London

La Portes Des Indes: French Colonial India in the heart of Marble Arch

Spear's 22 Jun 2014

I knew there was something familiar about La Portes des Indes; an Indian restaurant set back from the hustle and bustle of Marble Arch. The restaurant has something magical about it. The yellow rooms are adorned with Indian paintings, antiques shipped back from the sub-continent and the dining room is actually a grand atrium filled with palm trees and other tropical plants. It feels a little bit like we’re in Kew Garden’s humid Palm House. Or, if you’re lucky enough to have visited, like the town in India this restaurant is inspired by, Pondicherry.

A place of many past conquests, Pondicherry’s most recent conqueror were the French. First setting foot in Pondicherry in 1670, the French didn’t leave until 1954 when Pondicherry was handed over to an independent India. The French may have left but their culture has not. Still referred to as “The Indian Côte d’Azur” or the “Riviera of the East”, Pondicherry is a small seaside town with tree-lined boulevards and European architecture, which clash beautifully with the disarray and liveliness of India.

Pondicherry is probably the only place in India where pastries and baguettes are as good as they are in Paris and where good traditional French cuisine can be ordered in the same restaurant that serves authentic Indian dishes. In addition to the prominent French influence in cooking, the food of Pondicherry has influences from other cuisines across Asia such as Tamil, Malayalam, Bengali and Punjabi food.

Safe to say when we received the offer to visit La Portes des Indes and learn how to cook the food of Pondicherry we jumped at it the opportunity to know how to create this fascinating cuisine. The cookery demonstration began with a hosted tour around the kitchens led by award-winning chef, Mehernosh Mody. During the tour we were shown the tandoors that are used for cooking meat, fish and their impossibly tasty naan breads; the curry station where large vats of pungent curries gently simmer; past a man wrapping fillets of sole topped with coriander and mint in banana leaves; and past the slow-churning spice grinder, that is the size of a cement mixer.

Chef Mehernosh Mody led the cooking demonstration and took to the stage to talk through a menu of his favourite dishes. Our preference was the Cassoulet de Fruits de Mer, it may sounds undeniably French, but the light spices and coconut brings it back into Indian territory. During the class, Mody divulges secrets to grinding spices and explains the history behind each dish. Jacqueline Kay, of  Berkmann Wine Cellars, offers wine pairings for each dish and explains why each works so well with the flavours and spices. After ample eating during the tour and demonstration there’s the promise of more food. The class includes a 3-course lunch in the beautiful atrium dining room.

Whether you’re interested in Indian cooking, have a penchant for Pondicherry or are just looking for a fun, and tasty, afternoon out, the La Portes des Indes cooking demonstration and lunch ticks all of the above. Try it out.