London

La Porte des Indes - a culinary master class

Peter Morrell for My Generation 10 Aug 2012

A mainstay of the capital since 1996, the multi award-winning La Porte des Indes offers a unique style of Indian cooking inspired by the French Creole cuisine of Pondichéry and other former French trading posts in Southern India. Executive Chef Mehernosh Mody spent several months in the region researching traditional dishes and persuading the locals to part with closely guarded family recipes. The result is a culinary experience and one which this iconic establishment is now offering clients the chance to share.

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On the final Friday of every month Mehernosh hosts a master class where he shows students how to recreate La Porte des Indes’ dishes at home. I recently went along for a combined tour of the kitchens, demonstration by Mehernosh and finishing with lunch.

Sited just behind Marble Arch tube station the restaurant is situated on a corner site, it looks like many other London restaurants but that is where the similarity ends. Enter the front door and it opens out into a huge space, beautifully decorated like a Maharaja’s palace. From the richly appointed bar to the multi level dining area with an atrium topped by a glass dome which highlights a 40 foot waterfall with natural light, it is an uplifting place to eat.

We started the day with a fruit cocktail in the bar and were then greeted by Sherin Mody, the General Manager and herself a very accomplished chef and author. We took a tour of the surprising small kitchen and after passing a whole range of decorative serving dishes we arrived at the spiritual heart of any Indian kitchen the Tandoors, three super hot clay ovens where meat is barbequed and naan breads are cooked. On a busy night more than 300 naans are cooked, the chef responsible for this feat gave us a demonstration on how to shape the bread which then gets slapped on the inside wall of the oven blistering and browning in about 90 seconds.

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We saw all sorts of preparation stations with lots chopping, mixing and stirring going on until we got to a vital piece of equipment, a gigantic motorised pestle and mortar. It is here that the spices and pastes are gently ground to extract their full, natural flavour, a vital process in order to get an authentic taste.

It was time to meet Mehernosh who, in a very engaging manner, took us through the preparation of three Indian dishes, a Goan prawn curry, a chicken patiala and a spinach(saag) paneer. As we went through the demonstration Mehernosh gave us a wealth of hints and tips on how we can produce better curries at home. As the cooking progressed Jacqueline Kay from Berkmann Wine Cellars gave us some guidance on how to match wines with spicy food. We tasted two wines on their own, an Australian semillon and sauvignon blanc blend from the Fraser Gallop estate and a Spanish albarino from Casal Caeiro. We then paired the former with the prawn dish and the sampled the second wine with the chicken and saag paneer. It was surprising to see how different the wines tasted with and without the food and to hear that, unlike beer, wine coats the mouth and has a tempering effect on spiciness.

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It was time for lunch and as they say, the proof of the pudding is in the eating, that’s exactly what we did. The three course menu is a taster of many La Porte des Indes dishes and a vegetarian option is available. The street food style starters of lamb seekh kebab, chicken samosa and the most delicious dahl puri are a showcase of the quality of the cooking. The standard is maintained in the main course with tilapia fillet in a coconut sauce from Kerala, chicken in a buttery sauce and spinach with field mushrooms, all the food is beautifully presented and served by charming staff.

The chef’s selection of desserts makes more than a nod to the French influence from Pondichéry with a tradition pistachio kulfi, Indian ice cream sitting comfortably next to a chocolate mousse. I had a thoroughly enjoyable foodie day out, this would be a great gift for anyone or even a treat for yourself. It was a day packed with culinary interest – an insight into the running of the kitchen of a top restaurant, an excellent cooking demo, great food and as a bonus a signed copy of Sherin and Mehernosh’s cook book and a Kadai Paste spice mix to take home and start experimenting with your newly learnt skills.

It’s not just me that thinks that Mehernosh’s food is good the hospitality industry think it is as well, he has recently been honoured by being crowned Ethnic Chef of the Year 2012 at the Craft Guild of Chefs Awards held at Wembley Stadium.

Timings for the master class are from 12pm until 1.30pm for the tour and the demonstrationlunch from 1.30pm onwards. The price is a very reasonable £45 per person including VAT. Guests also receive a signed copy of the best-selling La Porte des Indes cookbook, a complimentary spice mix and a certificate of participation.

Photographs: Amin Ayub – www.aminart.co.uk