A Restaurant Inspired by Colonial Indian Gymkhana Clubs, where Members of High Society Socialise, Dine, Drink and Play Sport
We head to Michelin starred Gymkhana to feast on Tandoor oven roasts, sigri charcoal grills and curry
Review by Sophie Aghdami
“Once considered the shining jewel in the British Empire’s crown, India can today be easily deemed as the huge, 60-carat diamond in the world’s flavoured cuisine ring.”
The first Indian restaurant to open in London – Britain, in fact – was in 1809 by a gentleman named Sake Dean Mohamet from Bihar in India and today, with platforms such as National Curry Week offering people the opportunity to become a curry ambassador or take part in a poppadomathon for charity, it’s easy to see that we’re a nation of Indian food lovers.
I’ve always dreamed of visiting the vast stretches of beaches along the ocean, remote areas such as Kalap and crossing the foothills of the Himalayas into Bangladesh. Along the whole way, of course, eating my way through the amazing flavours that each area brings – every place unique to the next. So, it was no surprise that when I was thinking of somewhere to go for my birthday lunch in London that Gymkhana was at the forefront of my mind. It’s also worth noting that Gymkhana has a sister restaurant, Trishna, located in the heart of Marylebone focusing on coastal Indian food (I’ve not yet been).
The ethos behind Gymkhana is that it’s “inspired by Colonial Indian gymkhana clubs, where members of high society socialise, dine, drink and play sport.” The room feels a little dark compared to the bright sunshine outside – mainly caused by dark wooden floors and bottle-green banquette seating. However, I love the overall interior design, including the large ceiling fans and hunting trophies from the Maharaja of Jodhpur, as well as a barometer (we’re told it’s Grandma Sethi’s) and pictures of Indian sports on the walls.
We decide to sit near the window and get stuck into a drink, losing ourselves in the wonderful world of flavours and spices in the cocktails on offer: a rather alarming sounding ‘Death on the Verandah’ (Tarquin’s Cornish Pastis & Solerno Blood Orange Liqueur drowned in champagne) and ‘Rangpur ‘75’ (Tanqueray Rangpur Gin with mango and cumin puree decadently topped with champagne). Both taste great and pack a punch giving us a good start to tackle which of the eight menus to choose from.
Alongside the a la carte menu, the Dining Room offers two- and three-course menus, two tasting menus (four and seven course), seafood only, a Raan and Biryani feast and, at the top of the Banyan tree is ‘The Vault’ – a seven-course tasting extravaganza. We decide on the four-course taster menu: by choosing both choices on each course we realise we can experience eight dishes between us without ruining my suit fitting that afternoon by having a food baby to measure around.
Lunch starts with a snack of crunchy, salty rice papads, which come with the most delicious shrimp chutney I have ever had as well as cassava, lentils and mango chutney. We do decide to add an extra dish before the starters – it is my birthday – of soft shell crab with crunchy, fiery, fresh poha masala (spiced, beaten and puffed rice), which steals the show with a beautiful combination of flavours and textures. Potato chat, chickpeas, tamarind and sev are another hit, again with contrasting crunchy and soft textures and salty, sour flavours. A little disappointing are the starters of hariyali bream with tomato kachumber and tandoori gobhi with green chilli raita, both lacking impact compared to the previous dishes.
My favourite dish, by far, is the main course of chicken butter masala, mild and deliciously rich. We’re pleasantly surprised by paneer kali mirch, a peppery-spiced curry made with Indian milk curd cheese.
Ready to burst we share pudding: cardamom and strawberry kheer; a sort of cold, creamy flavoured rice pudding. I’m glad I‘m too full to eat any more than a spoonful, as it’s definitely not my cup of Darjeeling, however my partner in crime enjoys every last scraping in the bowl.
This restaurant is great and definitely worth a visit. The bar downstairs is reminiscent to 17th Century East India punch house with Chesterfield love booths and banquettes with an extensive list of gin, whiskey and cocktails. Based on that, if I end up reviewing the bar forgive me if that write up is a little shorter and more vague…