Vijay 49 Willesden Lane, London NW6

The décor is dire and the location nothing special. But everything else is making me feel so nice, says our critic

Why do people overrate the restaurants local to them? I often get letters from readers recommending I check out such-and-such a place because it serves "the best falafel in London" or "the most exquisite Thai green curry this side of Bangkok". After a few disappointing excursions to these "gems", I learnt to cross-reference the senders' addresses with the addresses of the restaurants. They weren't the best of anything. They were simply the closest restaurants to the senders' homes.

There is an exception, however, and that is Vijay. Before I went there, this south Indian restaurant in Kilburn had been recommended countless times, but always by residents of NW6. It wasn't until I was advised to check it out by my friend Bill Stadium that my ears pricked up. Not only does Bill write about food, but he's a resident of Los Angeles. If someone who lives more than 5,000 miles away had heard of this restaurant, maybe it was worth a visit.

From the outside, Vijay doesn't look anything special. It's on the corner of Willesden Lane and Kingsley Road and announces itself with bright-red letters against a blue background. The sign says it was "established" in 1964 and the exterior looks as if it hasn't been revamped since.

Inside, it is plain to a fault, almost like an Indian restaurant in the process of being gutted. Brown walls are occasionally interrupted by posters of Hindu goddesses that have seen better days and the lighting is harsh, illuminating rows of wooden chairs tucked under small, utilitarian tables. Not somewhere you'd want to take your spouse for your 25th wedding anniversary.

On the plus side, the prices are in keeping with the décor. Starters range from £1 to £6.20, with mains beginning at £4 and climbing to £9.80 for the king prawn special. If that strikes you as on the high side, the restaurant offers an all-you-can eat lunchtime buffet for £5.99 (see picture).

Being a south Indian restaurant, Vijay offers a wide selection of vegetarian dishes, which pleases my non-meat-eating wife. We decide to share a couple of starters – masala dosai and vegetable somosa – and, for our mains, I opt for chicken masala while Caroline has cabbage-carrot thoran, dhal spinach and some chana masala. To accompany this, I order a bottle of 2008 Frascati priced £15.

From the first bite of the dosai, I realise why my friends have been raving about this place. It's light and crispy with a lovely buttery flavour, even better than the dosai at Sagar on King Street in Hammersmith, which is saying something. This impression is confirmed by the somosa, which, like the dosai, seems to have been cooked with about 10 per cent of the grease used in a typical Indian restaurant. The shell is wonderfully light and delicate, with a rich, vegetable filling inside.

My main course is a knock-out, made with large chunks of freshly cooked chicken, and Caroline is so pleased with her vegetable dishes she lapses into a series of moans and groans. When she recovers the power of speech, she singles out the freshness of the ingredients and the fact the chef is able to use spices quite liberally without masking any of the individual vegetable flavours.

How does such an unprepossessing establishment come to be serving some of the best south Indian food in London? The answer is that the former head chef, Vasu Nair, was talent-spotted by George Harrison in the 1960s, and the Quiet Beatle recruited him to join his personal staff. The current maestro in the kitchen, Mia Dras, trained under Nair for 25 years and, clearly, Nair managed to impart everything he knows. The food at Vijay is exactly the same as the food served at the table of one of the 20th century's most passionate exponent's of Indian culture.

I'd like to describe Vijay as a "hidden pearl", but I'm probably the last gourmand in west London to dine there. During our visit on a Wednesday night it soon begins to fill up, and I'm reliably informed that on Friday and Saturday nights it's heaving.

If you've over-indulged and over-spent during the holidays, I can't recommend Vijay more highly. Not only is it reasonably priced, but you could eat here every night without getting fat. And, after seeing her reaction to the cuisine, I've changed my mind about not bringing Caroline here to celebrate our 25th anniversary.

