Tucked away in a little known corner of South London, Babur is officially 2022’s London’s Best Asian restaurant and it’s easy to see why.

I’ve lived in South London almost all my life, but I still get lost when I go anywhere near Honor Oak Park. This part of South London, with its mix of housing styles and people, is a million miles from Clapham, Brixton and other more familiar postcodes, but it’s where Babur has been serving superb food since 1985.

This year it won London’s Best Asian Restaurant at the Asian Restaurant Awards 2022, and it’s not actually all that far from Forest Hill Station, itself just ten minutes from London Bridge.

From the outside you’d not really notice it was there, apart that is from the life size model tiger on the wall. On the corner of a nondescript parade of shops, it’s only once you’re on the inside that you realise that it’s not ‘yer average Indian’.

Inside Babur

The restaurant goes back a long way and not just in years; to the side is a marquee in the garden which increases capacity even more, and Babur needs the space. The night we went, Emdad Rahman who opened Babur when he was just twenty two, told me that they had 80 covers in and that wasn’t unusual and no, they weren’t full.

Decor is not dated. Redesigned in 2005, it’s all exposed brick and duct work, stone floors, sandstone walls, subtle lighting, terracotta coloured leather banquettes and a range of authentic pieces from both local and Indian artists.

Babur is proud of its cocktails created by mixologist Rupam Talukdar with over two dozen on the menu. As it was sub-zero outside we had a Hot Toddy. You can also buy most of the cocktails in mini bottles to take away.

Babur’s menu is short. Emdad says they are thinking of making it shorter still to really focus on dishes, and not dilute the kitchen’s efforts. There is no shortage of choice though.

There’s even variety with the papadoms, different shapes, sizes and thicknesses served with brilliant chutneys that vary from crisp and bright, to moodily dark and determined.

Scallops at Babur

Crab bonda  – Tempered blue crab meat dumplings, mint coriander puree or Griddled scallops – Spiced pea puree, red pepper reduction, roasted cumin were tempting, but Saffron and mace chicken tikka – Spiced yoghurt, cardamom, white pepper, and Goat shoulder tikka, cumin puff  Black cardamom, green tomato and aubergine mash, won out.

My cumin puff was small, more decoration than dinner, but the goat shoulder was the star anyway. Slightly fatty, in a good way, tender and with that smoky kiss of cardamom topping off the sharpness of the green tomato. Slow careful cooking had made this dish a starter star.

I got to scrounge a small bite of P’s tikka. What struck straightaway was the moistness of the chicken, it’s so easy to dry the meat out and that really isn’t necessary. Well cooked chicken doesn’t need to be overdone to be overly safe. The white pepper was interesting. Today it’s a poor relation of freshly ground black pepper, but it has its uses by subtly seasoning dishes that don’t want black dots destroying the look. It was a plate-scrapingly good dish.

Cocktails at Babur

All dishes at Babur are available with matched wines, they have an excellent wine list, but I was driving so we had just a glass of red each to see us through the whole meal, they were both good choices by the Babur team.

Mains have little you might recognise, although Emdad said the Chicken Lababdar was ‘kind of Chicken Tikka Masala -ish’. Under my relentless questioning he recommended one of his own favourites, Coastal mutton masala with plain steamed rice, despite seeing my face at the mention of mutton.

He was spot on. The mutton had been slow cooked down almost to a paste, stunningly rich and aromatic with a depth of flavour that was quite remarkable. There was the warmth of cassia bark, a relative of cinnamon, but not cinnamon. More aromatic, sweeter and stronger it was the foundation that the other spices built a temple on. A hot dish, but not excessive, the plain rice just right as a foil to such richness. 

P went for even more chicken, Chicken Chettinad, which came topped with a style of dosai (rice pancake) a steamed one, that covered the dish like a pyramid. Pulling off bits of this she was able to eat her food without a fork, which is I suppose the point of it. Again she loved every bit, the Chettinad Masala – desiccated coconut, red chili, green cardamom, coriander leaves, cloves, cinnamon, turmeric, star anise, bay leaf and curry leaves ( I looked it up) delicious to the end.

I have to mention the Dal Makhni. This is one of my favourite dishes and apparently I am not alone; people travel a long way for Babur’s Black Dal. Sadly I was too full to do its deliciousness full justice and I wish now I had asked for a doggy bag.

Also excellent was Dhingri palak – spinach with garlic and mushrooms. The spinach was slippery with hunks of bite sized mushrooms adding the texture contrast.

A Stem ginger and honey kulfi – Honey and mixed berry compote, ginger shortbread was a decent ending if a little too cold and hard;  brain freeze came close to crippling me and it was already cold enough outside.

Still the warmth of the staff and a cosy glow from the cooking, sustained me as I de-iced the car (again) before heading back to Streatham,

People often mock the outer reaches of Sarf Lundun, but we can mock them back. After all, they don’t have Babur, the No 1 Asian restaurant in the UK 2022,  but we do.

119 Brockley Rise, Forest Hill, London SE23 1JP


Feeling the pinch after Christmas? Babur is offering 37% off your main course if you arrive between 5:30m and 6:30pm Monday through Sunday and order at least two courses each. All you have to do is book in advance with the code DECON1212. 

Pictures from Babur and not representative of dishes we actually ate. Lighting too low (i.e. pleasant) for my ‘phone.