Veeraswamy is a 90-year-old restaurant located on Regent Street, London. Apart from the distinction of being the oldest Indian restaurant in the city, it was also recently honoured with the highly prestigious Michelin Star, which is considered a hallmark for fine dining around the world.
The Michelin Guide wrote about Veeraswamy: “The classic dishes from across the country are prepared with considerable care by a very professional kitchen. The room is awash with colour and it’s run with great charm and enormous pride.”
Edward Palmer, the son of a English military strategist and a Mughal princess founded E.P Veeraswamy & Co. in Hornsey in 1896 to promote Indian food. Palmer had considerable knowledge about Indian cuisine. He was a retired British Indian army officer who was approached by the Indian Government Pavilion at the British Empire Exhibition to represent India with a restaurant in 1924. The Indian Pavilion advertised the opening of Veeraswamy by saying, “If you appreciate Indian foods, take your lunch at the Indian Pavilion.”
The restaurant managed to draw in large crowds at Wembley Park and served an average of 500 curries a day.
An official Indian Government report from 1924 says of Edward, “ His selection (as advisor) was happy, and the success of the Indian cafe was largely due to him. The Indian cafe was not only appreciated by Indian visitors to Wembley who were able to get their vegetarian food, but was very popular with the British public.”
After the exhibition shut down in 1926, Edward decided to relocate Veeraswamy to Regent Street. The restaurant shared its birth date with the Queen herself, and sold traditional curries such as Madras Curry, Duck Vindaloo, and Dak Bungalow Curry. The owner even published a book called Indian Cookery for Use in All Countries, which is still being sold.
Some of the famous diners at Veeraswamy included Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi, Winston Churchill, Charlie Chaplin, and the Prince of Wales.
The Indian restaurant, surprisingly, also serves beer to neutralise the spices often used in Indian cooking. This tradition was introduced by Prince Axel of Denmark, who found the food so delicious that he sent a barrel of Carlsberg beer every year to the restaurant to serve to its guests.
In the past 90 years, the restaurant has seen many owners and interior decor changes. Around 1930, the restaurant was taken over by Sir William Steward, who ran it for 40 years until 1976. Sir William Steward also introduced the first ever ‘Curry in a Can’ product under Veeraswamy Food Products. The fine dining restaurant was acquired by Ranjit Mathrani and Namitha Panjabi in 1996; they restored the interior decor to it’s original 1920s opulence.
Recently, National Geographic wrote that Veeraswamy was among the 10 best “destination and special restaurants” in the world.
The current owner, Ranjit, told the Indian Express, “We aim to provide the best possible Indian dining experience to our guests in a setting that will evoke that grandeur we associate with our past of maharajas and nobility. That said, we still try to remain a bit playful, wherein we want our guests to feel like royalty without it getting too stuffy. So while our food will be as authentic to its roots as we can possibly make it, we’ll have fun with the presentation,”
The restaurant now serves everything from Kerala-style Venison Mutta Kebab to Kashmiri Rogan Josh to Bengali Bhappa Macch.
When asked how the restaurateurs feel about being mentioned in the Michelin guide, Ranjit said, “While we are very happy to have received recognition from the Michelin guide, our yardstick will always be the gourmand Indian families who come and dine with and tell us that our food is almost as good as it is in their homes. French restaurants live or die by their Michelin stars, but for ethnic restaurants the true test is diners from that country or region who are familiar with the food. For instance somebody from Goa will be able to appreciate the subtleties of the 24 spices that go into a Xacuti Curry.”
To know more about this legendary restaurant, visit the website here.
All images taken from Facebook.