I love Indian food. It’s on the table at least once a week in my house and I’ve been to the sub-continent a couple of times over the years – mainly with the sole purpose of eating as much as my body would allow! This considered, I was brimming with excitement at the prospect of visiting Flora Indica, on the Old Brompton Road, a 5-minute walk from Earls Court Station.
The restaurant borrows its name from a book that deals with plants and spices on the Indian sub-continent. Written by William Roxburgh and William Carey, the 2 Bills found themselves wandering through India in the early 19th century, where they presumably met each other and quickly began recounting exciting stories relating to the local flora and fauna. It’s Roxburgh’s Scottish heritage that is the driving force behind the decor within the restaurant, whilst the menu takes its inspiration from Flora Indica, the book.
The interior styling has been done extremely well – the theme is subtle yet cleverly done and the whole restaurant exudes a class that most restaurants would kill for. The first eye-catching piece is a huge old telephone box, painted blue, as you walk into the restaurant. It’s a nice touch – for something so large you could be forgiven for not noticing it at first and yet when you do you can’t help but admire how the designer has woven something so British into a restaurant that feels somehow exotic. And this is the theme that continues. Iconic British design pieces used with a flair and imagination that blends in beautifully with a contemporary and sumptuous design. Along the left wall of the restaurant you will find a huge array of distillery paraphernalia – pipes, pots, gauges, dials – all beautifully polished and used subtly as the restaurant’s key decoration. Of course when looking at this vast selection of implements you are immediately reminded of that most Victorian of drinks, gin, with its own botanical heritage and intertwined history with imperial Britain.
Which brings me nicely to the cocktails. The Flora Eden is a beautiful rum, rosemary and lime juice-infused cocktail which really epitomises the restaurant’s theme. Likewise the Flavours of Indica, a whisky, rum and pomegranate based cocktail was at once moreish and fascinating. Even if you don’t have time for food, it’s worth stopping for a cocktail in the Flora Indica lounge area at the front of the restaurant.
Before I move onto the food I need to mention our spectacular host Richard. Richard was there to welcome us right from the beginning, and had excellent suggestions and knowledge of the menu. What’s more, it was clear that Flora Indica enjoys a lot of regular custom – half of the tables around us seemed to know Richard well and had obviously been to the restaurant many times, a great sign.
I can’t go into too much detail about the food because I’m not sure I can find the appropriate words that would do each dish justice! but one thing to know about this menu before a visit is that it is not your ‘typical Indian’ fare. What I mean by this is don’t expect your usual korma, balti and popadums here. Although they do feature on the menu, each dish is made with a twist of either the exotic or of a British influence, which is really what sets Flora Indica apart from the rest.
We started with the okra fries that I could probably eat all day and the millet roti with truffle oil. This was followed by the soft shell crab which was beautifully seasoned, and the pickled octopus, which is probably some of the best octopus I’ve ever had. Richard had also recommended the Kali Mirch (banana chips) and the Tak a Tak, a particularly bitter dish that I’m glad I tried as it had a strangely moreish quality to it.
The menu at Flora Indica has a vast range of small dishes and it’s perhaps tempting to just choose from this part of the menu, tapas style, but you’d be missing out on something very special – the monkfish and king prawn Bengali coconut curry. For something that just sounds so delicious, it had a lot of living up to and it didn’t disappoint. Each element of this Bengali Malai dish was excellently executed and was a sheer joy to eat. Likewise, the lamb shoulder rogan josh was beautifully tender and tasty in equal measures and went extremely well with the accompanying garlic naan.
At this point I’d loosened my belt by a couple of notches and was considering giving dessert a miss. Thank god Richard persuaded me to try the pineapple and brioche. I’m not what could be called a ‘pineapple’ person, but this tandoori-roasted pineapple and tukda brioche dessert is one of the tastiest things I’ve had all year and is worth heading back to the Flora Indica for alone. We also had the kulfi semi freddo (Indian ice cream) on a bed of falooda which is a very traditional Indian dessert of sweet noodles – definitely worth a try!
Overall, I couldn’t recommend Flora Indica enough. Me and my girlfriend have already discussed that my dad; notorious in our family for being hard to please when it comes to restaurants, would absolutely love this place, as would anyone else I may decide to treat in the future. The ambience was extremely pleasant and classy, the food is exquisite and imaginative and the service impeccable. Unlike Britain’s time in India, there is no controversy here – Flora Indica is one of the best Indian restaurants in London.
242 Old Brompton Road, London, SW5 0DE