Gymkhana in Mayfair is an Indian restaurant serving contemporary Indian food in a sophisticated and smart restaurant. A lot has been written about it since it opened towards the end of 2013 and the rave reviews have made it the absolute place to go for a curry fan – and let’s be honest, who isn’t a curry fan?
Putting aside my loyalties to admittedly, a very good, but very unadventurous Tikka Masala at my local curry house and going against my natural curry body-clock, I went for lunch a few Saturdays ago.
Gymkhana is the second London restaurant for chef Karam Sethi, alongside Michelin-starred Trishna and focuses on food from the Southwest of India. The restaurant is inspired by Colonial Indian Gymkhana clubs – gentleman clubs which were set up by the British Raj for high society to socialise, dine, drink and play sport. From the moment you enter the restaurant, it feels refined and grown up, just as a gentleman’s club should be and how I imagined them. As you make your way down to the lower restaurant, it becomes more moody, atmospheric and masculine. Upstairs, the ceiling is dark-lacquered oak, with ceiling fans spinning quietly overhead, downstairs is darker with small oil-lamps on each table providing a soft glow. The dark-lacquered panelling wraps around the red brick walls and there are antique wall clocks keeping time as we take our seats on one of the deep-button-backed leather booth seats - below a wall-mounted deer head and numerous hunting trophies and sports event photographs from the Maharaja of Jodhpur.
It felt sophisticated and high-end – there were so many attentive staff and the lounge-jazz playing throughout dinner made for a very relaxing atmosphere. I liked the restaurant a lot – it had a buzz about it and felt like a private members club. Tucked away in a dark corner of a restaurant that has an air of mystery and intrigue is the perfect way to feel like you are miles away from London (which is sometimes a good thing!)
Gymkhana offers a fantastic lunch menu, which most of the diners were eating. The menu has a focus on the tandoor oven and the sigri charcoal grill. To start I ordered a Cucumber Cooler – a non alcoholic cocktail with refreshing cucumber, elderflower, mint and lemon juice, finished with ginger beer. It was cooling, sharp and delicious.
As we waited for our starters, we enjoyed some very tasty cassava, lentil and potato papads, a thin, dried lentil chip with Indian spices (similar to a poppadum) with shrimp chutney and mango chutney.
We shared the Kasoori Chicken Tikka with sprouting moong kachumber (Indian salad with tomatoes and cucumber) and the Dosa (crispy pancake) with chettinad duck and a delicious coconut chutney that had a definite kick to it. Chettinad is a region of Indian known for its’ spicy and aromatic food and this was no exception – it was warm, spicy and very tasty. Both starters were really good and packed with flavour and spice in a clean way so that the individual flavours were evident.
For main, there was no contest and we both went for the Tandoori Guinea Fowl breast and leg with green mango chat, mint coriander chutney, served with dal maharani (lentils) palak paneer (spinach and paneer) and basmati rice. It was a pleasure getting so many small dishes to pile onto one plate. The best thing was the piece of meat, which despite all of the other tasty dishes was the star of the show! It was smoky, moist and well spiced. One of my favourite accompaniments was the palak paneer – anything that can make cooked spinach taste good is fantastic in my book and this did just that, when mixed with melting paneer.
After the starters and the main, I couldn’t stretch to dessert. Instead I had a Bombay Chai – a spicy, warm and creamy blend of tea, cinnamon and spices, served in a metal tumbler. Already a huge fan of the chai at Dishoom, this was a delicious way to end the meal.
As we left, we realised we had spent hours in the restaurant, happily people watching, soaking up the relaxing but civilised atmosphere and trying some of the best-cooked Indian food we have had...probably ever! There is so much that sounds amazing on the menu at Gymkhana, that a return trip seems inevitable – and having really enjoyed our lunch there, I can’t wait!