22 November 2019: Chai Thali - Thali ho, it's chai-day!
After a few mid week jars with my old pal Joe in The Angel, Covent Garden, our appetites had well and truly been whetted. No surprises for guessing the first suggestion offered on how to best satisfy our hunger. And so it was that our search for a new curry house began. Having flagged a number of potentials on Google Maps, I consulted the array of pins on my phone. After some deliberation The India Club on The Strand (highly recommended by a friend of my Dad) was chosen. Following a short walk south we arrived at our destination and took a step back in time...
The India Club is a site of real historical significance having been setup by the India League, an organisation which played a prominent role in the Indian independence movement. The club was established in 1951 to focus on relations between India and the UK post India's independence in 1947. It quickly became a meeting point for recent arrivals from Asia and the burgeoning diaspora community, as well as diplomats, journalists and the wider public alike.
As a visitor in 2019 the sense of history is tangible, not least because little has changed to the interior since the 1970s. Stepping into the unassuming street level entrance of the Hotel Strand Continental feels like a step into the past. Ascending the winding stairs takes you through a time warp, first past the India Bar - a relaxed lounge bar that wouldn't be out of place on Only Fools And Horses - then up another floor to the India Club Restaurant.
The restaurant itself, beyond its history, is nothing particularly special. In fact, with its faded yellow paint, coat pegs on the walls and tired wooden tables you could be forgiven for thinking it was an old school classroom rather than a hallowed dining space, a little like Agra on Warren Street.
Ornate chandeliers hang from the high ceilings to add to the light from the vast single glazed bay windows overlooking The Strand, but once dusk settles in it's pretty dark inside. However, the rather aged interior is brought to life by the lively hubbub of patrons, whilst the downstairs bar benefits from classic tunes from the likes of Patti Smith and Carly Simon.
The prevailing vibe is a relaxed one, tinged with nostalgia. As such, its hard not to be charmed by the simple surrounds as indeed we were when sipping on post-curry G&Ts and playing chess in the India Bar.
Starters and sides
Poppadoms & Chutnies
The food menu here has also stayed true to form for many decades and dishes are served up in authentic style on metallic crockery. Unfortunately, the result is food that is a little tired and not the most well presented. The poppadoms and chutnies were standard, but the chicken pakora was a little underwhelming and more like popcorn chicken than anything special from the Indian sub-continent.
More exciting were the chilli bhajia: firey, battered whole chillis that packed just the right amount of scoville punch so as not to upset the palate. The puri bread was also well executed and the chapati generous in size, but all in all nothing to write home about for Sides and Starters.
The mains followed on from the starters with the style and presentation fairly dated. In the vein of other long standing central London curry houses, The India Club doesn't seem to have evolved over its long history. This may well please the conservatives, and undoubtedly their are many loyal customers that have returned to The India Club over the years, but the standard falls a little short of the quality Indian fare readily available in the capital.
Nevertheless, the lamb Madras was solid enough, with fairly tender, if small, chunks of lamb and heat provided by green chillies. However, the tarka dal was a little runnier than I like it and certainly a mid-table performer relative to others elsewhere.
Fortunately, a surprise package came in the form of the bhindi (okra): a delightful, juicy dish, with an onion and cumin crunch. The okra was cooked to perfection spilling seeds and juices into a texture-filled and flavoursome bite. However, this wasn't quite enough to elevate the score for Curry beyond an average 6 out of 10.
The staff here proved friendly, but only after we'd finished were we given a recommendation on what we should have ordered.
Joe happily took up the opportunity to chat to anyone and everyone with the barman downstairs particularly obliging. Service was also quick if not a little frantic, but generally it was a solid performance; think casual diner rather than fine dining.
Value for money
My bank statement notes an incredibly low £9.50 for Strand Continental. Even though we didn't have loads of dishes it still represents pretty decent value for a good feed. Indeed, whilst not the highest quality, some curries come in at a showstopping £5 and £6.50 for the bhindi is a steal.
The India Club is definitely worth a visit for its place in London's Indian history. I wouldn't rule out a return myself, but will take the manager's advice on which curries to choose next time. The bar is probably where I'm most likely to be found though with its nice setting for pre/post drinks or even a cheeky game of chess. It would be good to sample the range of snacks available there too (bhel puri, pani puri, masala dosa).
Overall, it's a steady, mid-table 34/50.
Please click here to see our review of nearby Little Kolkata
Address: 19 Mandela Street, London, NW1 0DU
Cuisine: Indian small plates
Alcohol Policy: Licensed
Summary: Modern, small plate Indian restaurant with a good range of tasty dishes.