Indulgent dining is what La Porte des Indes is all about. The interior gives it away straight off the bat, since the restaurant is housed inside no less than an exquisitely restored former Edwardian ballroom. With a white marble staircase, 40ft Moghul waterfall and floor-to-ceiling green-plants bringing an exotic jungle mysticism to proceedings, ‘impressive’ doesn’t begin to describe this haven just off London’s busiest shopping streets.
The menu is inspired by the cuisine of the former French colony of Pondicherry, forming a menu of French, Tamil and Creole dishes not found elsewhere in London. In fact, you’d be hard-pressed to find quite this combination of flavours elsewhere in the world, except of course in the other La Porte des Indes outposts in Brussels and Dubai. Although La Porte des Indes is part of the Blue Elephant Group, it has carved out a niche that has clearly claimed a loyal following.
As if we weren’t dazzled enough by the interior, the food proved to match up to the monumental standard it had set. We eased ourselves in with a Champagne du Gouvernor cocktail, followed up with a selection of specials from the Christmas menu. It’s the first time we’ve ever seen tandoori crocodile meat on a Christmas menu. Albeit unusual, it was also the standout dish of the platter, succulent, tasting a little like chicken and steeped in spice. The scallops – Demoiselles de Pondicherry – were huge, sweet and perfectly complemented by the saffron sauce. The beetroot samosas were a fun touch too.
We moved on to a selection of dishes recommended by the chef: a cacophony of rich flavours that gave an insight into the breadth of flavours on offer at La Porte des Indes. For us, the top flavours were the juicy prawns in a mild coconut sauce, the smoky crushed aubergines and the tender goat curry, complete with its secret recipe. We’re also always suckers for a great piece of naan – and this came in pillowy quarters of loveliness.
Although the first two rounds had almost beaten us, there is always room for dessert, as the gluttonous saying goes. We trusted the chef again with a selection of desserts, which included mango kulfi and rose and cardamom milk pudding. Even the teas were a bit of a squeeze for our tummies by the end of this meal, but we couldn’t resist trying the Neeli chai, a milky tea flavoured with honey, fresh lemongrass and fresh ginger – flavours we’re still dreaming of now.
Even early doors on a Tuesday evening, La Porte des Indes is packed to the rafters. It’s not hard to see why this place has such a loyal following. The dramatic interior, impassioned flavours and accomplished staff (we’ve met the lovely Tiphaine at Blue Elephant Imperial Wharf before, while apparently our waitress Sandy was a trainee – she seemed like a pro to us!) pave the way for an evening out not found elsewhere in London. A restaurant where even the tea is worth a rave review must be a winner in our eyes.
Best bit: The fact that each dish was faultless and genuinely unique.
Worst bit: Our own greed – trying a little bit of everything made us a little too full by home time.