Restaurants are incredibly subjective – one persons gastronomic delight is anothers culinary car crash. Michelin is the gold standard, the World’s 50 Best is highly respected and the Good Food Guide is normally reliable. The latest to be updated is Restaurant magazine’s ‘Top 100 UK Restaurants’, I happily scanned through, agreeing with many of the choices until I got right to the top – Gymkhana?! An upmarket Indian which is the cheaper off-spring of Trishna? Aware that it would be inundated with desperate foodies (like myself) I quickly snagged a lunchtime reservation and went to see what the fuss is all about.
A quick stroll from Green Park tube, it’s as central as central gets. The smart exterior gives way to a lovely, thoughtfully designed interior. It’s supposed to evoke the victorian sporting clubs of India and it does a remarkably good job. There’s taxidermy on the walls, framed shooting manuals and Punch prints – infinitely better than the usual Indian chintz. The menu is extensive and there are several set options available – in the interests of having as many of their greatest hits as possible we went with their six course taster, a snip at £55.
While we waited for our starters some gorgeous poppadums arrived in three miniature varieties. The mango chutney was lovely and I particularly liked the thick chilli sauce. It set the scene for the whole meal – this is Indian, but done with a style, flair and precision that you’ve never seen before.
Potato Chat, Chickpeas, Tamarind, Sev
The first proper course was very nice – a whole blend of textures, deftly spiced and served with a cooling yoghurt. Simple ingredients but cooked in three or four different ways – a very promising start.
Lasooni Wild Tiger Prawns, Red Pepper Chutney
I normally avoid seafood at Indian restaurants on principle – it’s almost universally a disaster. Thankfully these are the exceptions that prove my rule, truly enormous prawns, perfecly cooked and with a heavenly sauce – silky smooth and with a delicate heat.
Gilafi Quail Seekh Kebab, Pickled Green Chilli Chutney
Kasoori Chicken Tikka, Sprouting Moong Kachumber
Gymkhana have a whole section of their menu dedicated to game and this was our first taste. Banish all thoughts of the dry, non-descript kebabs found in your local tandoori. This was rich, tender and very juicy. The flavour of the bird blending effortlessly with spice and nicely hot chutney.
The chicken was equally good, very moist and with a nice char. The kachumber relish added some clever crunch and sharpness.
Kid Goat Methi Keema, Salli, Pao
Minced goat with buns – this deceptively simple take on a popular streetfood was heavenly – especially with the addition of creamy gelatinous brains. Feed your inner zombie!
Suckling Pig Vindaloo
Malabar Jheenga Curry
served with Dal Maharani, Wild Mustard Baby Potatoes – Bread Basket and Basmati Rice
Finally we arrive at the main course! The vindaloo is nothing like the macho spice off you might expect, it harks back to the original dish with it’s strong Portuguese influence and sharp vinegary tang. The pork was wonderfully tender and sweet. The Jheenga curry is another southern delicacy, stuffed full of prawns and expertly spiced. The sides were equally good – a lovely dal, beautiful little potatoes and some really good naans and parathas.
Banana and Pecan Kheer
Saffron Pistachio Kulfi Falooda
The only slightly bum note of the meal were the desserts – it’s not an Indian strongpoint and both left me slightly underwhelmed. The saffron ice cream and jelly was nice, but there was a little too much cardamom and the like to really make it work for me. The Kheer is a kind of cold rice-pudding, nice in a way, but more a breakfast item than a proper pudding. Some simple fruit sorbets would have been a much nicer way to finish! After a coffee two little chocolate starwberry crunches finished the meal – a nice touch.
The desserts aside – it’s a real masterclass. It’s authentic, traditional Indian food expertly cooked with great ingredients. There’s so much passion, precision and enthusiasm in every plate that you can’t help smile. I’m not sure if it’s the best restaurant in the UK, but it’s a really wonderful experience and one that ends up being uniquely English. Magnificent – just head somewhere else for pudding!