[La Porte des Indes is now closed]
Sundays are for relaxing, or that was the old-fashioned notion. It is the day, at least in most of the Western world, for gathering with friends and family, and there was usually a traditional Sunday roast involved in the conviviality and perhaps Two-way Family Favourites from The BBC Light Programme playing in the background. That is still a meal full of nostalgia and Yorkshire puddings, but we have broader horizons these days and take the easier option of going out and letting others do the cooking – and, more importantly, the washing up. La Porte des Indes doesnt have a sink anywhere near your table.
Lots of Indian restaurants offer a special Sunday menu, but all Indian restaurants are not created equal and it’s easy to be put off from this gastronomic interlude by previous encounters with dubious curry-houses, the sort that proclaim as many as 6 dishes (one of them being a poppadom) and as much as you can eat for £7 a head with service that will continue till the oil congeals on top of last week’s left-over korma. There is a quite different class of Indian restaurant that will charm, tempt and enthral its guests, and La Porte des Indes is counted amongst their number.
It’s long been a favourite of mine and one visit will convince those weary of dingy curry-houses that this will likely be their weekend venue of choice, their polished gem in a sea of culinary mediocrity (or worse). It is, quite frankly, stunning. Sunday Brunch here will offer the visitor the chance listen to some live jazz and to wander around: the buffet is displayed over two floors so you will get the chance to glide down that sweeping especially-imported-beautiful-bespoke staircase like some transplanted Rajesque Scarlet O’Hara. One can marvel at the murals throughout the unique ex-ballroom and ponder seating arrangements for your next visit.
Some tables are placed for animated chatter between just two diners, while others are big enough to accommodate a family: brunch is a casual meal and a buffet allows everyone to try a little of this and to have an extra portion of that with never a hint of “Finish those sprouts or you don’t get any Arctic Roll.” Everybody can pick their own favourites, tantalise their tastebuds with the best of Indian cuisine; parents can enjoy a stress-free mealtime and kids might discover that they do actually like fish.
The Sunday Brunch buffet is famed and it’s easy to see why. The lower floor is where you will find the starters. Chefs man hot food stations and will tempt you with such things as mini potato-filled dosa or stuffed puri. There are several kebabs from which to choose and each is presented with their accompanying chutney. It’s a street-food extravaganza and it would be easy just to spend an afternoon grazing on these perfectly-formed little savouries, but there is more food on the floor above.
Copper chafing dishes stand in rows – one section for vegetarian dishes and another for those containing fish and meat. I am not an Indian food expert but I noted that half the diners at La Porte des Indes were Asian. They all seemed to be enjoying the food as much as I did, and many were evidently regulars there. Surely that must be a sign of the quality of the food. These folks know more about Subcontinental cooking than this writer, and they were all going back for seconds, so we followed them.
The selection of dishes on offer is huge; there is something to please every palate. The Lamb Biryani was aromatic and the meat tender. The Chicken Makhani was flavourful and mild. The vegetarian options supplied a spicy star in the guise of small, whole Asian aubergines. This was a rich and warming vegetarian option that just needed some plain boiled rice and some yoghurt on the side. Fresh naan bread was provided at the table.
It’s a universal truth that one can eat savoury dishes until one can eat no more and one swears that not another morsel will pass one’s lips until at least teatime, and then someone mentions that the desserts are at the foot of the stairs. Somehow we get a second wind: well, perhaps something light might help with digestion; sweet after savoury definitely constitutes a balanced diet. The desserts here are almost too good to eat. Individual portions of each and sized to allow everyone to try almost everything on offer. Kheer (Indian rice pudding), mango yoghurt served in terracotta bowls (my favourite), chocolate truffles, white chocolate and lime mousse, a mithai platter (traditional Indian sweets) with a fig and honey confection for which to die; and then there was the fresh fruit that you will take either because you know it’s good for you and it does look refreshing, or (and this is more likely) because, even though you really want some more mithai, you want the people on the neighbouring table to think that you have amazing self-control.
Sunday Brunch at La Porte des Indes isn’t the occasion for overt displays of restraint. It provides all the fixin’s for a thoroughly civilized smart-casual meal. The restaurant offers the most delicious Indian cuisine in a setting that is unique and a feast for the eyes. One visit will never be enough and the experience can be summed up in one word: Memorable.
La Porte des Indes
32 Bryanston Street, London W1H 7EG
Restaurant review by Chrissie Walker © 2018