The first thing you notice when you walk through the doors of La Porte des Indes in London’s Marble Arch, is the gorgeous smell of lemongrass, and a greeting by the most charming girl, who welcomes you inside. This is holistic dining in the Ayurvedic sense of the word – from beginning to end you feel truly taken care of. This French-influenced Indian restaurant, whose name translates as ‘The Gateway to India’, has occupied its Bryanston Street location since 1996, and a discrete corner location reveals little of what you will find beyond the doors.
Housed in a former Edwardian ballroom, the restaurant is tardis like – a vast underground space unlike anything you could expect. When I stepped inside I was stunned to discover that the space spans two floors and features a stunning white marble staircase, sweeping roof lights and a 40ft waterfall as a centerpiece. As we were led to our table, weaving through antique Indian artifacts, exotic plants and flowers, the light, airy and visually stunning interior felt like an optical illusion that could not have been imagined from the unassuming frontage.
The menu, under the mantle of award winning chef Mehernosh Mody, features both classic Indian cuisine as well as specialties from the former Indian French colonies. We opted for two delicious and refreshing non-alcoholic cocktails – Miu Miu (Pomegranite, Passion Fruit, Mixed berries and vanilla) and a Daily Juice (Guava, Mango, Goji berries and blueberries). Overwhelmed by the menu, and unwilling to limit our options, my dining companion and I decided to order one of each of the two set menus which promised ‘a little of everything’.
The Menu Maison features a range of the most popular meat and fish dishes, and The Royal Vegetarian Menu curates a selection of vegetarian highlights from the menu. The vegetarian starter (shown above) includes a selection of four items including the Shingora vegetable samosa, which came with tamarind sauce, and crunchy Chard Pakoras, which contained red and green chard and water chestnut with coriander, turmeric and caraway seeds – delicious and surprisingly light.
The Menu Maison starter (above) featured a tender and delicious king scallop in a garlic and saffron sauce. This was totally divine, and melted in the mouth – juicy, gorgeous and grilled to perfection. There is less that can be said about the perfectly tasty grilled chicken tikkas marinated with cream cheese, mace and fresh green peppercorns, but a fillet of sole encased and steamed in a banana leave with mint and coriander chutney was revelatory to the palette.
Not having anticipated the volume of food to come, we also opted for the optional soup course, which was served after the starters and featured a bowl of Dakshin – a southern lentil soup with roasted spices, curry leaves and fresh limes. This was refreshing and served as a natural pause between courses.
The main courses were headed up on the The Menu Maison side by a lamb chop marinated with caramelised onions and garam masala, served with mint chutney – right up my street. My other favourite were the king prawns simmered in a mild coconut curry with green mangoes, tumeric, chillies and ginger – I licked the bowl clean! The Poulet Rouge; shredded chicken marinated in yoghurt and red spices served in a creamy sauce was certainly tasty, but perhaps too heavy in combination with the other items in the selection.
The Royal Vegetarian Menu featured the favourite Saag Paneer dish of spinach and cottage cheese sautéed in butter with green chillies and ginger. This really hit the spot, as did the Bombay Aloo, easily the spiciest of all the dishes – potatoes tossed with smoked red chillies, tomatoes and fresh coriander. Both tasting menus included a yellow lentil dahl, a dish of smoked crushed aubergines, and a bowl of green okra sautéed with onions. The naan bread with onion, melon and sesame seeds deserves special mention as it was perfectly complex and just the right texture to enjoy these side dishes and the pomegranate yoghurt which came on the side.
Even between two of us we didn’t quite manage to finish everything, so in the interests of avoiding waste, we asked if it would be possible for the remainders to be taken away – a request which was handled without question; I’m assuming we are not the first to have been defeated by the scale of these tasting menus! For dessert, a simple trio including a spiced rice pudding and dark chocolate mousse were just the right size and sweetness to complete the taste journey, and we somehow found space to enjoy these three dishes.
As we were leaving, we realised that the restaurant also houses a separate bar, which can be accessed directly without passing through the restaurant. It has the vibe of a hunters perch, with beautiful paintings of animals on the wall, hurricane lamps, rattan wall coverings and cane furniture throughout. Palm trees and tiger skin rugs complete the look, which takes you right out of London and into the jungle. Signature cocktails include the Watermelon and Basil Martini (Gin, fresh watermelon, basil and lime) and Karma (Fresh coconut juice, vodka, passion fruit, lime and basil).
A subterranean paradise.
The Royal Vegetarian Menu is £38 for three courses without soup, or £43 for three courses with soup or sorbet.The Menu Maison is £42 for three courses without soup, and £47 with soup or sorbet.