DC is energetically new London Curry House is a tribute to the bustling streets of the British capital, where fiery curries, real ales and fish and chips are king.
Restaurateur Asad Sheikh (Bombay Street Food, Butter Chicken Company) is reviving the brand he used to own in Alexandria with a DC edition centered around popular Indian dishes long loved by Brits (1301 Subway Street NW). The London Curry House officially opens for dinner on Friday 14th January with a 75 seat dining room showcasing the confluence of Indian and British cultures: “We were colonized by the British for 500 years and only gained our independence in 1947”, says the Bombay-born Sheikh and a reminder of India’s independence date (15 August) are featured on a themed mural.
Elsewhere you’ll find British flags framing the bar, a towering print of Big Ben and an iconic red telephone box from England with an original rotary phone inside. An oversized image of a smiling Anthony Bourdain double-fisting Mumbai’s ultimate veggie street snack steals the show in one corner. Sheikh commemorates his culinary icon by hanging his picture at every location. At the London Curry House, the late parts unknown Host and noted lover of Indian cuisine overlooks a hexagon with bright white tables that could double as a club’s VIP bottle service area.
Despite plenty of loud and fun eye candy, the real focus is on the superb (and spicy) curries that London is known for.
“London has the best, best, best curry houses[side] of India,” says Sheikh.
A five signature dishes section introduces DC to curries like dopiza, an onion-heavy South Indian staple with bold notes of red chili, ginger and garlic. Saagwala, a light curry common in North Indian cuisine, contains spinach and warm spices. Other house curries include a soft jaipuri (roasted red chilli with yogurt) and a coconut-free madras fish curry that’s loaded with tamarind. Of course, the British national dish Chicken Tikka Masala should not be missing. To sample a popular cross-section at once, opt for a trio of small curries (vegetarian or meat) served in a series of cups. The one-person order includes mini versions of the famous chicken tikka masala, spicy goat curry, and tender lamb rogan josh in a creamy tomato curry.
Meanwhile, to perfect the restaurant’s fish and chips, Sheikh said he’s sampled the local competition at “every” DC restaurant known to do it. “It’s London, so that fish and chips must be right,” he says.
The London Curry House final cut serves super crispy cod alongside thick potato wedges. Ketchup or remoulade is deliberately avoided. Instead, the fried potatoes are spread with one of the kitchen’s spiciest curries. (Sheikh suggests taming its spiciness with a milky mango lassi, or a side of chilled raita will do.) “I hope people like it. The taste is there, the spice is there,” he says.
Its elements speak to the days when ex-British Merchant Marines from Bangladesh did Sell curry along with fish and chips on the streets of London and today opened some of the best curry houses in the world.
Starters like Nargisi Kofta come with a history lesson. The popular Indian appetizer consists of halved hard-boiled eggs encased in a lamb mixture, deep fried and doused with rich curry. The court is fine Where Scotch Eggs Come From. Other openers include Jalfrezi fries with roasted peppers and bite-sized Amritsari fish fritters, a street snack rooted in the Punjab city of Amritsar.
Sheikh previously operated a number of successful Indian restaurants with British connections on the Potomac, including the original London Curry House in Alexandria, Curry Mantra and 1947. He sold the entire Northern Virginia portfolio at once to lay all his eggs on one DC- Basket beginning the 2018 Bombay Street Food opening in Columbia Heights. The love letter to Bombay street food he ate growing up has since spread to Adams Morgan and Barracks Row, with another en route to National Harbor later this spring.
The London Curry House presents some of Bombay Street Food’s best-sellers, such as biryani and fiery vindaloo, served with lamb, goat or chicken.
It’s his first eatery with a full bar, and cocktails marry Indian spices with spirits from across the pond. A “Chaiwala Martini” is made with Chase English Potato Vodka, and a “Jal-Jeera Gin and Tonic” works with Minke Irish Gin, Cumin Flavored Honey, and Fever Tree Indian Tonic. A bottled beer list includes Indian Taj Mahal and British Newcastle Brown Ale and Old Speckled Hen, along with draft and DC favorites. For dessert, Britain’s favorite rice pudding joins India’s creamy pistachio kulfi and mango chutney.
The 95-seat space, which used to house a sushi spot, is limited to 75 for now due to COVID-19. The renovation required replacing woks with all new kitchen equipment befitting an Indian restaurant. A tandoor oven is tasked with preparing flavorful tandoori chicken wings and a set of naan to soak up any sauces on the spot.
The pandemic brought expected supply chain issues, and the chairs alone took five months to arrive. Basmati rice — a necessary curry ingredient — is so hard to come by from India these days, he says, that its price is doubled. The fast-paced restaurateur says seven months is the longest it’s taken him to open a restaurant.
It was worth the wait to finally get his London curry house to its destination in a dense city like DC, he says. Before the Northern Virginia original was highly acclaimed Washington Post Food critic Tom Sietsema, he took his chef on a 10-day trip to London to experience all the curries firsthand. He has also always loved the metropolis for the punctuality of its public transport, which flows in circles.
“The buses and trains are so good. Our metro is a mess,” he says.
The London Underground’s famous logo gets big props on a wall rebranded with the DC restaurant’s address: 1301 U Street.
The London Curry House opens at 5pm for walk-in dining, with bar and food service until midnight on weekdays and 1am on weekends (closed on Mondays).
Next up for the owner is taking his homegrown brand Butter Chicken Company nationwide. He has franchise deals in the works to open up to 100 fast-casual locations in two years, he says.