The Halal: The chicken, lamb and goat are all halal. Slightly disappointing that the rest of the game on the menu (which looked divine might I add) is not halal and can’t be pre-ordered halal. I did spot some pig somewhere on the menu and as you’d expect from this kind of establishment, alcohol is served here.
The Place: Walking into the dimly lit restaurant on Abermarle street in Mayfair, you’ll feel transported back into the time of the old Indian high society dining at Gymkhanas during the British Raj. It’s almost like being in a black and white bollywood film. Everything feels vintage, wooden ceiling fans, black and white photographs of Indian cricket clubs, even the loo is authentic, one of those with a chain flush!
The team here hasn’t missed a trick setting the scene so it’s no wonder this place wound up with its first Michelin star so soon after opening. We treated the family out to Gymkhana which gave mum a well-deserved break from cooking after Eid!
The Food: Actually let’s start with the drinks… Quite an impressive selection including non-alcoholic drinks. The first surprise: masala coke! I asked the barman if he would recommend. His answer : No, I’m European. Fair enough.
We settled on a traditional Nimbu Paani, made in a non-traditional way and served beautifully in a crystal glass.
Of course how could we resist lassis – we tasted them all. Alphonso mango lassi which wasn’t artificially sweetened as it often is. Salty lassi which was nice and a very well spiced masala lassi which had freshly smoked cumin seeds and delicate shavings of ginger within the rich yoghurt.
You could order your own starters and mains at Gymkana but it’s not the traditional way to eat in the subcontinent. So we shared out several plates and tried a bit of everything which is always my preference. Ever wondered what Michelin-starred chicken wings would taste like? The South Indian fried chicken wings exceeded our expectations. The chicken skin was delicately spiced and so crispy without being dense or greasy and the chicken was perfectly cooked. I’d pay good money to know the secret behind that batter!
The Haryali scallops with chickpeas were served elegantly within a shell. The scallops were a bit slippery which isn’t how we like them to be cooked. The sauce coating the scallops was the same as that used for the haryali sea bream at sister restaurant Trishna, but comparatively the scallops didn’t measure up.
I’d heard rave reviews about the kid goat keema. Now, usually minced goat would not be high on my list of preferred meats but I had to try it after all the recommendations and I was blown away. The depth of flavour from the fresh fenugreek was earthy but not overpowering to the goat. The addition of raw onion and a squeeze of lemon brought freshness and a slight acidity to a very rich dish.
The king prawns were served in a trio on a silver platter. The were presented simply but were plump and smokey, fresh from the tandoor. The prawns were served with a mellow red pepper chutney which balanced the smokiness perfectly.
For the main courses, we stuck with the idea of sharing plates. A monumental dish of ‘Lamb Nalli Barra’ which were two pieces of marrow and two lamb chops arrived looking fairly average but oh my goodness there was a flavour explosion in my mouth! The spices from the marinade had infused deep within the meat. The lamb pretty much fell off the bone it was exquisitely tender, unlike the chops too often served in Indian restaurants which can be chewy and tough. The dish is one of the pricier on the menu but you shouldn’t miss out. I was very special indeed.
We ordered a few curries to see if the Gymkhana chefs handle a balti as well as they do a tandoor. The Malabar jheenga (prawn) curry was nice but again not as good as the prawn curry served at Trishna which was mind-blowing.
The chicken butter masala was creamy and tangy from the fresh tomatoes used to make the curry base. The corn Kadi pakoda is one of my all time favourite punjabi vegetarian dishes and although the gravy met expectations, the actual deep-fried pakoda balls were quite dense.
The Rajasthani bhindi, or okra, was a sweet surprise. The okra was lightly fried in a crispy spiced batter. Traditionally okra is cooked in a curry so this was a clever innovation which was scrumptious and the bowlful of greens disappeared rather quickly!
Accompaniments of rice and bread baskets were ordered with the mains. The bread basket was interesting with different types of fresh tandoori naans. My favourite was the carrot and coriander naan purely for its novelty factor.
When it came to dessert time, I was left on my lonesome as everyone else was stuffed. As you know, I have a soft spot for Indian ice cream, otherwise known as kulfi. Upon asking, the waiter informed me that the saffron pistachio kulfi falooda is the most popular dessert on their menu. It arrived in regal crystalware with a little pot of warm saffron-infused milk to pour over the cold kulfi. As a pudding I felt it was too rich to be eaten by one person alone so I coaxed everyone into sharing mine. The aromatic saffron coated the entire palate and I loved the contrasting temperatures in the dish.
The Price: From the a la carte menu, you can expect to pay around £50 per head. There are different tasting menus between £60-70 and a vegetarian tasting menu for £50 for six courses. There’s a good value pre-theatre style set menu served in the early evening and at lunchtime where you will get 4 courses for £30.
The Verdict: If it’s good enough for Kevin Costner (who was sat next to us), then it’s good enough for me! Gymkhana exceeded expectations with its regal menu, sophisticated decor and gracious service. I’ll definitely be back… Soon!