British India once stood on the busy corner of Morphett and Gouger Streets before the site was flipped in 2016 to make way for Malaysian-Indonesian-Indian restaurant Fish Head.

After 12 months of testing and refining the menu, the brand has relaunched in a former Charminar site in Plympton, led by new co-owner and manager Arun Dachepalli (he previously ran Charminar for 11 years).

The team wanted to bring to market a fresher, healthier representation of Indian food influenced by street vendors, using in-house spice blends and conventional cooking practices. “There’s so much variety back in India, but it’s hard to get a lot of that here,” Dachepalli says. He adds, “In the last two or three years a lot of things have changed, and people eat differently now.” He means here, as well as back home.

The new menu is stacked with vegetarian and vegan dishes, more than half of which are also gluten-free. As the name suggests, there’s also a strong British influence: the herdsmen’s pie, say, with goat curry, peas, mashed potato, caramelised onion, curry leaf and chaat masala; and the broken samosa – fried pastry, potato and peas heaped with crispy puffed rice and cucumber salsa – which Dachepalli says was a popular “British army dish”.

It’s also his favourite street-food snack. “When we go back home, we freak out on this one,” he says. In India it’s consumed as a daytime bite, but here the dish is offered as an appetiser before the heavier curries arrive. And it's already a crowd favourite. “We have repeat customers coming just for the broken samosa,” says Dachepalli .

Of the larger dishes, a stand-out is the fragrant Persian lamb cooked slowly in red chilli, cinnamon, cloves and cardamom, with cranberry and pomegranate molasses.

There are two butter chickens on the menu. It’s like a polite public service announcement from the kitchen that they do things differently now, but are happy to transition us there gently. One dish is sweet, smooth and familiar (the British version), while the other is nutty and mellow – made without sugar for true depth and spice. Go for option two.

This spirit of reinvention extends to the sides: from a chutney made with mint, pineapple, pickled onion and dates, to pistachio-and-cranberry-stuffed kulcha – a flatbread that’s thinner and less fluffy than naan, made from maida (refined white flour) rather than wheat flour.

Dachepalli tells us he and his chefs – one from Nepal, the other from Pakistan – are always tweaking their recipes with tips from friends and family members in the restaurant business back home. “We call back to India all the time,” he says. It speaks to the authenticity of British India’s dishes, and also their relevance as snapshots of trends in current dining culture.

From a takeaway nook to the boxy bar, the venue’s layout mirrors that of many suburban food joints. The new fit-out is simple and clean. Dark timber dominates, especially in low light, with floral wallpaper bringing colour and contrast.

The colonial theme is mostly subtle, save for two portraits by artist Isabel Martin: one of Queen Victoria, erstwhile Empress of India, and the other of Ranbir Singh, the Maharajah of Jannu and Kashmir from 1856 to 1885. According to the menu, the paintings – hanging side by side, showing the two rulers looking sideways at each other – depict the “distrust between the British Raj and its colonial subjects”. It’s actually a fitting summation of the dining experience, characterised as a joust between modern Indian food trends and Western preconceptions.

British India
235 Anzac Highway, Plympton
(08) 8293 8747
Hours
Tue to Thu 5pm–9pm
Fri 12pm–2.30pm, 5pm–9pm
Sat 5pm–9pm
Sun 12pm–2.30pm, 5pm–9pm

britishindia.net.au