It’s a stunning restaurant but it’s much more than the sum of its palms and antiques; there is, after all, the food. La Porte des Indes truly is a door to India. It’s celebrated for good reason: its anonymous exterior hides an exotic oasis just around the corner from Marble Arch Underground station. Its beauty is almost distracting, so my advice is to come a little early in order to relax and sip your cocktail and admire this icon of Subcontinental charm.
This series of Indian food-and-wine pairing masterclasses is unique. They are conducted by award- winning Chef Mehernosh Mody (Ethnic Chef of the Year for 2012 – The Craft Guild of Chefs). Yes, he is rightly recognised as one of the best Indian chefs in the UK, perhaps the world, but don’t expect a dry, academic and over-worthy display of this man’s talents. He is charming, funny and enjoys playful interaction with his guests.
Chef Mehernosh and wine expert Jacqueline Kay of Berkmann Wine Cellars have joined together for these once-monthly food and wine pairing masterclasses. It’s a myth to think that the only thing to drink with Indian food is a bucketful of lager. Many people just have a glass of water with their meal but neither of the above actually enhances food. A well-chosen wine helps to elevate the flavours of the spices and other ingredients, and the advice that Jacqueline gives will translate to other cuisines.
Executive Director Sherin Alexander will show you around the restaurant kitchen. Even those who have attended masterclasses at other restaurants will find an Indian kitchen a little different. The tandoors stand in a sweltering rank, the garnish station offers exotic carved centerpieces and there is a granite spice grinder that would do Stonehenge proud. You will meet some of the chefs and see naan bread baked before your very eyes. Straight from the tandoor, it doesn’t come fresher than this.
Sherin will leave you in the main restaurant with Chef Mehernosh. This is a cookery demonstration but you can leave your seat and have a closer look into the cooking pot, and you might be invited to stir the contents for a while. The chef will tell you about the spices used and how they are best prepared; why you need to roast them beforehand; he will also tell you about the history of the food. You’ll be able to watch as several dishes are prepared and you will taste the fruits of the aforementioned labours with a glass of wine. Jacqueline will give you guidance about which bottle of wine works best with which spices.
Those samples of La Porte des Indes dishes are not all that you will be invited to eat. The masterclass package includes a full lunch and you won’t want to miss that. The food is a delight here and the presentation outstanding. You relaxed with a drink when you arrived so take time to finish in the same fashion. Graze on your starter and wonder at the glass-domed ceiling, savour your substantial main course while enjoying the murals, and be mesmerised by the sound of the waterfall (yes, there is indeed a 2-storey-high water feature) as you are tempted by a platter of desserts.
La Porte des Indes is a sensual experience whether for just lunch, dinner or the famous Sunday Brunch; but add a Friday masterclass to that lunch and you have a memorable event. Gift certificates are available which could solve your Yuletide gift dilemma for several family members. They will leave with a deeper understanding of the diversity of Indian food and its relationship with wine, the La Porte des Indes Cookbook which has been penned by Sherin Alexander and Chef Mehernosh Mody (get autographs while here), memories of a delicious meal, and a note in the diary to come back for dinner.