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Mission masala: My search for the best curry in France

The Local France
The Local France - [email protected]
Mission masala: My search for the best curry in France
Curry being prepared at an Indian restaurant in London's Brick Lane. Photo by CARL DE SOUZA / AFP

They're a fixture on British high streets, but is it possible to find an Anglo style 'curry house' in France?

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Over the past 70 years, the Indian restaurant has become a fixture on UK high streets. Their cuisine is perhaps not identical to that served in Mumbai, Chennai or Delhi but they remain dear to British hearts.

So is it possible for homesick Brits to find something similar in famously spice-averse France? Writer Colin Randall investigates . . .

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"According to one online survey, France has 664 Indian restaurants. Anecdotal evidence suggests standards have generally grown higher, but I find it is still advisable to do a little homework, considering the first-hand comments or reviews of other diners before choosing where to go, and always remember that good restaurants have bad days, bad ones good.

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"Years ago, working for the Daily Telegraph in Paris and blogging for its website, I conducted an entirely unscientific search for a good Indian meal that did not involve leaving the country.

"It was whimsically self-indulgent but proved popular among readers, especially those living in France and whose tastes were formed in Britain, but perhaps had also sampled Indian food in other countries.

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"For strictly professional purposes, I sat judgementally at tables from Paris to Angoulême and in various resorts along the Mediterranean coast, hardly an exhaustive trawl but offering a fair smattering of candidates.

"Back then, midway through the first decade of the 21st century, it was a disappointing exercise. There always seemed to be something missing, perhaps showing a reluctance to offend French palates unaccustomed to strong, spicy food. How often did I follow a hearty recommendation only to be unimpressed on my own visit?

Reader question: Do the French really hate all spices?

"A winner did emerge, just after I’d wondered whether any restaurant would ever emulate a chicken curry prepared at home by my French wife. Friends in the Parisian banlieue of Argenteuil took us to Le Royal Shah Jahan. It was their second choice, the first being solidly complet, but even 17 years later, I hold fond memories of a splendid evening, everything cooked and presented to perfection.

"When considering Indian cuisine in France, we need first of all to acknowledge that the phrase “Indian restaurant” is a misleading catch-all. As in Britain, French restaurants describing themselves in that way will sometimes be owned and staffed by those of Nepalese, Pakistani or Bangladeshi origin.

"Leaving aside those nuances, we all tend to base our preferences on personal knowledge - I have eaten Indian food in many countries, including India, and on purely subjective assessment have a penchant for the way immigrants from the subcontinent to Britain created or refined recipes after settling there.

"But the Gandhi in the glitzy Mediterranean resort of Saint-Tropez, opened in 1990, passes most of the tests I set.

"Service is always excellent, the curries and tandoori dishes are invariably delicious and there is even a Brigitte Bardot menu, willingly signed by the resort’s most famous vegetarian resident. The naan bread is divine, as tasty as I have had anywhere, and we’ve never been told, as so often in France, that there are no poppadoms.

"It compares well with my favourite west London curry house, but comes at a price I do not pay there: €82 for two on a recent visit, and we had only one course each, a shared dessert and a 50cl bottle of local wine.

"Despite that shock for the bank balance, the experience could not have been more different than dinner at the Gandhi in Clermont-Ferrand, central France, on a dull October evening. Lured by mostly favourable online reviews, we booked ahead and walked past two other enticing Indian restaurants on our way.

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"Once installed, it was like straying onto the set of a French remake of Fawlty Towers. The starters – oignons bhaja, onion rings cooked bhaji style and raita crevettes or shrimps in a cucumber and yoghurt sauce - were unappetising, mine cold by the time repeated requests finally brought our carafe of wine to the table, my wife’s drowned in the yoghurt. The curry sauce for the mains was watery and portions were minuscule, all served in chaotic fashion as takeaway delivery drivers and customers arrived to pick up their food only to be turned away with instructions to return in 20 or 30 minutes.

"'We’re two staff down,' the manager explained, presenting apologies in French and English but no discount and no trace of the digestive Indian restaurants in Britain routinely offer even when all has gone well. Undoubtedly an off-night and, in fairness, the bill was reasonable with change from €50.

"The relatively low number of Indian restaurants in France - fewer than 700 feels like an underestimate but Britain reportedly has 18,000 - reflects differing colonial traditions. It is obviously far easier to eat couscous in France than across the Channel and I had my first Vietnamese meal half a century ago in Le Mans.

"But while competition is good for consumers, greater proliferation may not be the key to building on the significant overall improvement. Despite - or because of - the rapid spread of Indian restaurants in the UK, standards have deteriorated in simpler establishments while top-end dining is beyond the reach of many budgets.

