A grand interior and storied cuisine help set this local institution apart from other ‘Indians’.
Most Indian restaurants in the UK are stuck in a time warp, and his Marylebone stalwart (with outposts in Brussels and Dubai) IS no different. But while the average high street Indian’s beer-stained wallpaper and 1970’s carpets are looking a little tired, La Porte des lndes’ lavish, botanical interior has managed to remain perfectly in keeping with the venue’s upscale cuisine – and clientele – despite being almost unchanged in its 18 years of existence.
However, labelling the institution an ‘Indian restaurant’ is to do it a disservice in suggesting it fits into such a broad, generic category. Not only does it rise serenely above such fare, but its menu is far more nuanced. Its true heritage is French Creole – Gallic-influenced dishes that draw their inspiration from Pondicherry, a former French colony in India whose antique artefacts and paintings, plus the odd moghul waterfall, lend the decor of this former ballroom a colonial feel.
The marriage of such a rich array of influence yields dishes that are delicately rendered, with fragrant rather than forceful spice, and tropical notes. Saffron, banana leaf, coconut and aniseed are all to the fore. But there’s richness here too, not least in the likes of the lobster peri peri – a whole, grilled lobster, marinated in yoghurt, garlic, chilli flakes and garam masala. Seafood plays a conspicuous part on the menu, and while spicing is generally subtle, presentation is grand. We feasted on scallops the size of your fist, with garlic and saffron, while crab malabar, served in its shell, made for a resplendent mirage of tropical colour on the plate.
Such dishes have been on the menu for years – all conceived by chef Mehernosh Mody, who has headed up the kitchen since its opening in 1996, with his wife Sherin as general manager. Stability is evident at every turn. This is not a place where things change in a hurry, on the back of the latest trend. Packed to the rafters on a Monday night, the restaurant is something of an institution among locals (though it was Brussels that was home to the original, opened 12 years earlier). Its owners also run the grandly festooned Thai classic The Blue Elephant, which, two years ago, upped sticks and moved from its 25-year home. La Porte des lndes, though is going nowhere – the locals like it just the way it is. And if it ain’t broke…