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La Porte des Indes
Some restaurants are good, there are a few that are
noteworthy, there are others that have memorable food and more that
have striking decor, but it’s rare to find a restaurant that can boast
brace of exceptional attributes. La Porte des Indes is that almost
unique establishment, having both gorgeous food and stunning
surroundings. After just one year of business the restaurant was
nominated for ‘Best Indian Restaurant’ by Carlton London Restaurant
Awards and was awarded ‘Best Indian’ and ‘Best UK’ Restaurant by the
Good Curry Guide.
But why “La Porte des Indes”? Yes, you are quite right, dear reader, it
is French. You might know of The Gateway to India which is a monumental
arch in Mumbai, and La Porte des Indes is French for very much the same
thing. The restaurant presents dishes from many regions of India
draws on the culinary heritage of French India in particular.
The Union Territory of Pondicherry includes four enclaves located in
three states of South India. It is also known as The French Riviera of
the East (La Côte d'Azur de l'Est) and was considered as part of
France from 1814 till 1954, the date at which it joined the rest of
by now, independent India. The French connection is still evident in
accent, food and architecture.
I was expecting something a bit special. I had done my homework and was
struck by the fact that nobody
that I had talked to had anything other than high
praise for this establishment. La Porte des Indes remains as an
example, in my opinion, of how to get it right. It’s not the cheapest
food around but it’s delicious, well presented and the ambiance is
Just a few minutes from Marble Arch station, La Porte des Indes
occupies a corner plot at a quiet intersection. It’s something of a
Tardis of a building having around 350 covers. Although looking smart
and like a French Cafe from the outside, the inside opens to the most
amazing scene. It’s a two storey former Edwardian ballroom. The ground
floor balcony restaurant opens onto a lower level with a 40-foot
waterfall and a sweeping marble staircase for good measure. Palms add
to the exotic décor which is strikingly Indian-colonial but it
is tasteful rather than kitsch. One’s eye is caught by a painting here,
a wood carving there, a Mogul mural or two, and a glass-domed roof.
Panelled walls and ornamental coving remind us of days when the British
building industry offered an alternative to mediocrity and stippled,
The Jungle Bar on the lower floor is well worth a visit. It has a
tradition of peanut shell-throwing started by some of its celeb
patrons. It has a relaxed and convivial atmosphere with a hunting theme
incorporating tiger-skin rugs and animal paintings recalling the days
when one would travel the Empire to shoot anything with fur or
feathers. There is a good selection of exotic cocktails here to start
your evening. Rain Forest is a non-alcoholic thirst-quencher of freshly
squeezed apple juice, orange juice and root ginger. Refreshing with a
definite touch of the Orient.
La Porte des Indes has a menu that is out of the ordinary. Yes, there
is Chicken Tikka Masala and Vegetable Biryani but take advantage of
your visit and try some less familiar fare. There are dishes here that
you won’t find anywhere else. Head Chef Mehernosh Mody and a battery of
other chefs execute regional specialities with flair. The presentation
of the food is nothing short of magnificent.
Large King Scallops in a Saffron Sauce are delicate and succulent. My
guest and I mopped the fragrant yellow juices with onion and garlic
naan. Roasted Chilli Seekh Kebab offered flavourful heat which was
tempered by Chard Pakoras and Paneer Kebabs. All were served with
chutneys designed to enhance the aromatic qualities of each starter.
The Roast Black Cod at La Porte des Indes is as good as you’ll find
anywhere. It’s marinated in fennel, chilli, mustard, honey, tamarind
and vinegar (an indication of a touch of Portuguese influence perhaps).
It’s wrapped in banana leaf before being flame-grilled giving an end
result which is meltingly moist.
Duck isn’t often seen on Indian restaurant menus but here it is at La
Porte des Indes, giving a nod to its French connection. Magret de
Canard Pulivaar are well-flavoured perfect-pink duck breast fillets
served with a tamarind sauce. It’s said to be unique to the Creole
community of Pondicherry so this will likely be your only chance to try
this dish outside India.
Lotus Root Jaipuri is crunchy and addictive and should be sold by the
bagful in Harrods’ food hall. Rougail d’Aubergine is another house
speciality. Smoked and crushed aubergine, chilli, ginger and fresh lime
combine to make a side dish that doesn’t have searing heat but is
nevertheless robust enough to work with the tamarind sauce coating the
Perhaps my favourite dish of the evening was Poulet Rouge. It’s one of
La Porte des Indes’ signature dishes and is moreish in the extreme.
Chicken is marinated in spices, grilled, shredded and presented in a
creamy and rich sauce. It isn’t a hot and fiery dish so it’s just right
as an introduction to the milder but nonetheless authentic face of
Desserts at Indian restaurants so often disappoint. La Porte des Indes,
however, offers a Pistachio and Rose Kulfi which is to die for. It’s
perfumed and exotic and perfectly matches this palace of a restaurant.
They have a good selection of sorbets as well; Rose and Lychee, Indian
Tamarind, Pomegranate and Imperial Passion Fruit, but they also do a
surprisingly good chocolate mousse served in a folded-leaf cup. The
mousse might hail from France but the presentation is pure subcontinent.
La Porte des Indes is like no other Asian restaurant you might visit. I
am very much taken with its food and exotic atmosphere. I can think of
nowhere better to spend a cold London night than basking in the colour
and warm vibrancy of the long-gone raj. I’ll be back for another
evening... or perhaps Sunday Brunch... or maybe a lunch.
Visit La Porte des Indes here.
Restaurant review: La Porte des Indes
32 Bryanston Street, London W1H 7EG
TEL: +44 20 7224 0055