Gymkhana is named for the Anglo-Indian sporting club, a gentleman’s club for the British Raj. It seems somewhat odd to me that a restaurant be themed on the remnants on a colonial-era so despised by those living in the time, but fast-forward 50 years and it appears to have evolved into a theme. Will there come a day when Apartheid is no more than a distant memory, nothing more than a theme?
I may be giving the casual naming of this establishment more intense thought and debate than really required – in reality it is probably no more than a nod to the cuisines of the time; the game-based dishes favoured by those in the Gymkhanas of the day, fused with traditional Indian spices & flavours.
The interiors are dark and sultry, the dark panelled wood showing off dimly lit photos of cricket players and game shooters alike, the basement portion of the restaurant plunged into even greater darkness, but retains a coolness missing in the restaurant upstairs.
Since winning the ‘Restaurant of the year’ accolade in 2014, there have been so many reviews of Gymkhana and so many recommendations of which dishes to order, the group are stumped. Luckily there’s a canny back page to the menu, featuring some tasting menus – we’re sold, that’s saved us any form of decision making! Staff make our lives even easier and recommend ordering split portions of both the Game & Standard tasting menus, allowing for a sample of each.
Little morsels of papads come in a basket to dip into mango chutney, shrimp chutney or a mint chutney, not a huge portion but enough to whet the appetite for what was to come!
I’ve long claimed my love of Indian street food, but Samosas don’t usually feature on my love list, unlike the Husband who went through at least one a day on a trip to India, much to the delight of family who take great pride in encouraging you to eat all & sundry. But if they tasted like this dish, I could change my mind – the tamarind wasn’t overpowering which is my usual complaint and it had a pleasant heat & crunch coming through, despite it’s generous coating of yoghurt.
Not taking part in the champagne and wine tasting festivities abounding around me, I order a Masala Coke – not just your average Coca Cola, this has a blend of spices of which I can taste Cumin powder and possibly a blend of Lemon Juice and a bit of salt and this knocks the humble Coke into a whole different playing field!
Seafood arrives next, scallops served on a bed of artichoke puree with artichoke fritters and salmon tikka parcels with a basil & mint chutney. Neither artichokes or scallops are ingredients common to Indian cooking so I was interested to see how they’d adapt to Indian spices – and while utterly delicious, it’s not exactly Indian in flavour. The salmon tikka on the other hand are more of what I remember, but melt in the mouth delicious, flaking off at the lightest touch.
Meaty dishes follow next and we’re treated to Quail Seek Kebab with another dollop of green chutney and Kid Goat Methi Keema with some soft buns to make your own little mince burgers. I personally couldn’t detect the gaminess of the meat in the Seekh Kebabs, but again these dishes were cooked to perfection – if I had to pick a favourite it would be the Goat Keema, the soft pillowy buns kept encouraging me to pile on even more spoonfuls of mince to make little teeny burgers of meaty goodness with a thin layer of crunchy onion to add texture.
Mains are a mixture of both the Game & standard Tasting Menu and a variety of dishes begin pouring out of the kitchen – Wild Boar Vindaloo, Ambot Tik Jheenga Curry served up with sides of Dal Maharani, Baingan and Wild Mustard Baby Potatoes with rice and Naans to accompany. Perhaps it’s a case of a little too much meatiness, but the stand out dish for me here is the Wild Mustard baby potatoes, I’m clearly in the minority though as it’s the dish that remains untouched as the Vindaloo & Prawn curry are being passed around continually. All the more for me!
Perhaps it’s a case of one too many glasses of wine, but on tasting the Rose Falooda and Mango Kheer, one of our group says ‘Oh I think I’m going to cry, this is so good’. A tad dramatic perhaps, but there’s no denying the sentiment behind it. Indian desserts aren’t to everyone’s taste it is true and a few members of the party decline anything more than a bite to taste.
Another member of the party describes the Rose Falooda as tasting exactly like ‘My Little Pony’ which even more confusingly, she intends as a compliment! You really have to like rose-flavoured things to like this dish. The Mango Kheer I find a little disappointing, it doesn’t taste a lot like Mango, certainly it’s a very nice rice pudding, but a kheer it is not.
We’ve managed to spend over 4 hours here, munching our way through platefuls of fantastic food and it’s easy to see why it gets the lauded reviews that it does. Is this the best restaurant in London? Well not in my view, but it’s certainly very nice. Go for the tasting menu, it covers it all and saves you having to make pesky decisions.
Now if they’d just change that name…….