Rolled out in August, London Curry House in Alexandria is the latest taste of India from Asad Sheikh. Maybe you’ve heard of him. The prolific restaurateur has, in less than four years, introduced Northern Virginia to three other dining rooms. Curry Mantra in Fairfax City was followed by Curry Mantra 2 in Falls Church and Curry Manta 3 in Vienna. While the names are similar, each branch differs slightly from the others.
Or, in the case of London Curry House, a lot. With 150 seats, his fourth restaurant is his biggest yet, a detail that led Sheikh to name the Cameron Station newcomer something other than Curry Mantra 4. The food, says Sheikh, is inspired by the curry houses of London.
Diners looking for guidance can count on the owner to steer them to what he considers choice eating. After the menu’s descriptions of, say, goat in caramelized onion sauce and salmon tikka masala are printed words of encouragement: “Must try!” I was glad to have followed the prompt for chicken saagwala cooked with spinach, ginger, garlic and warm spices. Not every pitch delivers, however: The one-bite lentil puffs filled with yogurt, chickpeas and tamarind chutney proved sweeter and less crisp than the ideal both times I tried the appetizer.
If you enjoy ceremony with your meal, try a biryani: basmati rice and a choice of meat — tender chicken, spicy goat, sauteed shrimp — capped with naan in a small copper pot. A waiter slices open the thin seal of bread, liberating clouds of steam and a feast made fragrant with fresh cilantro and caramelized shallots. A little bowl of raita alongside keeps everything cool.
The buffet calls to the lunch bunch with a generally appealing collection of dishes. Count on the butter chicken to be tender and zippy, and the roasted pureed eggplant to pop with cardamom. Fried vegetables, while flavorful, go limp if not eaten quickly after they land in chafing dishes. The fritters also release more oil than you might expect. Young families are encouraged by the cost of the spread; children under 5 eat for free.
Want to eat samosas or lamb kebab in the privacy of your home? Delivery of the a la carte selections is available at both lunch and dinner within a seven-mile range.
Overlooking Ben Brenman Park, the spacious corner dining room commands attention. A palette of red and orange, shimmering tiled columns, a bar backed with televisions and a billboard-size valentine to Britain and India keep the eyes busy.
A private dining room off the entrance can host up to 25 diners, but Sheikh has been known to make it available for a couple if the restaurant isn’t busy.
Unusual for most Indian restaurant kitchens, this one is visible to customers. Says the owner, “I want my guests to see what’s going on:” A lot, and for every sense and sensibility.
191 Somervelle St., Alexandria, Va. 703-419-3160. londoncurryhouse.com. Entrees, $12 to $19; lunch buffet $11.99 (Tuesdays through Fridays) and $13.99 (Saturdays and Sundays).