Empire Empire


It’s always an unorthodox start to a lunch when Larry turns up, panting and looking as if he’s been for a ten-mile run. I’ve been sitting in the salubrious surroundings of Empire Empire, Notting Hill’s latest and, as I shall go on to discuss, greatest Indian restaurant, minding my own business and investigating the menu, when the fine chap appears, not his usual suave self but somewhat discombobulated. Upon closer investigation, he has cycled across London, at speed, so that he is not late for our encounter on the All Saints Road. Say what you like about Larry, but he is a stickler for punctuality, even if it nearly kills him.

Anyway, we’re gathered together to investigate the much-raved about Empire Empire, which advertises itself as “curry and cocktails”. When we arrive in the salubrious location, we’re stuck by the clever décor, which I can only describe as being a kind of postmodern take on the traditional curry house of the Seventies. There is a giant photo booth in the main room – not, alas, a functioning one – and an eclectic soundtrack that features everything from a breathy female cover of Mansun’s ‘I Can Only Disappoint U’ to a particularly fine remix of Ennio Morricone’s ‘The Ecstasy of Gold’, which has Larry toe-tapping and Shazam-ing away.

The menu at Empire Empire is well-chosen, eclectic and – for the expensive area that it’s in – remarkably good value. I had assumed that the curries and biryanis, priced between £12.50 and £16, would be small portions, but not a bit of it. Following on from a fine selection of kebabs and tikkas, of which our favourites are the carefully marinated haryali fish tikka and the to-die-for Lucknow lamb chops – Larry expresses his particular delight in the onion tandoori salad – then we’re straight into the house specialities of the butter chicken and the lamb shank biryani, both of which are served in the kind of substantial helpings that would usually be enough to suffice for an entire meal. The biryani is a thing of beauty, both to behold and to eat, but the butter chicken, in a creamily rich sauce of dreams, is perhaps even better. Served with a roti, garlic naan and a side of raita, this really is as good as it gets in contemporary Indian cuisine, even allowing for the determinedly retro stylings around us.

Special mention, at this point, must be made of the drinks. The restaurant is, naturally, very strong on cocktails, and the brace that we start with – a lip-smackingly potent buttered old fashioned for me, and an excellent cardamom and lemon gimlet for Larry – are truly sublime. Yet the care and attention that goes into the food is the signature of every part of the restaurant, and the recommendations that we are offered are on point.

We eschew wine for the starter in favour of sharing a bottle of artisan cider, the Little Pomona table cider, and it’s a very fine choice, cutting through the spice and smokiness with ease. Then it’s into an excellent selection of a Portuguese Tinto red, over Larry’s initial objections (“too jammy”), which are silenced as soon as he tries it, and a warm glow of contentment settles over him.

We try the desserts, a saffron milk cake and a gulab jamun with meringue cheesecake, but if truth be told, we’re somewhat hors de combat by this stage and so can’t do them full justice. But as we retire, thanking all and sundry for what has truly been a delicious, indeed exemplary meal, I look at Larry, and I can see that he’s stored up a particular bon mot for our departure, as is his wont; I am not to be disappointed. “Empire, Empire. So good they named it twice.”

Empire Empire, 16 All Saints Road, London W11 1HH. For more information, including details of its All the Skewers nights from guest chefs, and a link to its playlist, please visit www.empire-empire.restaurant.