The summer capital of India plays host to the rich, the famous and the powerful – at their preferred haunts, of course
If you have been following the Lalit Modi saga (and unless you’ve been hibernating in Siberia I don’t see how you could possibly have missed it) you will be familiar with the long list of Indian celebrities whom he has ‘bumped into’ in London.
Yes, I know that on the face of it, these claims strain credulity. After all, how many restaurants and clubs does Lalit Modi frequent that he ‘runs into’ some Indian politician or the other whenever he eats out? Is it really possible for one man to have so many ‘accidental’ encounters with the rich and famous of India as he lives the high life in the British capital?
Well, funnily enough, not only is it entirely possible but it is also very probable. Not because Lalit Modi includes the ability of omnipresence among his many other talents. But because when rich and famous (not to mention, powerful) Indians embark on their annual summer sojourn to London, they all tend to hang out in the same places. And so, inevitably, they tend to hang out with one another as well.
So, in case you’re looking to do a Lalit Modi yourself at some point, here’s a ready reckoner of all the London spots where you can spot the desis from a mile off.
• 51 Buckingham Gate: This is the Taj property located a stone’s throw from Buckingham Palace, which becomes the summer residence of most Indian celebrities. They check into the swish apartments, and then head right down to the lounge area to see which of their friends is already in residence. The courtyard then becomes the Indian adda venue, with masala chai and samosas greasing the rumour mill as it grinds several reputations to shreds. Bollywood seems to prefer The Washington and The Courthouse (which has its own cinema) while ministers choose The Bentley. All three are owned by one of London’s most famous Indians, Joginder Sanger.
• Selfridges/Harrods: These are the department stores of choice for Indians looking for their summer shopping fix. The ones with bigger budgets head for Harrods (though, for some strange reason, the tonier Harvey Nichols never gets a look in) where the personal shoppers zero in on them, recognizing big spenders when they see some. The ones who are looking for better value for their buck head to Selfridges, and then drop into the Oxford Street Marks and Spencer for a quick trawl through the lingerie department.
• Bond Street: This is the chosen stomping ground for dedicated Indian shoppers (for some reason, they prefer this to Sloane Street, where they hardly ever venture). The most popular stops here are Bottega Veneta and Louis Vuitton (“the range is so much better than they have in India, darling!”) though Emporio Armani sees some action as well. And then, there’s always Bicester Village, the shopping centre in Oxfordshire, which is quite a hit with the Indian crowd. It helps that you can make a day of it, driving past pretty countryside and stopping for a meal along the way.
• The Audley: This pub in Mayfair is taken over by desis every summer evening, as they crowd its outdoor benches for a quick beer or glass of champagne to catch their breath after a busy day. If you stay very quiet, you can pick up some amazing gossip here.
• Clubs: Those who are lucky enough to have well-connected local friends hit the club scene with a vengeance. Harry’s Bar is a particular favourite with some of the mega-rich London Indians, though George is fast catching up. Those with a little more discernment end up at the Dover Street Arts Club, where the food is better than that served at Annabel’s or Tramp.
• Trendy restaurants: This market has been sown up by the Sindhi restaurateur Arjun Waney (who also own the Arts Club: see above). His restaurant empire includes Zuma, La Petite Maison, and the recently-opened Coya, and each of these outlets attracts its fair share of Indian custom. On a good day, you could swear that you were in a happening restaurant in Mumbai or Delhi rather than in Mayfair or Knightsbridge. It helps that the food is always excellent, though the service can be dodgy sometimes.
• Chinese restaurants: Most Indians tend to get a bit fed up of eating Western food every day and begin to long for a kick of spice. So, Chinese food hits exactly the right spot, especially when it is served in the glamorous environs of such restaurants as Hakkasan and Kai. Those who don’t mind slumming it a bit head to Royal China.
• And once the vacation is done and dusted, where does the Indian contingent gather to share holiday stories? Why, they congregate at the Jet Airways First Class lounge (it’s actually owned by a Middle-Eastern airline but used by Jet; but why split hairs?), as they wait to board their flights back to India. Those who still haven’t had their fill of shopping head off to the duty-free shops. Those who have had enough settle down with a gin and tonic or a glass of wine and swap stories of how utterly fabulous London has been. Whether or not they bumped into the ubiquitous Lalit Modi is another matter entirely!