Talli Joe, Shaftesbury Avenue

Many consider Benares to be the best Indian restaurant in London so when chef Sameer Taneja left the two-star kitchen to start up his own eatery, everyone was watching. Talli Joe (Talli is the Hindi translation of tipsy) offers ‘half plates and full drinks’. Located in the heart of theatreland on Shaftesbury Lane the vibrant restaurant offers tasty authentic dishes and exotic cocktails.

Lack of natural light means the venue feels more like a bar with food than a restaurant with drinks, but Sameer’s culinary creations are definitely the star of the show here. In fact I found the cocktails too saccarine sweet, but they were helpful when the spice from the food got too much for my delicate tastebuds!

Talli Joe

There are around 20 plates on the menu, all designed for sharing and priced reasonably between £3 and £10. I recommend visiting with a group of friends and ordering one of each, as you won’t want to miss out on anything.

The ‘Truffle Ghee Kulcha’ is fast becoming the menu favourite, an addictively good freshly baked naan stuffed with cottage cheese and brushed fragrant truffle ghee. I loved the Southern Indian style ‘Chicken 21’, tender pieces of chicken in a crunchy coated with crispy curry leaves and a lovely mix of spices. Like in India, Talli Joe’s make a range of great vegetarian dishes too, ‘Kale Chaat’ is a version of the popular Delhi street food, crispy kale, potato and pomegranate with sweet yoghurt.

Desserts were a hit at our table, unusual ‘Black Gajar Halwa’ (heritage black carrots with salted peanut brittle) was a comforting and sweet pudding, while ‘Berry Malai’ (Baked yoghurt with seasonal berries) was a light and palate cleansing option.

Big flavours and lots of fun, Talli Joe’s is an example of great quality Indian food conveniently located in the very centre of town.

More information and book a table at Talli Joe here.

Ganapati, Peckham

Everyone who lives in Peckham knows Ganapati. It is the place to go for comforting home-cooked curries and fragrant thalis. This characterful little local Indian restaurant, recently celebrated its 10th birthday. It is found on Holly Grove, close to the popular Bellenden Road. Inside the decor is simple with basic wooden tables and chairs, the focus here is on the food. In summer, guests can enjoy the small terrace outside.

Ganapati is run by Claire Fisher, who came back from Southern India inspired by the evocative scents and flavours of the canteens and street food stalls. Her restaurant is now known across London for serving up some of the best South Indian food on offer in the UK. I was a novice of the cuisine when I visited, and was surprised by the similarities to Thai cooking: the curries are most often coconut-based and use a great deal of fresh herbs to create the often floral taste.

As you can see from the photo above, I was too busy devouring my food to take many snaps. We enjoyed a selection of dishes from the innovative menu. Poppadoms and pickles are much more than you would expect, vibrant homemade chutneys and deliciously punchy sauces, a far cry from the supermarket condiments I am used to. Vegetarian street snacks is a plate of delectable treats, the spicy mouthfuls feel indulgent even though they are not at all oily. Kottoor Quail is a must, wonderfully aromatic meat marinated in Kashmiri chilli and Indian shallots and quickly pan-fried to give an irresistibly crispy edge.

It was a challenge to pick from the list of intriguing curries, which include unusual ingredients like beetroot and fennel. We chose to share the Cashewandi Kozhi curry, a mild dish with free-range chicken cooked in cashew nut and coconut masala with a touch of green chilli and tomato. It was blissfully light and full of zesty flavour, big chunks of juicy tomato added a summery freshness. We ordered one of the highly regarded Kerala paratha, a perfectly flaky flatbread cooked on the griddle, and a portion of coconut rice to soak up the sauce.

I can’t comment on dessert as we didn’t try one but they looked equally inventive and exciting with ingredients such as saffron, cardamon and pistachio. And now for the best news? Ganapati offer takeaway and delivery, so you can enjoy the spectacular flavours without even moving from the sofa.

More information here: www.ganapatirestaurant.com

Moti Mahal, Covent Garden

It is no secret that Londoners love a good Indian curry. It is the ultimate Friday night treat, and the search for the best on offer is endless. Recently, with the arrival of Gymkhana, fine Indian dining has become the focus of our cravings, and high quality Indian eateries seem to be appearing all over London. Moti Mahal Covent Garden is the chic London outpost of the celebrated Delhi restaurant which opened in 1959. The London location is not new but it felt new to me as I’ve never visited previously.

We turned up at eight on a Friday evening when the restaurant was already full of animated guests, appreciating the comforting cuisine. Sitting towards the rear of the restaurant where it was quieter, we were able to speak to the waiter at length about the concept and flick through the vibrantly illustrated cookbook. The emphasis at Moti Mahal is on the food traditions that surround the Grand Trunk Road, one of Asia’s oldest, longest and most significant major routes. Delhi-born Anirudh Arora has operated as Head Chef since the restaurant’s opening in 2005. The menu focuses on Arora’s passion for the cuisine of India’s famed road.

The menu is long and laborious to peruse, instead listen to the advice of your waiter and order based on his suggestions. If you are feeling very hungry and adventurous, you can opt for the tasting menu which gives you a flavour of the different regions of India. We tasted a range of starters and mains, so many that I was grateful for the small portions. To start, the trio of chicken tikka was wonderful, presented in a grand copper urn on very long metal grilling sticks. The marinades are intensely flavoured and the meat was juicy and tender with a lovely charcoal edge. We also loved the Thatee Grill Gosht (Butterflied lamb leg) coated in a thick garlic and chilli yoghurt, cooked to perfection with a marinade so good I wanted to lick the plate.

Murgh Makhani (Butter chicken) is a must. This faultless recipe from Delhi involves chicken tikka chunks simmered in a creamy tomato sauce. The portion isn’t huge so I guarantee there will be a fight for that last mouthful. We also tried the Venison Meatballs, a speciality dish. The rich meat is seasoned with brown onion and yoghurt sauce, it tasted almost Italian until the spices kicked in. We also ordered buttery garlic naan and pilau rice to soak up all the addictive sauces.

For dessert we managed to fit in a round of kulfi (Indian ice-cream) which arrived in assorted flavours on sticks, looking not dissimilar to mini-milks. In fact they tasted quite similar too, though the flavours were more inventive: mango, rose, pistachio. It was a lovely and simple pudding to cool our tastebuds after the spicy meal.

So what is the downside to all this exquisite food? It comes at a price. Smaller dishes are priced around £10 each, main courses are between £20 and £25, which all adds up when you want a few sides to share and a vegetable dish to accompany the meat.

The elaborate drinks menu matches the food in style: tropical cocktails and unique gins with tonic, or just simply a bottle of high quality, carefully chosen wine. We tasted the cocktails which were strong and nicely garnished, though a little sweet for me. Beer or wine suits the Indian flavours much better.

Producing modern and sophisticated cuisine with a sensitivity to the traditions of authentic Indian cooking, Moti Mahal exceeded all my expectations. Thanks to its location, this restaurant is the perfect option for pre or post theatre meals, or go on a Friday night and treat yourself to one of London’s better curries.

More information and book here: motimahal-uk.com