Standing outside La Porte des Indes, it’s difficult to know what to expect. Neighbouring a Grade II-listed Edwardian Gothic Revival church and amongst the familiar stock bricked houses of the neighbourhood it was more reminiscent of an out-of-place Italian eatery than the Edwardian ballroom I’d read about, but once we walked through into the restaurant area, it was like walking back in time…in a good way.
In fact, the ‘gateway to India’ name and the menu makes a nod to the food of Pondicherry, which was a French colony on the southeast coast of India right up until 1954, seven years after the British had departed.
The first thing you notice is the size (it seats 380 diners at any one time over two floors). The property developer in me (in all of us who live in London) worked out how many apartments you could cram in here…the answer, a lot! To briefly summarise the interior; it features art, antiques, a marble staircase and nine-metre high waterfall. Tropical plants and flowers adorn the spacious eatery – 5,000 stems are imported each week. If that wasn’t enough the bar area downstairs has a jungle theme. It is a feast for the eyes, but would it be a feast fit for a king or Raja?
Well yes it was. We were given a Lentil cake and spiced yogurt soup as an amuse-bouche before a selection of starters arrived, including juicy king scallops with a hint of garlic in a mild saffron sauce and expertly grilled chicken tikka. I tried to ignore the garlic naan but I couldn’t. It’s my vice. I did show some restraint though and left room for the main course.
Again we opted for a selection of main courses and we ate fantastic Barra Lamb chops, Pouley Rouge (chicken in yogurt and red spices) and Crevettes Assadh (prawns simmered in a mild coconut curry) and Saag Paneer (spinach and cottage cheese) and Goan Goat Curry. Each dish was cooked well and with subtle spices, all washed down with a 2012 Cuvee Royale Thai, Josmeyer d’Alsace AOC, France.
It is rare that I indulge in a desert after an Indian meal; usually I just want to crawl out into the street and wait for the vultures to circle my limp body. But not today, we both received a trio of desserts of the chef’s choice, and they were each sumptuous. Now it was time for Mrs TLE to make the epic voyage home. We jumped in a taxi, wisely noting that it’s a brave man who battles home on the bus after a meal like that. Our summary was thus; If you want to visit an Indian restaurant and feel like you have actually been to the subcontinent (circa 1948) then this place can’t be beaten.