La Porte des Indes – restaurant review

[This venue is now closed]

Some restaurants are good, there are a few that are noteworthy, there are others that have memorable food and more that have striking decor, but it’s rare to find a restaurant that can boast a brace of exceptional attributes. La Porte des Indes is that almost unique establishment, having both gorgeous food and stunning surroundings. After just one year of business the restaurant was nominated for ‘Best Indian Restaurant’ by Carlton London Restaurant Awards and was awarded ‘Best Indian’ and ‘Best UK’ Restaurant by the Good Curry Guide.

But why “La Porte des Indes”? Yes, you are quite right, dear reader, it is French. You might know of The Gateway to India which is a monumental arch in Mumbai, and La Porte des Indes is French for very much the same thing. The restaurant presents dishes from many  regions of India and draws on the culinary heritage of French India in particular.

The Union Territory of Pondicherry includes four enclaves located in three states of South India. It is also known as The French Riviera of the East (La Côte d’Azur de l’Est) and was considered as part of France from 1814 till 1954, the date at which it joined the rest of the, by now, independent India. The French connection is still evident in accent, food and architecture.

restaurant review la porte des indesI was expecting something a bit special. I had done my homework and was struck by the fact that nobody that I had talked to had anything other than high praise for this establishment. La Porte des Indes remains as an example, in my opinion, of how to get it right. It’s not the cheapest food around but it’s delicious, well presented and the ambiance is truly remarkable.

Just a few minutes from Marble Arch station, La Porte des Indes occupies a corner plot at a quiet intersection. It’s something of a Tardis of a building having around 350 covers. Although looking smart and like a French Cafe from the outside, the inside opens to the most amazing scene. It’s a two storey former Edwardian ballroom. The ground floor balcony restaurant opens onto a lower level with a 40-foot waterfall and a sweeping marble staircase for good measure. Palms add to the exotic décor which is strikingly Indian-colonial but it is tasteful rather than kitsch. One’s eye is caught by a painting here, a wood carving there, a Mogul mural or two, and a glass-domed roof. Panelled walls and ornamental coving remind us of days when the British building industry offered an alternative to mediocrity and stippled, artexed ceilings.

The Jungle Bar on the lower floor is well worth a visit. It has a tradition of peanut shell-throwing started by some of its celeb patrons. It has a relaxed and convivial atmosphere with a hunting theme incorporating tiger-skin rugs and animal paintings recalling the days when one would travel the Empire to shoot anything with fur or feathers. There is a good selection of exotic cocktails here to start your evening. Rain Forest is a non-alcoholic thirst-quencher of freshly squeezed apple juice, orange juice and root ginger. Refreshing with a definite touch of the Orient.

La Porte des Indes has a menu that is out of the ordinary. Yes, there is Chicken Tikka Masala and Vegetable Biryani but take advantage of your visit and try some less familiar fare. There are dishes here that you won’t find anywhere else. Head Chef Mehernosh Mody and a battery of other chefs execute regional specialities with flair. The presentation of the food is nothing short of magnificent.

Large King Scallops in a Saffron Sauce are delicate and succulent. My guest and I mopped the fragrant yellow juices with onion and garlic naan. Roasted Chilli Seekh Kebab offered flavourful heat which was tempered by Chard Pakoras and Paneer Kebabs. All were served with chutneys designed to enhance the aromatic qualities of each starter.

The Roast Black Cod at La Porte des Indes is as good as you’ll find anywhere. It’s marinated in fennel, chilli, mustard, honey, tamarind and vinegar (an indication of a touch of Portuguese influence perhaps). It’s wrapped in banana leaf before being flame-grilled giving an end result which is meltingly moist.

Duck isn’t often seen on Indian restaurant menus but here it is at La Porte des Indes, giving a nod to its French connection. Magret de Canard Pulivaar are well-flavoured perfect-pink duck breast fillets served with a tamarind sauce. It’s said to be unique to the Creole community of Pondicherry so this will likely be your only chance to try this dish outside India.

Lotus Root Jaipuri is crunchy and addictive and should be sold by the bagful in Harrods’ food hall. Rougail d’Aubergine is another house speciality. Smoked and crushed aubergine, chilli, ginger and fresh lime combine to make a side dish that doesn’t have searing heat but is nevertheless robust enough to work with the tamarind sauce coating the Barbary duck.

Perhaps my favourite dish of the evening was Poulet Rouge. It’s one of La Porte des Indes’ signature dishes and is moreish in the extreme. Chicken is marinated in spices, grilled, shredded and presented in a creamy and rich sauce. It isn’t a hot and fiery dish so it’s just right as an introduction to the milder but nonetheless authentic face of Indian cuisine.

Desserts at Indian restaurants so often disappoint. La Porte des Indes, however, offers a Pistachio and Rose Kulfi which is to die for. It’s perfumed and exotic and perfectly matches this palace of a restaurant. They have a good selection of sorbets as well; Rose and Lychee, Indian Tamarind, Pomegranate and Imperial Passion Fruit, but they also do a surprisingly good chocolate mousse served in a folded-leaf cup. The mousse might hail from France but the presentation is pure subcontinent.

La Porte des Indes is like no other Asian restaurant you might visit. I am very much taken with its food and exotic atmosphere. I can think of nowhere better to spend a cold London night than basking in the colour and warm vibrancy of the long-gone raj. I’ll be back for another evening… or perhaps Sunday Brunch… or maybe a lunch.

Visit La Porte des Indes here.

Restaurant review: La Porte des Indes
32 Bryanston Street, London W1H 7EG


Restaurant review by Chrissie Walker © 2018