Kachori which was described as regal street food, was a large pastry puff decorated with herbs and jewel-like pomegranate, surrounded by raita and filled with a creamy, spicy vegetable mixture. The crispness of the pastry, zingyness of the pomegranate and spicy cream complemented each other but the portion was far too big and left me feeling as though I’d eaten five chicken coronation sandwiches. It did look good though.
By the end of this course I’d finished my drink but despite taking my plate not one waiter asked if I would like another until a good fifteen minutes later, something which was especially annoying given the number of waiters wandering around aimlessly or faffing over the precise position of a fork.
My main comprised a slightly strangely portioned set of two chicken breasts each stuffed with nuts and apricots. Having been convinced by the manager’s suggestion, I accompanied this with a selection of vegetables in a mustard rich sauce and traditional flaked bread. All were tasty but none impressively so.
Still a bit sickened by the size of the starter, I couldn’t eat everything, so decided to ask for a doggy bag when I got the bill. I hadn’t anticipated what a task this would be, after fifteen minutes of trying to beckon a waiter over, finally one approached, only to respond that he didn’t know if it would be possible because they were ‘very busy’. I surveyed the restaurant, noting many empty tables and wondered what their idea of quiet would be.
Fortunately, ten minutes later my packaged food was returned And the bill followed ten minutes later. The princely sum of £68. Overall I’d say this was a slightly better than average experience, where the pretty good food was overridden by their inflated prices and below par service.