La Porte des Indes may look a little modest on the outside – the sort of Indian a professional might pop into on a lunch break or order a takeaway from when it’s a late one in the office – respected, not loved perhaps. But step inside and, as in Matthew 27:51, the veil is torn.
Instead of the polite but unassuming aesthetic your typical Indian sits in, Les Porte des Indes, a ballroom in another life, has kitted out its Edwardian frame of fireplaces and cornices in Mughal splendour. It’s not a kitsch affair either. Pinkish bannisters turn out to be genuine sandstone from Jaipur, not dyed concrete from Barnsley; the huge antiques (the wooden horse is a highlight) and portraits from Babur to Aurangzeb that hang on the walls are also originals, fished out of India by the restaurant’s owner, a man whose previous life as an antiquarian is now reaping dividends.
Diners congregate around the restaurant’s natural entre of gravity, a 40ft waterfall that sits beneath a glass dome surrounded by palms. But before I’m allowed to recline and gobble the fruits of another’s labour, the head chef, Mehernosh Mody, a man with quite a few gongs to his name (winner of the British Curry Awards among others) whisks us to his kitchen. The highlight of which is definitely his tandoor, a large charcoal-powered clay pot that has naan dough thrown on its sides at a rate of knots and picked off in quick succession at peak times.
Upstairs we help make chicken samosas as Mehernosh shares tips about how Kashmiri chillies are the best, how most curries are combinations of yoghurt and spices, and how marinating for too long can result in the reduction of your food to nothing, before insulting us, his audience, by informing us that the tikka masala is not British at all – it just means a cut of meat with spices! As he cooks up water chestnut masala, wines cruise by. It is always hard to decide which wines accompany Indian food well. Is it the one that packs a punch, or is it the one that soaks and castrates the flavours, coaxing them into something fresh and floral? I wasn’t fond of the Australian Riesling (2009), its strategy was clearly the former; the overpowering lime had clumsy shoes on the Indian dance floor. The Vermentino di Sardegna (2013) was a different story, however, an incredibly clean combination of thyme and greengage, it complimented every mouthful. We retire to tables for our final courses and I marvel at the uniforms of waiters gliding about – some resembling Aladdin, others more like corsairs with moustaches that would make a cavalry officer jealous. The cherry on the indian milk-based dessert, however, has to be the rosemary and olive gin and tonic, two ingredients which shall henceforth live in every G&T I pour.