Queen Victoria called India the jewel in her crown. She was fascinated by the culture, the language and the cuisine, but her people were suspicious of this alien, exotic foodstuff. In the story of Victoria and Abdul the queen even got to taste curries!

Fast forward more than a hundred years and the popularity of Swindon's own Jewel In The Crown proves that Indian dishes are no longer regarded with suspicion but are still as fascinating.

Jewel is the perfect name for the Old Town restaurant, as you are bathed in a prism of light as you enter. The two huge chandeliers are the original glitter balls. Large mirrors hanging on every wall reflected back the jewel colours yet, as my friend noticed, it was soft rather than a harsh blinding light. Each window had a smaller crystal half chandelier gleaming into the night enticing diners in from the cold.

There was a reception line of waiters dressed in sumptuous, embroidered waistcoats, waiting to escort us to our table. Once seated with a huge array of dishes to choose from in the leather-bound menu, we sipped gin and tonics, and nibbled on wafer thin, crispy poppadoms, dipped in mango chutney, lime pickle, crunchy raw onion pieces or a mint and cucumber cream dip.

The selection of starters was vast including: Lamb Tikka £3.95; Tandoori Chicken £3.80; Chicken Pakora £3.95; Mulligatawny Soup £2.50; Prawn on Puri £3.70; veggies Onion Bhajee; £3.10 Vegetable Pakura £3.10; and Tandoori Paneer (vegetarian cheese) £3.50. I chose the Butterfly King Prawn at £4.90 and my friend chose the vegetable samosa at £3.

As we were still happily munching on the poppadoms and dips the waiter thoughtfully asked if we wished the starters to be served alongside or after the poppadoms.

My King Prawn Butterfly was enveloped in a golden, perfectly fried batter and inside was an exquisite, delicately-flavoured, gigantic prawn. It was beautifully presented on a salad of tomato, two different lettuce and cucumber with a slice of lemon.

Alison said that her vegetable samosa tasted totally home made, with an enticing blend of spice and vegetables within the perfect pastry triangles. Alongside was a dinky little dish of sweet yet tangy sauce that was perfect for dipping.

In the background there was the gentle hum of conversation from the other tables, with a double birthday being celebrated in the corner, giving that Friday night feeling. The traditional Indian music had the western twist making it easy listening for everyone.

Looking up and marvelling at who would have to clean the huge glitter balls of crystal, hanging above our heads, I took note of the gorgeous ceiling. The plaster motives around the coving were intricately carved, criss crossing the coloured panels. The walls were in keeping with the waiters' outfits, sumptuous deep reds, topped with gold and cream in one dining area, and dark green, cream and gold in the other.

The main event was served with reverence and grace at our table by the deferential waiters. I chose the Shahi Prawn Marsala, £8.50, which was cooked in the traditional clay oven, and Alison the Chicken Bhuna £6.90, with mushroom rice, cauliflower bhajee and mushroom bhajee.

We decided to finish up our tonics with another couple of gins rather than tackle the wine with our dinner. The banquet was a true explosion of tastes from my creamy, coconut and almond sauced delight, served in a sizzling balti dish, to the punchy bite of the cauliflower bhajee. The mushroom rice was moist and fluffy with a potpourri of tastes from various vegetables. The Chicken Bhuna had a bit of a kick but not too much, and the sauce was a bit of a super star. The mushroom bhajee was a creative and yummy mix of mushroom and tomato, in a flavoursome sauce, sprinkled with fresh Tarragon. In fact we both agreed that the word summing up the whole dinner was fresh, it was freshly cooked, freshly sourced ingredients with a fresh eye to mixing flavours.

There were many other dishes to choose from, all sounding intriguing, such as the vegetarian option of Veggie Matar Paneer at £7.10 which was described as peas and paneer cooked with garlic, ginger and fresh spices. There was also a selection of Goan dishes with tamarind, fresh chillies, garlic, fresh garden mint. Old favourites such as Balti Lamb £8.80, Jalfrezi Chicken Tikka £9.20 and Rogan-josh King Prawn £9.90 were also on the menu.

Despite having polished off a banquet fit for a queen, we did take a peek at the extensive dessert range which included Hazelnut Crunch £2.95; Fantastica £3.75, Truffito £3.50; Baby Pineapple £3.75 and Mocha Coffee £3.75. I gave up and had a warming brandy while Alison could only manage a light sorbet called Orange Delight at £2.95 and that came in a real orange, totally stuffed with a creamy ice, that seemed to slip down without any trouble. The total bill was £55,90.

We were not so much amused as thoroughly delighted by this pleasant escape from the drab cold of the bleak mid winter into the golden days of an Indian summer.

Jewel in the Crown

4- 16 Victoria Road,

Swindon, Wiltshire. SN1 3AL.


Tel: 01793 522687

Opening Hours Lunch: 12pm – 2.30pm Dinner: 5.30pm – 12am 1

Our ratings

Food: 9/10

Service: 7/10

Ambience: 8/10

TripAdvisor rating: 4/5