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"Tastes are changing in France and it is not uncommon to notice that almost all fellow diners are French rather than expats and foreign holidaymakers.

"But my personal wish list for Indian restaurants in France would be a wider range of dishes, including such delights of Anglo-Indian cuisine as the prawn puri starter I have yet to find in France, poppadoms and dips not only unfailingly available but served before orders are placed and that complimentary post-meal drink."

Colin's Top 5 curry houses in France

Gandhi, St Tropez, Var - daytrippers can hardly miss it when walking from the Parking du Port to the picturesque harbour. Do make a reservation as it’s the only Indian restaurant for miles. “In the evening, you book or you don’t eat,” a waiter once told me.

Le Royal Shah Jahan, Enghien-les-Bains, Val d'Oise - the winner of my own little competition to find the best Indian food in France. That was long ago and this Pakistani-owned restaurant has since moved home but online reviews are equally complimentary.

Shalimar, Saint-Raphael, Var - beautifully located on the Santa Lucia marina, and runs the Gandhi in Saint-Tropez close for the finest Indian dining known to me along the Cote d’Azur.

Bollywood Lollywood, Nice, Alpes-Maritime - not the worst name for an Indian restaurant in Nice - Delhi Belhi takes some beating - but handily near the Place Massena with tables set outside in a pleasant courtyard. Simple dishes and miserly portions but inexpensive and the main course combining lamb and spinach is alone worth the visit.

Ganesha Corner, Paris (10th arrondissement) - in the Rue Perdonnet, a 12-minute walk from the Gare du Nord. No frills, just warmly recommended South Indian and Sri Lankan fare. As a bonus, it opens for breakfast.

Do you have a recommendation for an Indian restaurant in France? Please share your spicy tips in the comments section below

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Comments (9)

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Lindsay Davis 2023/11/05 01:02
I would challenge the claim that it is common to be offered a drink after the meal in UK Indian restaurants. I have never enjoyed that joy, my first curry being in 1970 in Camden Town. My life of curries has been frequent and varied, a Londoner who eventually left the city for Maidenhead then Oxfordshire eating in curry houses from Kings Cross (a great, scrubbed table, no electrics, Madhur Jaffry recommendation) to Hampstead student days and numerous other offerings in city, town and village restaurants around the UK for the next 45 years before packing bags and boxes for France, now content with cooking at home for want of a restaurant. I can only imagine your correspondent was a restaurant critic or others paid the bill :-)
Iain 2023/11/04 12:46
Tandoori Flame in Nice (Rue Centrale, Cathedrale tram stop) is a good approximation of the standard UK curry house if that's what you crave. Use to do a bargain lunch and may still do so. All the usuals, breads are especially good, and Cobra beer in bottles. About 50-60€ for two. The rest of the curry places in Nice (other than Delhi Belhi) are pretty so-so and pricy.
LarriB 2023/11/04 00:31
Kashmir House, 75010. Yummy food, and consistently good service. We've been going there for at least 10 years. A bit of a trek for us in Paris traffic, but the food is always worth it. Spice levels are adjusted on request and plates can be altered from original menu listings...ask for butter gambas with a bit of spice! Reasonably priced, modern setting and, a good ambiance. A man plays a traditional instrument while dining in the evenings. And poppadoms await with their dipping sauces.
Mira Kamdar 2023/11/03 17:12
How could you miss Delhi Bazaar in Paris? We finally have something akin to London's Dishoom. The food is excellent, as are the cocktails. A young crowd -- and it is crowded: Reserve in advance! https://www.doitinparis.com/en/indian-restaurant-delhi-bazaar-paris-26616
Offbeat France 2023/11/03 16:55
Annapurna in Chamonix, possibly because of the many Brits in town? Utterly delicious!
Suzanne 2023/11/03 16:27
Ashiana in Neuilly gets a hat tip from me. It's a family-run restaurant, not cheap, but always great. Never had a bad meal there.
Suma QJ 2023/11/03 11:37
Saravana bhavan, next to Gare du Nord is must for me when catching the Eurostar. It's not a British curry house, but it is a real Indian restaurant - part of a global chain that started in Chennai. It serves vegetarian south indian food, try the paper dosa and vadas, the mango lassi is great too!
Gabriel Williams 2023/11/02 17:03
Le Sartaj in Gap! Small, busy, family run and the best I’ve had in France… reservations are a must!
D 2023/11/02 16:22
Ganesh Corner appears to be permanently closed.

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