Heritage Dulwich: superb Indian in the suburbs
An innovative Indian neighbourhood eatery will have everyone flocking to a leafy south London enclave
As far as I’m concerned, there have been few downsides to working from home in the pandemic era – loungewear and being in for the Amazon delivery guy being chief among them. But a year and a half of missing out on restaurants I used to pass on my commute was a definite loss – evenings spent at cosy Soho bistros and dining with friends in buzzy Shoreditch restaurants were sadly missed. So I can’t help but feel slightly smug that a destination eatery has opened in my neighbourhood that will never require me to make an hour-long, mask-wearing jaunt on crowded public transport to get to.
What a stroke of luck that Dayashankar Sharma migrated from the acclaimed Grand Trunk Road restaurant in South Woodford to my manor, Dulwich, to launch his restaurant, Heritage. Sharma, who was previously with Michelin-starred Tamarind in Mayfair and Zaika in Kensington and was anointed Best Chef at Asian and Oriental Chef Awards 2020, is a chef with more than 30 years of cooking South Asian food under his belt. He grew up in Rajasthan and while working in five-star hotels all over India and Sri Lanka soaked up the regional flavours of their cuisines. He’s brought his knowledge to Heritage and recreated them with his own contemporary twist.
For example, a few dishes on the menu offer a British spin on Indian cuisine. Heritage’s Goan stuffed fish starter, a filet of shallow fried tilapia coated in semolina, spices and coriander pesto, is Sharma’s nod to fish and chips. And there’s a delicious Jodhpuri tawa chicken breast fried in green spices and tamarind that, surprisingly but deliciously, is served on a UK favourite, mashed potato (though Sharma’s is deliciously spiced with cumin).
We arrived on a Thursday night to find Heritage’s glass frontage casting a welcome glow over the pavement tables outside. Alas, the weather was too autumnal to enjoy a pre-dinner cocktail there, but inside or out, we decided that Sharma’s imaginative list of tipples were not to be passed over. I opted for The Martini and realised why it’s the restaurant’s most popular cocktail – a fruity elixir of berry vodka with strawberry and lychee, finished with a pretty pink raspberry foam, it was just the right level of sweet. My partner opted for Flute, which he found a wonderfully indulgent mix of Cointreau with a kick of citrus marmalade and ladle of champagne.
Inside the 44-cover restaurant, the atmosphere was convivial and buzzing, with nearly every table full. Clearly, my neighbours were equally pleased about this new addition to the high street. The décor is light and chic. Caramel-coloured banquettes line both walls, creating a corridor between them. Chic industrial lighting throws warm light on nature prints of peacocks and Indian-inspired artworks and gilt decorations. Arabesque wood panels divide the front and back dining area and a small bar sits at the far end where a barman mixed cocktails as fast as the waiters could serve them. Friendly and efficient service was supplied by a small army of staff who had an impressive grasp of detail about the dishes.
At first glance the menu feels familiar for an Indian restaurant with reassuringly traditional offerings of Kashmir lamb and lamb biriyani and murgh makhana (butter chicken), but on closer inspection each dish has been reimagined by Sharma to make the experience excitingly different. To start, my partner couldn’t resist the aforementioned Jodhpuri tawa chicken, while I ordered the vegetarian Dahi Bhalla Chaat, its mix of wheat crisps, soft lentil dumplings, sweet yoghurt and chutney presenting a mouth-watering set of contrasts between crunchy and tender, sweet and savoury.
I followed it up with a main course of Nariyal wala Jhinga, a prawn curry with creamy coconut & mustard sauce. Here I will stick my neck out and proclaim it the best prawn curry I’ve ever eaten (and I’ve eaten a lot over many decades). The subtle mustard flavour beautifully undercut the richness of the coconut sauce and lingered long on the palette. The prawns were huge and tender. It was simply divine. Alas, because we had maxed out on carbs by greedily ordering both a Tandoori Roti and Kesar wala Pulao Rice, I couldn’t finish it all and had to request a takeout box to ensure I didn’t miss a morsel of it. I savoured it the next day for lunch. My partner was equally chuffed with his Lamb & Prune Kofta, a beautifully cooked meatball lifted to another level by the addition of prunes, tomato, brown garlic and star anise.
So sated were we by the two courses we’d eaten that we had no room for dessert. But we’re already arguing over whether next time we’ll split a Chocolate brick – a cinnamon brownie flavoured with black cardamom – or Heritage’s signature dessert, the Gulab Jamun Cheesecake which we spotted at the next table. In another fusion of Indian and British cuisine, the popular Indian sweet treat was baked inside the cheesecake and then capped with neon pink rose topping that was quite eye-catching. It seems almost certain we’ll order both.
The best news is that the fine dining experience we had did not come at a cost: Heritage’s prices are extremely reasonable for such high quality food and for those who can’t face changing out of loungewear to attend in person (I sympathise), the restaurant offers a takeaway service on certain days called Heritage Home Dining. But do go – the mix of lively atmosphere (albeit occasionally acoustically challenging) and efficient service added much to our night out at Heritage Dulwich. After a year and a half of sitting indoors, it was positively restorative.
Heritage Dulwich is located at 101 Rosendale Road, West Dulwich SE21 8EZ