The fusion of French and Indian was a pleasant surprise and proved that big, contrasting flavours could work.
What’s your favourite cuisine? If you’re British, chances are that it’s Indian. A survey a few years back put Chicken Tikka Masala as Britain’s favourite dish. And even if that’s not the case now, Indian tends to be in most Brit’s top three. French food typically doesn’t rate as highly as Indian – or Chinese and Thai for that matter. While most people appreciate it, it often comes with a reputation as either very rich or very expensive. Or both. However for many including me, the complexity and flavours of French food, place it head and shoulders above the pack.
So how about French-Indian as a combination? When I first heard about this concept, I feared the worst. Despite the colonial context – Gallic-influenced dishes are derived from Pondicherry, a former French colony in India dating back to the 19th century – I didn’t see how it could work. They both bring such big styles, techniques and flavours. Surely they would clash? However French-Vietnamese is an accepted, colonial-influenced, cuisine; as is Brazilian-Japanese. So why not French and Indian?
La Porte Des Indes in Marble Arch, is one place that has embraced and thrived on this style, and has been producing French, Tamil and Creole influenced dishes for London’s fine dining set since 1996.
As a restaurant La Porte Des Indes is big. Very big. It’s decorated with exotic blooms, authentic Indian antiques and artefacts, a white marble staircase and a cascading 40ft Mughal-inspired water feature. These features were inspired by the Maharajah’s Palace and are intended to give the place a touch of glamour. However with it’s vast scale and slightly faded grandeur, it feels more like a Vegas hotel. It was still very busy the night I visited, mostly with large groups of friends, families or tourists. The atmosphere is buzzy enough, and the service has that combination of charming formality that seems to be a feature of fine-dining Indian establishments.
The menu is also very big, so I focused on all things Francaise and started with the Foie Gras. This comes Tandoori seared, served on a crisp honey naan bread with a fig and ginger chutney. I wasn’t sure that this dish would work but it did. Quite spectacularly. The richness of the perfectly cooked Foie Gras combined beautifully with the naan bread and chutney. It was divine. Keeping with the theme I tried the Magret de Canard Pulivaar; which was Tender Barbary duck breast fillets served pink with a spicy tamarind sauce that is apparently unique to the Creole community of Pondicherry. Again this was a very good take on a French classic, with the flavour combination working rather than feeling forced. I don’t normally do desserts in Indian restaurants, as the traditional dishes are often too sweet for me. On the other hand, I always have desserts in French restaurants. Emboldened by the success of my first two courses I took the waitresses recommendation and chose the Fondant. This dish promised warm Valrhona dark chocolate with a rich soft centre, served with Madagascar Bourbon vanilla bean ice cream. Which it delivered but it wasn’t a fondant that I recognised. More a chocolate cake crust sat atop a mousse. It was nice, delicious in fact. But it was not a Fondant.
Les Porte Des Indes’ fusion of French and Indian was a pleasant surprise and proved that big, contrasting flavours could work in the hands of very good cooking. I’m not sure that as a style, it’s ready to knock Chicken Tikka Masala off its mantle. Or Boeuf Bourguignon for that matter. But it’s worth a try.
– Wining and Dining 3
– Flirting and frolicking 2
– Serving and Pouring 3