La Portes des Indes, tucked away between Oxford Street, The Edgware Road and Wigmore Street was a surprise on so many levels. But I think we can describe it as a place worth a visit without spoiling the impact.
The outside is extremely well presented, although giving no hint as to anything exceptional lying behind. We expected a “normal” dining room, but were met with a truly eye opening experience once we left our bags at the cloak room. Walking down and round from the room that we thought was the restaurant, we stepped into the amazing space that actually is the restaurant. It’s a big place, with many covers across two levels. The room is beautiful, and laid out in a way that manages to maintain intimacy despite the scale. Huge domed glass roof lights let light flood in earlier in the evening, combined with Indian red terracotta balustrades and a huge, constantly running water feature it makes for a truly special environment. It is a genuine oasis in one of the busiest parts of town. The room itself apparently used to be a hotel ballroom, and is complete with fantastic mouldings and grandiose. But it’s definitely not one of those dining room warehouses that this type of room can sometimes become; it is thoughtfully laid out and split up. There are great tables for two, ranging up to areas for groups or even private dining. There is also a bar downstairs that is decorated (shall we say) esoterically but is definitely not without charm. The place is great for anything from an intimate dinner to a work function.
As is the case with many Indian restaurants, the walls downstairs are plastered with awards and recognitions. Strangely they are a little dated, running between the late nineties into the mid noughties and then petering out. I can only assume that this is because fashions changed in high end Indian cuisine rather than any drop in standards, for the food is really excellent. I would lose them, though keep the celebrity photographs up; few people can deny the vicarious pleasure of eating in the same place and perhaps sitting in the same chair as Sir Tom Jones, Morgan Freeman or any of their impressive gallery.
Service was exemplary; attentive, polite, careful and immaculately presented with the emphasis very clearly on French standards of waiting. Though there is perhaps one area of contradiction, for La Portes des Indes is very definitely a high end restaurant; the prices and environment are testimony to that. However, they seem to be unable to resist some of the clichés of the genre; with throwbacks such as steaming hot towels after the meal, scraping the table cloth, a take away service and “deals” advertised in a few places. It’s a shame as this restaurant is a world apart from Brick Lane and should be confident enough not to use these methods; maybe customers still expect it I suppose but I would have preferred them to have kept their distance from the more rustic norms of Indian restaurants elsewhere in London.
The Cocktail menu was varied and the prices on the high side but not unusual for this part of London. It is a shame that the coconut milk was not available as the special coconut cocktail menu looked excellent, and was cheaper too. So we went to the main cocktail menu, but were not disappointed in the slightest. The mango cocktail was like an alcoholic lassi and it went down very easily. The house special Long Island ice tea was in keeping with tradition, hiding its effectiveness behind the perfect blend that tasted just like iced tea. The perfect long cocktail to my mind, with plenty of ice but I personally would have used a highball glass rather than a bowl – personal preference really.
We kicked off the meal with starter platter at £14 each with five items each from the regular menu. It’s a great way to cram in as many flavours as you can in one sitting and we highly recommend it unless you are a purist. Or suffer with OCD and need all your dishes on separate plates. On the platter was a pair of beautifully dressed medium sized crabs. They were amazingly flavoured, obviously made with very fresh crab and rich flavoured but somehow not too heavy. They were lovely and moist but thankfully not slathered in mayonnaise. Similarly the scallops were perfectly cooked, again amazingly fresh and presented in their shells. They were firm and succulent with light but tasty saffron sauce.
The aubergine pastry was not the best looking item on the plate; it was very dark but actually very good – not greasy or mushy at all. It was a nice dense pastry case with lightly flavoured filling, well accompanied by the tamarind sauce.
A chicken salad was a wonderfully lightly flavoured addition to the collection. A curry puff was left to last and although R enjoyed the sweet delicate pastry, M was less impressed.
So the starter platter was a roaring success. If you are used to the raging flavours and spicing of your local curry house you will be amazed by the lightness and subtlety that La Portes des Indes’ Chef brings to the table.
The wine list was extensive, and again the pricing consistent with this part of town (including bottles of Brandy costing thousands of pounds!) but we went for something more modest, with an Indian (yes, you read that right) Sauvignon Blanc at £29. It was really rather good, and perfectly in keeping with the environment. Try it, you might like it; it was good and I certainly wouldn’t have distinguished it from a European or New World bottle in a blind tasting.
For main courses R had the mixed tandoor platter. This included chicken, salmon, shish, lamb on bone and a king prawn. It was presented with three dips (although truth be told it was so tasty they were not really needed – the mint yoghurt was simply mopped up with the excellent Naan. The naan was thin, crispy and tasting of the tandoor but still soft inside; perfect. Each meat had great flavour and texture but the winner on the platter was definitely the chicken! Perfectly marinated (apparently only very lightly) and so succulent that it is one of those dishes that produce a moment of quiet introspection when you eat it: This restaurant’s must have meal. A close second was the salmon – the tandoor flavours coming through each bite.
M had the Magret de Canard Pulivaar… It looked a bit sloppy on the plate but tasted amazing. The duck was perfectly cooked, pink, meaty, tender and tasty but sliced thinly so that its richness wasn’t overwhelming. The sauce although marked as hot was indeed spicy, but only subtly so. We accompanied the mains with Lime Rice. This was actually the most intensely flavoured dish on the table and could be a meal on its own. To be honest it didn’t really compliment the dishes we had chosen, we would have been better off with a plainer variety – but it was really delicious and very much recommended.
We couldn’t resist the dessert. M had the walnut chocolate samosa with salted caramel ice cream. The filling was gently sweet without being sticky, again a wonderfully subtly flavoured dish. Although the Valhorna chocolate fondant was calling; in the interest of research (and of service to you dear reader) R chose the intriguing traditional desert from Goa – a warm layered nutmeg cake with vanilla ice cream. Although expecting more of a sponge rather than a semolina layered affair it was still a delicately divine ending to a very satisfying meal.
So, in summary this place is impressive, regal and sophisticated. The quality and flavours of the food is definitely worth the extra price, especially when accompanied by service and surroundings of such quality. The food is top notch, and ranges between (and across) amazingly complex, rich or subtle depending upon your choice.
• Food (menu) 4/5
• Taste 5/5
• Drinks 4/5
• Affordability 3/5
• Atmosphere 4/5
• Service 5/5
Overall experience 4.5/5