A Lady in London

06 Feb 2012

I took my first trip to India two years ago this month. I took my second trip two years ago next month. After a record start, I have been remiss about going back. But the nice thing about living in London is that you don’t have to travel to India to get a taste of Indian culture. This is particularly true of the cuisine. Last week I was invited to dinner at La Porte des Indes restaurant near London’s Marble Arch. I was excited to try food from a part of India that I hadn’t been to: the former French colonies.

To be honest, I didn’t realize that there had been any French colonies in India. I knew about the British ones and the Portuguese, but the French colonial history in India evaded me. When I arrived, I was shown a map, and learned that cuisine from Kerala to Pondicherry had been influenced by French cooking. I was excited to experience the unique fusion.

I did so in the restaurant’s spacious dining room. Spread over two floors, the place was full of palm trees, and the white wooden furniture made La Porte des Indes look like it was right in the heart of colonial India. The downstairs bar had jungle scenes painted on the walls, and the private dining rooms were decorated with arches resembling those in Indian architecture.

My friend and I were seated at a table in one of the areas of the busy dining room. We started with cocktails, which came in the form of a Champagne du Gouverneur for me and a Black Pearl for her.

From there we were offered amuse bouches before La Porte des Indes’ kitchen prepared a large number of small plates for us to share. The menu itself offered both a la carte and set menus, and we were happy to go with the latter.

The starters included lemon sole in a mint and cilantro chutney wrapped in banana leaves and steamed; king scallops with garlic in a saffron sauce; chicken tikka marinated with cream cheese and pepper; and vegetable pakoras. All of the flavors were intense without being too spicy for my weak taste buds, and we enjoyed each dish as we tried it.

The mains took a very long time to arrive at the table, which we were informed was due to a problem with the ordering system in the restaurant’s kitchen. I’m glad they told us the reason for the delay, because otherwise I would have wondered why there was such a large gap before our second courses came.

When they did, they included lamb chops with caramelized onions and garam masala served with mint chutney; grilled poulet rouge marinated in yogurt and spices and served in a creamy sauce; a French-influenced dish of prawns simmered in coconut curry; saag paneer; and smoked crushed eggplant, chilli, ginger, and lime. It was served with sides of Basmati rice, fried lotus root, and cheese naan. The mix of French-inspired dishes and Indian ones added a nice diversity to the selection.

After all of the food at dinner, we were intimidated by the prospect of eating dessert. Still, we found room for a sharing platter of bread and butter pudding, chocolate mousse, and cardamom yogurt with fresh fruit.

By the end of the meal we were full of good food and glad to have been transported to new parts of India via the cuisine and ambiance of La Porte des Indes restaurant. If I didn’t enjoy traveling and discovering new areas of countries I have already visited, I might be tempted to stay in England to get my India fix forever.