Location: Picadilly, London SW1
Price: £160 for cocktails, starters, main course, wine and Irish coffees for two.
The National Geographic puts Veeraswamy at number eight on it’s list of Top Ten Best Destinations and Special Restaurants in the World and after our trip there last Friday to celebrate my husband’s 40th birthday I’d have to agree with their high opinion of the place. Founded in 1926 by an Indian Princess and her husband, the great grandson of an English general, and set in the heart of Picadilly, it’s glamour has attracted many famous diners over the years including Charlie Chaplin, Marlon Brando and Indira Ghandi. The floor-to-ceiling windows look out over a typical bustling central London scene full of red buses, black cabs and tourist-packed streets whilst within its all opulent decor and dramatic, sexy lighting. A recent re-fit which returned the restaurant to its 1920’s Maharajah’s palace-style luxury was clearly done tastefully and without cutting a single corner. This attitude towards expense is a general hallmark of Veeraswamy. It was not cheap but it was a special occasion and believe me, I’ve paid more for way less in in high end dining terms.
We began with the Mussels Moilee and the Green Prawns. I can honestly say the prawns were without doubt the best I’ve ever eaten in a restaurant in both their quality and preparation – not to mention size, these were enormous prawns! The ‘green’ refers to the beautiful coating of pureed coriander, mint, cumin, salt and chilli they receive before hitting the chargrill. I know this because our friendly waiter was quite happy to tell me. This is rare on two counts; firstly many waiters don’t know whats in the food and if they do, they are not inclined to share that information with diners. The mussels were so delicately spiced that both my husband and I, when partaking of our ‘share’ of the mussels (we always share starters so we get a bit of everything) felt duty bound to drink the broth they came in with a spoon. It was all I could to stop Michael licking the plate, actually. The mussels themselves were extremely fresh and cooked very precisely and came with a light scattering of equally fresh coconut.
Expectations were high for the main course. It did not disappoint. We had ordered the Malabar Lobster Curry made with fresh turmeric and unripe mango, the Sea Bass wrapped in Banana Leaf, the Chorchori, some plain rice and a roti. The lobster will remain etched on my memory until I no longer have a memory for things to be etched on. The sauce had clearly been made using proper stock made from it’s own shell. It was velvety, luxurious and deeply satisfying. Again, the spices were there but almost ethereal in their presence. Each piece of meat had been expertly extracted from the shell including the tricky claw meat and so retained it’s shape as well as it’s sweet, lobster flavour against that divine sauce. The Sea Bass came filleted, touched with the Veeraswamy magic spicing wand and wrapped in banana leaves. It’s only accompaniment was some thinly sliced red onion but that was all it needed. Our vegetable dish, the Chorchori, managed to somehow showcase each individual vegetable whilst still coming together as a whole dish. Michael kept saying ‘”it’s like they’ve managed to distill each vegetable down to the very essence of itself”. We had ordered plain rice and a plain roti to act as a backdrop to the other more exotic dishes but even these were expertly executed; the rice was aromatic and perfectly seperated. The roti came still puffed up from it’s journey from griddle to naked flame to table.
It was a meal that left us feeling perfectly replete after starters and main courses so we declined dessert and instead hopefully inquired if there was any chance of an Irish Coffee (despite them not appearing on the drinks list). There was and they were exceptionally good. Knowing it was Michael’s birthday the waiter also delivered a wonderful little complimentary glass of chocolate ice-cream and mango sorbet to go with them, which was a nice touch and rounded off what has to go down in my book as one of the most perfect meals I’ve ever eaten.