Living and eating in London makes entitled, sippy cup-flinging babies of us all eventually.
And few things right now highlight this phenomenon like the problem of Too Many Nice Indian Places. You must have witnessed it; some light grumbling in the face of a lot of very similar, curry-adjacent restaurant openings. Lord knows I have personally greeted news of an Ooty or a Kutir or some other forthcoming, fine-hewn Dishoom-alike with a wearied groan and the sort of exaggerated complaining that would have you believe we were all being roughly force-fed okra fries as we walk to work.
Ridiculous, obviously. Not just because ‘Indian food’ — a sprawling, regionally diverse canon of dishes well beyond the Westerner-friendly greatest hits — is varied enough to sustain many subtly distinct interpretations. But because, and I’m going to use technical language here, so much of it is just really, really nice. To whine about receiving a broader serving of some of the most pleasurable food around seems churlish
Lucknow 49, a likeable new Northern Indian restaurant in Mayfair from Dum Biryani House founder Dhruv Mittal, deftly proves that any talk of London hitting ‘peak posh curry’ is premature. It serves Awadhi cuisine, shaped by the rulers of the Mughal Empire and famed for its slow-cooked opulence, saffron-scented biryanis and general proto-boujeenes, but its surroundings are compact and humble.
My wife and I arrived a little after they had opened for lunch and found a chintzy room strewn with sari-print cushions, patterned wall fabrics, dangling plastic flowers and monochrome pictures of stern-looking Lucknowi nobles.
Dal kachori bhalla chaat raised the curtain and brought crumbly lentil flatbread parcels served cold beneath an unruly, tongue-zapping pile of yoghurt, tamarind chutney and all the other good things you’d hope for. The veggie Awadhi sabzi biryani, adorned with a golden toupee of frizzled onions, had a lustfully steamed plumpness and a seeping, saffron-tinged oil.
And then it all gets a bit fuzzy because everything arrived at once and we both entered that head-bowed, plate scraping trance that accompanies good Indian food. Taar gosht lamb leg curry had a brown mirrored sheen, the slow-bubbled trotter stock and green chillies providing an insistent, face-dampening burn. Pale pink kammal kakdi raita replaced the usual cucumber with pieces of lotus root and the beautiful treachery of more hidden chilli in a dish usually provided as a coolant. A ghee-seeping kulcha (slightly leavened flatbread) had the requisite flaking layers but, also, a hardy, audible crunch perfect for scoops of addictive green lentil moong dal makhani.
All of this was bookended by the minor disappointments of galawat kawab (intricately spiced soft beef patties lacking texture) and a pot of aminabad kulfi (a fine, cardamom-laced shrug of a thing that was the only pudding on the menu). There are cocktails muddled with tea and pink pepper, plus spice-friendly European wines but nerdily, we stuck to infused tonic waters.
The £70 bill (including tip) felt shockingly reasonable for Lucknow 49’s postcode and is a significant part of why I think people will like this place, which doesn’t stint on flavour and care. We stepped out into Maddox Street drizzle and, after about 500 feet, walked past Kanishka, a newly opened restaurant rhapsodising the cuisine of a different part of Northern India. We may yet see a future when new-wave curry militias ply Londoners with hyper-specific forms of spiced deliciousness. I reckon I can cope.
1 Moong dal makhani £7
1 Gilafi kulcha £4
1 Vegetable biryani £11
1 Taar gosht £16
1 Beef galawat kawab £9
1 Dal kachori bhalla chaat £6
1 Kammal kakdi raita £3
1 Aminabad kulfi £5
1 Floral tonic £3
1 Hibiscus tonic £3
Lucknow 49, 49 Maddox Street, Mayfair, W1 (020 7491 9191; lucknowldn.com)