Amid all the gastronomic indulgences of the festive season, there is one thing I usually start craving by Boxing Day: spice. It is not the kind of desire easily assuaged by a curry made from leftover turkey, though. It demands a proper Indian restaurant, the scent of spice drifting tantalisingly through the dining room, perhaps the plaintive sound of a sitar in the background.
Since London is the best city on the planet for Indian restaurants – India’s great cities are terrific for street food, but its restaurant culture is still in its infancy – and since many of them are open over Christmas and New Year, this is never a problem. I might, for example, go to Quilon (second picture), a supremely smart room in Victoria where Michelin-starred chef Sriram Aylur cooks the best south Indian food in town.
Start with a little cup of rasam: warm and bracingly sour, preparing the palate and leaving a sulphurous rasp of black salt in the nostrils. Then, perhaps, a masala dosa, a crisp rice and lentil pancake filled with spiced potatoes and headily aromatic curry leaf, served with a fragrant sambar.
You could easily have a great meal at Quilon and stay strictly vegetarian – vegan, even – but that would be to miss out on the superb seafood. Aylur’s fish curry features firm chunks of halibut in a coconut broth, given a sweet/sour tang with fresh mango; scallops are chargrilled, a piquant mango and chilli relish adding savour and depth. There is also a fine selection of craft beers. If anyone can tempt the British away from vindaloo and lager, it’s Aylur.
Or I might go to Cinnamon Kitchen (first picture) on Devonshire Square, where chef Abdul Yaseen conjures up gutsy, full-throttled Indian dishes, modern in style but firmly rooted in tradition. The kitchen has a particular proficiency with game: grouse may have flown from the menu by Christmas, but there will still be venison – cooked in the tandoor and paired with pickled vegetables and yoghurt, or fried in strips with onion, tomato and ginger, southern-style – and rabbit, perhaps, in a terrine with pungent Bengali kasundi mustard.
There is also a cocktail bar, Anise, where many of the excellent drinks feature a dusting of spice. Some even include meat: try the Deer Me, a potent blend of sloe gin, sweet vermouth, rosemary and grilled venison-infused Johnnie Walker. Cinnamon Kitchen is even open on Christmas Day (though not Boxing Day), should the rigours of the season prove too much.
Come December 26, I might simply go to Indian Zing, Manoj Vasaikar’s Ravenscourt Park restaurant, for mussels cooked in rasam and his sublime rogan josh with lemon and ginger rice. The turkey, I think, can keep till tomorrow.