Gymkhana is an Indian word which originally referred to a meeting place. These days it tends to be an equestrian day event put on by posh pony clubs; but not in this case. Gymkhana in London does fit into the ‘meeting place’ category and it does have the feel of a nicely appointed casual club, but there won’t be the smell of horse or stable anywhere near.
Gymkhana on Albemarle Street in Mayfair is an Indian restaurant serving innovative food from the imagination of Group Executive Chef Rohit Ghai in a venue that has been thoughtfully presented by owner Karam Sethi, right down to the serving plates. Yes, it does indeed have a relaxed ambiance but the food is Michelin Star all the way.
This isn’t an overly-themed Indian restaurant. The name Gymkhana gives a hint to its ethnicity but the ground floor has marble table-tops and booths along with dark wood which really gives the air of that old-fashioned, much-sought-after French Bistro which one looks for but never finds in the back streets of Paris. It flaunts a very buzzy and energetic vibe.
The lower level must have originally been the cellar of an old Georgian house or shop. This has allowed for a couple of private dining spaces which still retain the curved ceilings that remind one of wine cellars in France or Italy.
The main basement restaurant again sports dark wood aplenty with old pictures from the days of the Raj, brass-edged tables and rattan chairs adding to the old Indian club reincarnation. The ceiling is low, giving a sense of calming intimacy. It’s much quieter here than above making this the very spot for romantic encounters, discreet business meetings or unwinding after a hard day at the coal face.
Gymkhana takes advantage of seasonal British ingredients so there will likely be something new with every visit. This isn’t your usual Indian restaurant menu at any time of year so even regulars will find not only quality but unique dishes.
Gol Guppas with Jaljeera, Potato, and Sprouting Moong arrived as pre-dinner nibbles. These are classic stuffed puffs but here they are served on the best of English cottage china, once again introducing a very Anglo element. But do try the Dosa here. It’s authentically crisp (I have found many to be flabby and doughy) and light, with a rich filling of Chettin Duck with traditional coconut chutney. This is a winner at any time of year.
Rajma fritters are a take on Indian comfort food. These are balls of kidney beans with a crunchy coating and they are moreish. But meat eaters are not forgotten: Lamb Nalli Barra served with lightly pickled onion were outstanding. The meat was glisteningly moist and meltingly tender. It’s a substantial dish and seasoned to perfection.
Wild Muntjac Biryani with Pomegranate and Mint Raita was the main dish, and there is innovation here even in the pastry crust which was crowned with seeds, giving it a wholesome and attractive appearance that was a shame to destroy. This is a dish over which to salivate while inhaling delicate aromas of spiced meat and rice. A hearty dish but lightened by the yoghurt and fruit.
Rose and Rhubarb Kulfi Falooda was my guest’s dessert. He pronounced it to be excellent with flowery notes from the rose and just a touch of sharpness from the rhubarb. I always think of falooda as something along the lines of English trifle. It’s a sweet treat full of lots of different good things.
Queens Club Cocktail was my preferred finish to the meal. I hadn’t had wine with dinner so I could indulge in a little alcohol now. This hot after-dinner cocktail had me intrigued: it’s Ketel One Vodka, coriander seed and lemon zest syrup, clove and hot Darjeeling Earl Grey tea poured over a clove and apple jelly, and into a proper cup and saucer. Deliciously theatrical and a cocktail which I want to replicate at home …every evening.
Gymkhana will definitely appeal to those looking for uncommon food that’s predictably good, in a restaurant with character in a convenient location. Karam Sethi once again shows his flair for knowing what works.
42 Albemarle Street
London W1S 4JH
Phone: 020 3011 5900
Restaurant review by Chrissie Walker © 2018