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La Porte des Indes
October 13, 2014
Literally translating as ‘Gateway to India’, La Porte des Indes very much lives up to its name. The restaurant, which has been going since 1996, may be housed in an old Edwardian ballroom just off of Marble Arch, but as soon as you enter, you feel you have stepped into a exotic oasis, complete with intricately carved wood artefacts and design features, colourful plants and flowers, a jungle-themed bar and it’s very own ‘waterfall’ – a 40ft water feature at the centre of the restaurant.
The setting is unique and so is the food, offering far more than your average Chicken Tikka Masala. Again, the key is in the name. Diners can experience the little-known Gallic-influenced Indian fusion cuisine of the former 19th century French colony of Pondicherry (now Puducherry), sometimes referred to as the ‘Riviera of the East’ and recently immortalised on the Big Screen with Ang Lee’s film adaption of Life of Pi.
Mehernosh Mody, Executive Chef at La Porte des Indes, and his wife Sherin spent months researching the restaurant’s dishes in the region, encouraging locals to part with their beloved family recipes, returning with a plethora of recipes varying from the very French to Tamil and Creole. As curry enthusiasts know, ‘curry’ is a British invention and every corner of the sub-continent boasts its own cuisine. In Pondicherry’s case adding in the European influences makes the cuisine a particularly interesting gastronomic mix.
La Porte des Indes‘ menu is as vast as its surroundings. The best way to sample the specialities is by opting for the Menu Maison, a selection of starters, mains and desserts, from £36 depending on what you order. The wine list is pretty comprehensive too, including a number of wines from India, including a Chenin Blanc from Sula Vineyards in Nashik, which we opted for. Indian wine is a bit of a novelty and it proved to be crisp, light and refreshing – a perfect accompaniment to the cuisine.
Hearty appetites are recommended for this menu as we found out, with platters of invitingly presented bite size starters and steaming pots of curries arriving for the mains. We particularly enjoyed the chicken tikkas marinated with cream cheese and green peppercorns to start, as well as the crunchy chard pakoras with Bengal gram flour, green chillies, coriander, turmeric and caraway seeds – onion bajee-like in texture and packed with flavour. Parsee fish – sole cooked in a banana leaf with mint and coriander, was light and delicate in flavour, but the scallops, were disappointing and had a slightly unpleasant aftertaste. Poppadums, roasted or fried, came with delicious accompaniments of chilli and lime, mango and aubergine with cardamom.
None of the main curries were overly spicy, but all were full of flavour and served with saffron Kesaria Pillav Rice. Barra Lamb Chops were beautifully cooked and served with a mint sauce and the Poulet Rouge chicken curry, marinated in yoghurt and red spices, ticks all the boxes for those who love their curries creamy and not too hot. One of the highlights was the Rougail d’ Aubergine, a speciality of Pondicherry with smoked crushed aubergine, chilli, ginger and green lime.
With Indian restaurants ten a penny in London, a multicultural capital, it was great to experience a lesser-known cuisine from a historic corner of the sub-continent. And the décor and surroundings only make the experience more enjoyable.