During the time of the British Raj, members of high society used to hob nob in Colonial Indian gymkhana clubs. Here they used to socialise and play snooker, polo and cricket. Karam Sethi’s second venture – Gymkhana – brings some of the club culture to Mayfair. There may not be much sport involved, but expect some serious food.
Sethi, of Trishna fame, has definitely deserved his first Michelin star last year with his playful interpretation of modern Indian cuisine. Gymkhana serves contemporary Indian cuisine, with a strong focus on the tandoori oven. and the sigri charcoal grill. Most of the dishes are designed for sharing and one item from each part of the menu is recommended between two. If you are hungry there is a well priced seven course for tasting menu for £55 per head and there’s also a game menu if you want something gnarlier.
On a blustery autumnal London evening, I stumbled down the rabbit hole (or dark staircase) to the lower ground floor of Gymkhana on Albemarle Street. It was here I travelled back in time to an era of the British Raj and discovered a hidden lair full or dark chocolate leather banquettes, lacquered wooden panelling and marble table tops. Call me gloomy, but I kind of liked the dark, den like atmosphere. The dining room uses its space effectively with its cosy oak love booths and other nooks and crannies. True to its title, you will also find sepia family portraits, Indian hunter trophies and sports prints amongst mottled glass screens.
A grand old bar is at the heart of the room, efficiently serving up signature punches and Flutterby Lassis like a well oiled machine.
We started with two of the nashtas (Indian all- day snack fare) recommended by our lovely waiter for the evening.
The potato chat with chickpeas, tamarind and sev (£7.00) was pure heaven on a plate and was definitely one of the highlights of the night. The dish itself was beautifully presented and exploded with colour and flavour. Sweet, sour and spicy flavours insulted your tastebuds with every bite, begging for more with every mouthful.
The duck dosa was equally mouth-watering – its conical shape momentarily hiding a succulent filling of chetinaad duck with a side of coconut chutney(£8.50). Dosas are hugely popular in southern India and is a crepe made from fermented rice. It had a soft crispness and was the perfect accomplice for mopping up the duck and creamy chutney. The slow cooked duck was impossibly tender and aromatic with its masala of coriander, onions, ginger and fennel.
The wild muntjac biryani (£25.00) is one of the most talked about dishes at Gymkhana and for good reason. Biryani is an aromatic oven-baked, pilau-style Indian dish served with meat or vegetables.Topped with a ballooning pie crust, the biryani is brilliantly executed with a side of pomegranate and mint raita which serves as a ‘cooling’ touch to this spicy dish. Our waiter had much pleasure smashing the flaky pastry to reveal what lay beneath. Immediately my nostrils were assaulted by the wonderful aroma of the biryani. The rice based dish is mildly spiced with a well balanced mix of garlic, ginger, cardamom and masala. A word of warning – it was extremely filling so do not order a lot of other dishes if you get this one. ,
The tandoori guinea fowl breast (£20) was cooked to perfection with a slightly bitter crust from the tandoor oven. The green mango chat and mint coriander chutney were lovely accompaniments to the dish and balanced the spicy tandoor flavours.
The dessert menu features a selection of meetha including mango kheer, black pepper custard and rose jelly with wild basil seeds. Unfortunately there was just no room.
Did I like Gymkhana? No. I loved it. Finally another Indian restaurant in London that takes Indian food to a gastronomic level. I know where I will be going for my fix of quality Indian food next time, and no, it won’t be to Brick Lane!
Approximately £120 for four sharing dishes including wine and service.
42 Albemarle Street Mayfair London W1S 4JH
Opening Hours Monday – Saturday: 12pm – 3pm and 5.30pm – 10.45pm Bar open until 1am