London

La Porte des Indes - A Review by Mood Food

01 Sep 2012

Palm trees, close heat and a cascading waterfall. Live jazz tinkling away, fruity cocktails and rainbow-hued Hindu gods. No, we’re not in some subcontinental paradise – although today’s weather could have you fooled- rather, relaxing over the legendary Sunday brunch at La Portes des Indes, poised to hit the appetiser buffet.

For anyone who’s spent time in India, the La Porte experience is especially evocative. Skillful chefs in tall white hats flip diminutive dosas and fill crisp semolina puris with spiced chickpeas doused in tamarind-and-mint flavoured water. Flower-strewn tables are loaded with rows of tiny banana leaf cups holding various chaats. A large salad bar is present- but really, when the offerings are so bounteous, it’s frankly a waste of valuable plate space!

Filled pani puris teetering precariously on our plates, we head back to the table and feast on vadas drowned in thick, sourless yogurt; tikkis using the gorgeous Punjabi combination of cornmeal and spinach; potato-stuffed dosas with tomato chutney; and radga pattice- potato cakes topped with chickpeas and a riot of relishes. Those delicious pani puri must be gulped down in one- as one of our party discovers only too late.

Tandoori meats and paneer in pickling spices are succulent and almost obscenely smoky from a good hot char. Meaty mains uphold the standard- lamb combined with chickpeas in the Kabli gosht; moist chicken in a sweet, coconut-ty sauce korma fans would covet. Keralan-style tilapia is the standout- in a spicy thin gravy laced with smoked tamarind. Plain naan is served directly to the table by the endlessly smiling waitresses- but I can’t resist sneaking back downstairs for some of the onion and garlic kulcha from the tandoori section.

Vegetarians are treated to dahi bhindi- the thin yogurt sauce a good match for the smoky okra. Aloo beans Chettinad are heavily flavoured with star anise and whole spices, whilst the gravy for paneer makhani is sweet, fruity and rich. Tadka dahl, rice, raita and pickles round out the menu- and our bellies- nicely. As we dine, a jazz duo play away at a well-judged volume, stopping from time to time to partake in a small snackerel. Who could deny them?

Pudding is extraneous but also non-negotiable- the fruitcake-like hapshi halwa registering on my radar as soon as we entered. Lilliputian servings enable our group to try the lot. There are decent gulab jamun and jalebis; strawberry rasmalai; mango chandernagore, and, of course, that stunning halwa.

Brunch runs over the course of three hours- and we’ve needed every minute. From appetite-stimulating cocktails and juices like a salty-sour tamarind margarita or a thirst-slaking kiwi-apple blend, through to a round of masala chais, the experience is indulgent, laid back and convivial. Perfect adjectives to describe a perfect Sunday afternoon. Throw in proper hospitality, a diverse and quality spread and a few skilled musicians, and you’ve got the La Porte des Indes experience. Go, eat, and enjoy.