When it comes to Indian food we are often quite sceptical. Coming from an Asian background, we know what is good, what is bad, and what is down right awful whwn it comes to Indian cookery. Now let’s be honest, there are more bad than good places in this city and that’s a shame.
However we had very high expectations from Mayfair’s Gymkhana. A trip to Trishna (their sister restaurant) in Marylebone last year left us very happy so we couldn’t have been more excited for an Indian restaurant. Having been awarded a Michelin Star and consistently being in the top best restaurants in London; we knew it was going to be something special. We had waited a long time to visit this restaurant, and we have to say, we were not disappointed.
Reservations are very, very hard to come by and we had to book the full 2 months in advance for our table. However we have also actually been lucky enough to walk in but had to wait about 2 hours for a seat. That’s not a lot of time given that there are plenty of places nearby to have a drink or go shopping. Trust us, it’s worth it.
As the name suggests, the restaurant evokes a feel of the gymkhanas of old sports and leisure clubs in India tracing their heritage back to colonial times. You will find booths with dark leather, rattan chairs and brass-edged marble tables. Fans whir lazily overhead, hanging from a dark-lacquered ceiling, while cut glass lamps and hunting trophies finish off the decor to a T.
The menu is extensive, covering all levels of hunger. Ranging from Bar Snacks/Nashta (another word for snack)/Game and Chops/Tikka and then Bread and Sabzi (vegetarian curry dishes).
We decided to pick a few from each section and enjoy them to their full potential. From the Bar Snacks and Nashta came the Kheema Naan and the Potato Chaat with Chickpeas and Tamarind. Staple dishes you find on most Indian menus, we knew that Gymkhana would take these classics to the next level. The Naan was soft, with the kheema being more paste–like so was lovely to scoop up the Chaat with. Perfectly cooked potatoes tossed in spices married with yoghurt and tamarind, a brilliant chaat. Slightly larger than we had thought but we finished it nonetheless. Along with this we opted for the Channa Bhatura. Essentially this is a chickpea curry with a fluffy, deep fried leavened bread (one of our favourite traditional breads too! This tasted just like it would if you were walking the streets of India and we couldn’t fault it at all. Excellent curry and the bhatura was fantastic (and the size of a large dinner plate).
On to the game and tikka: We went with the Paneer with Corn Chaat, Lasooni Wild Tiger Prawns & Red Pepper Chutney, Lucknowi Scallops & Kadai Courgette, Achari Stonebass (we love Indian fish), Lamb Nalli Barra with Pickled Onion, Turmeric & Ginger, and finally the Quail Sheekh Kebab & Pickled Green Chilli Chutney. Quite a lot we know but there’s good reason – more on that later. The spices in the Stonebass work so well with the light meat and the marriage of paneer and corn is one not to be messed with. The Tiger Prawns were some of the best we’ve had this year, excellent seasoning. The Scallops could probably be missed entirely here. Scallops are delicate and throwing Indian spices at them ruin what should be the taste of the sea. The Quail kebabs were good but not great unfortunately. Maybe that’s the selfish choice here as red meat kebabs are always more flavoursome. Finally the Lamb Nalli Barra – this is a lamb chop executed perfectly. The best chop we’ve ever eaten and that’s a massive accolade. We tend to judge an Indian restaurant on how well they do their chops; this is perfect.
By this time we were getting rather full, but that didn’t stop us from ordering the house speciality, the Wild Muntjac Biryani. It arrives with a domed pastry lid, which we can only assume preserves the moisture in the dish. Off it comes and the delightful aromas engulf you like nothing before. To accompany it we had to order the Daal Maharani. If a place can make daal well, we will love it forever. It was rich, deep in flavour and the lentils were still whole and had not disintegrated. A ‘side’ of Chicken Butter Masala and Bombay Potatoes rounded off the meal prior to desserts. A great butter chicken and a lovely dish of correctly spiced potatoes, we’re now officially in love with this place!
To end our meal we opted to try the chocolate samosa. It wasn’t what we had hoped unfortunately. A great concept but the executuion could have been better. The filling did not taste of chocolate at all and was rather dense. We expected oozing fondant like chocolate to come out of the hard pastry shell.
If you want a good curry, Gymkhana can’t be beaten. If you want an Indian experience, again it can’t be beaten. There’s a lot to like about this restaurant and very little to grumble about. The wait to get a reservation being a slight one but when a restaurant is this good, we can’t complain. Now serving brunch, we’ve just found a restaurant that ticks every box and then a couple more. Go hungry, and you will leave very happy.
42 Albemarle Street, London, W1S 4JH