17/20

Scores: 1-9 stay home and cook 10-11 needs help, 12 ok, 13 pleasant enough, 14 good, 15 very good, 16 capable of greatness, 17 special, can't wait to go back, 18 highly honourable, 19 unique and memorable, 20 as good as it gets

Vijay 49 Willesden Lane, London NW6, tel: 020 7328 1087 Lunch and dinner daily. About £50 for two, including wine and service

Second helpings: More spicy stunners

Mumtaz Paan House

386-400 Great Horton Rd, Bradford, tel: 01274 571 861

This palace of glass and marble (in a less-than-salubrious area) offers fantastic Kashmiri dishes at consistently good prices; the setting is busy but uplifting

Rasa

55 Church Street, London N16, tel: 020 7249 0344

This highly addictive Stoke Newington Keralan is one of the highest-rated Indians in town, thanks to its imaginative and absolutely delicious veggie cooking

Roti

73 Morrison St, Edinburgh, tel: 0131 221 9998

Now in bigger premises – and at last away from the dismal back-street it used to inhabit, this modern Indian remains a favourite for locals thanks to its imaginative dishes

Arts & Entertainment
The Honesty Policy is a group of anonymous Muslims who believe that the community needs a space to express itself without shame or judgement
music
News
Waitrose will be bringing in more manned tills
newsOverheard in Waitrose: documenting the chatter in 'Britain's poshest supermarket'
Life & Style
life
Arts & Entertainment
Back in the suit: There are only so many variations you can spin on the lives or adventures of Peter Parker
filmReview: Almost every sequence and set-up in The Amazing Spider-Man 2 seems familiar from some earlier superhero film
VIDEO
Arts & Entertainment
Jack Gleeson as Joffrey Baratheon in Game of Thrones
tv
Life & Style
Father and son: Michael Williams with son Edmund
lifeAs his son’s bar mitzvah approaches, CofE-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys he’s experienced in learning about his family’s other faith
Arts & Entertainment
Ian Anderson, the leader of British rock band Jethro Tull, (right) and British guitar player Martin Barre (left) perform on stage
musicJethro Tull frontman leads ‘prog rock’ revival
Sport
Gareth Bale dribbled from inside his own half and finished calmly late in the final to hand Real a 2-1 win at the Mestalla in Valencia
sport
Arts & Entertainment
Who laughs lass: Jenny Collier on stage
comedy... writes Jenny Collier, the comedian whose recent show was cancelled because there were 'too many women' on the bill
News
House proud: keeping up with the Joneses now extends to children's playhouses
newsLuxury playhouses now on the market for as much as £800
News
news
Life & Style
Stir it up: the writer gets a lichen masterclass from executive chef Vivek Singh of the Cinnamon restaurants
food + drinkLichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines
Extras
indybest
Arts & Entertainment
Ken Loach (left) and Mike Leigh who will be going head to head for one of cinema's most coveted prizes at this year's Cannes Film Festival
filmKen Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
News
The academic, Annamaria Testa, has set out on her website a list of 300 English words that she says Italians ought to stop using
newsAcademic speaks out against 'Italianglo' - the use of English words in Italian language
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    NGO and Community Development in Cambodia

    Unpaid: Kaya Responsible Travel: There are many small development projects in ...

    Sports coaching volunteer jobs

    Unpaid: Kaya Responsible Travel: Kaya Responsible Travel offer a variety of sp...

    Turtle Nesting and Coral Reef Conservation in Borneo

    Unpaid: Kaya Responsible Travel: Volunteer with Kaya in Borneo and work on a p...

    Elephant research project in Namibia

    Unpaid: Kaya Responsible Travel: If you have a passion for elephants and want ...

    Day In a Page

    How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

    How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

    Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
    Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

    British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

    The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
    Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

    Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

    Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
    A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

    A History of the First World War in 100 moments

    A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
    Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

    Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

    The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
    Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

    Cannes Film Festival

    Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
    The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

    The concept album makes surprise top ten return

    Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
    Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

    Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

    Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
    10 best baking books

    10 best baking books

    Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
    Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

    Jury still out on Pellegrini

    Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
    Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

    Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

    The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
    Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

    Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

    The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
    Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

    Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

    As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
    Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

    Mad Men returns for a final fling

    The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
    Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

    Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

    Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit