Experiencing Camp at London Curry House
…Why is there a huge portrait of Anthony Bourdain in the corner?
The first word I would use to describe London Curry House would be exuberant. From the man refilling the water, who welcomed me in with a huge grin and a “How’s your Saturday night treating you, ma’am?” two decibels louder than it needed to be, to the decor, which features a full-size old-timey London telephone booth and countless flags, the restaurant is unbelievably confident in itself, in a way that comes off almost tacky at first. However, once I settled in, I realized: London Curry House isn’t tacky, it’s camp.
Everything at this restaurant is bigger and bolder than life. The colors are gaudy, the art is garish (more on that later), and the whole “London” theme is so aggressive and artificial that it swings right back around to elegant. London Curry House is giving ultimate tourist trap, right in the center of the wrong city. It’s hilarious.
In terms of food, the menu is pretty typical of an Indian restaurant, if a little anglicized. They say that their most famous dish is the fish n chips with curry sauce, which is a big claim for a restaurant that opened only two months ago. My friends and I kept it classic and ordered samosas, the veggie trio (channa masala, saag paneer, and “mix vegetable”) and the chicken tikka masala (which the menu labels as “British National Dish”).
The food doesn’t bring quite the same energy as the room. The samosas weren’t too flavorful, and only the top layer of the garlic naan was seasoned. The veggie combo was also nothing to write home about, so I won’t — the saag paneer stood out as the best of the three, but the competition wasn’t too stiff. That makes the tikka masala the winner of the night, by a long shot — with chicken so tender that we thought it might have been thigh meat, this dish positively melts away the second you bite into it. It’s buttery and heartfelt, everything you could possibly ask from a tikka masala.
The fact that the food was unremarkable did not detract at all from the pure joy of the space. The most joyous corner? When you enter, turn left and head to the back, where you’ll see one of the boldest statement art pieces I’ve ever encountered in an upscale restaurant, pictured below.
Yes, that’s a mural of Anthony Bourdain holding two little sandwiches and smiling, overlaid with a message in script saying “We Miss You Anthony Bourdain.” Yes, there is an inexplicable photo of Gandhi superimposed onto his chest. No, I haven’t edited this for comedic effect. Keep in mind, this collage is bordered by a wall covered in glossy images of Parliament and Big Ben, sloppily pasted on top of the Union Jack. The overall effect is at once preposterous and sweet, a tribute and a mockery. I think Bourdain would be delighted.
At the end of the day, London Curry House may not have wowed my taste buds, but they did touch my heart. I’ll certainly be visiting again, if just to pay my respects. We miss you, Anthony Bourdain!