Gymkhana is a relative new comer to London’s Indian gastronomic restaurant scene. It is the brainchild of owner and chef Karam Sethi and since it opened last year it has earned itself an enviable reputation and a Michelin Star. Anyone who has spent any time in India will know how disappointing the food can be outside the sub-continent and it seems that Karam Sethi not only saw this but decided to do something about it. Sethi made his mark on the London restaurant scene in 2008 with his first restaurant Trishna in Marylebone. He set a new standard for contemporary Indian cuisine and continues to challenge the traditional views and concepts surrounding Indian cuisine in Britain.
The name and concept of the restaurant references the old colonial clubs of the British Raj India, where The Gymkhana would usually be the local gentlemen’s sports and social club. An impressive green wood panelled door opens into a dark interior, where 1920’s jazz plays in the background and staff in Nehru styled uniforms glide silently past with trays laden with food. There are two dining rooms and a bar decorated with old colonial Raj furniture and trophies. Diners sit in oak booths with marble tables and rattan chairs or against the wood panelled walls on comfortable leather banquettes. It is refreshing to go to a restaurant that has decided to define its own personality and style rather than be dictated to by the latest tends or a designer’s contemporary style book.
The food is full of fresh flavours and the complex spice mixtures are beautifully balanced, it is a treat you want to make an everyday luxury. The menu is divided into sections: Gymkhana bar and Nasta, are small dishes perfect for sharing and nibbling, such as chaats, tikkas and pakoras. I am a big fan of Chaat and their Potato Chaat is one of the best I have had in the UK. Kebabs & Tikkas and Game & Chops, also excellent for sharing, are slightly larger plates from the tandoori oven and grill, this season look forward to the likes of Lasooni Wild Tiger Prawns with Red Pepper Chutney or Wood Pigeon Pepper Fry. The main fare comes in the form of Curries & Biryani with specialities such as Suckling Pig Vindaloo or Asparagus, Pea and Mushroom Pilau. There is a tantalizing Sabzi section too, these are accompanying vegetable side dishes and if you have never understood peoples passion for okra then this is the place to give it a go, their coastal spiced okra is fantastic, as is the Dal Maharan, which shouldn’t be missed.
Sethi and his team have created 3 special menus around the themes of: Game, Vegetable and Tasting, each is offered with a wine pairing menu and as you might expect it is exceptionally well-done. As we couldn’t decide what to have, everything sounded so good, we decided to put ourselves in the hands of Sethi and his team and went for one of these specially crafted menus. It was an excellent choice, every dish being memorable.
Footnotes and credits: This is an independent review. The writer dined as a mystery guest and paid for their meal. Photography has been sourced via Google images.
Gymkhana, 45 Albemarle Street, London