Gymkhana. For the Maharajas of Mayfair.
Gymkhana. I can’t help but think of those Thelwell cartoons. Little fat girls on even fatter ponies. Events that happen in the Home Counties. Rosettes. That sort of thing. I don’t automatically think sophisticated curry-house in Mayfair.
“Gymkhana” is, I now know, an Anglo-Indian expression, derived from the Persian and Urdu word “Jamat-khana”. Most Indian gymkhanas (places for riding horses) have a “Gymkhana Club” associated with them, a term coined during British Raj, for a gentlemen’s club.’ These clubs appear to have been rather exclusively British, at least until Independence.
Apply that policy to London high-end restaurants these days and the industry would go into a meltdown. Fortunately, we Brits have become a little less exclusive.
This isn’t what I would describe as your average curry-house. Not unless you’re an average ultra-high net worth, with a Mayfair pad to match. Ultra-high net worth. That’s a recent one for me. I’d got used to high net worth and even super-high, but ultra? Where does it start? Ten mill? Twenty? Who knows. And it depends who’s asking. Not that anyone is ever going to have to ask me.
According to the Daily Fail (so it must be true) more ‘ultra high net worths’ live in the capital than any other city on the planet. Some of them will be eating here, I imagine, as it’s very modern maharajah-friendly with its last days of the Raj décor. All colonial wood, dark and atmospheric, cut glass lighting, fans and rattan – you know the drill. We sat in one of the booths which line either side of the long room. I’d book one of those if I were you. Trust me.
The tables are well spaced and it doesn’t feel cramped. I didn’t notice any music, always a good sign, although it may just have been that I was already in party mood, due to the joke-sized Kir (not complaining, just saying) at The Running Horse, in Mayfair, which had kicked off the evening. You should check that out – it’s just changed hands. Oh, all right then. Next week.
Or maybe I was completely engrossed by my companion, the lovely H, a larger than life foodsleb. Not Foodie. Never Foodie. Only non-foodies use that term. You’re welcome.
Because I needed more alcohol and because I find it hard to turn down anything with rose petal in the title, I had a marvellous rose petal-based cocktail. Not quite as refreshing as the ‘Flutterby’ downed by my companion, a little later in the evening. Sounds so innocuous doesn’t it? Like butterfly wings. Ethereal, almost. And it tastes so refreshing and light that you can hardly tell that it contains ABSINTHE. Hardly. Until you stand up. Or fall over.
The food is split into bar-snack dishes, starters, curries and grills. We had a Kid Goat Methi Keema Salli, Pao. Kid goat. I don’t think I’ve ever eaten it before. At least, not on purpose. And before I knew it, H had ordered the optional extra, of Bheji, for a mere £3. Sounds nice doesn’t it. Bheji. I’m thinking a spice, perhaps, or some special vegetable. What I am really not thinking is that it is bits of brain. Crumbled into the curry.
I thought I’d done my bit at BubbledogsKT, with the crispy pig’s ears (look- real hairs!) but no. Kid and brain. As if this wasn’t enough, I could hear my companion suggesting something with the words Suckling Pig in it.
As this is my year of saying yes to things that frighten me, I nodded in agreement. I didn’t mention the fact that I’d only been eating meat for about a year and that the leap from mere occasional fish eater to scoffing minced brains was rather daunting.
Because it was dark, the whiteness of my pallor went unremarked. And happily, there were some fairly safe sounding dishes on our list, in which I could find refuge, if I bottled out. Masala peanut and Lotus Root Chat was a crunchy, crispy peanut dish you could quite happily eat by the handful. As I did.
And then there was the delicious Dosa with Chetinaad Duck and Coconut Chutney, rich, curried duck under a domed pancake. So good we had it twice. Because we needed.
And when they brought the goat and brain curry, with the soft buns, I am afraid that after one mouthful, my reservations melted away and I did in fact manage to pile it onto the soft buns accompanying it and indeed to wipe the dish clean with them.
Suckling Pig Cheek Vindaloo, (for that is what it was) came in a small copper pot: a deeply dark brown, very intense curry, a perfect companion for the dhal we also ordered. But for me, the stand-out dish was the Lamb Chops with Pickled Onion, Turmeric and Ginger. The meat fell off the bone. It was tender and delicious. The spicing was spot on. Slathered in the Pomegranate Raita I had also ordered, this was delicious. At £25 for 4 small pieces, it needed to be.
And then followed by the Jaggery Custard. A crème caramel, smothered in a treacle- toffee flavoured sauce. Memories of Thorntons in the 1970s. But better. This was utterly gorgeous.
A word about the prices. You don’t have to be a maharajah to eat here, but it helps. It’s not cheap. And the portions are not huge, nay I’d say they were on a little on the small side, but then let’s remember you’re paying for the décor/the location/ the quality/ the everything. It’s very Jewel in the Crown. And jewels don’t come cheap.