42 Albermale Street,
London, W1S 4JH
Tel. 020 3011 5900
Food type: Indian
Nearest tube: Green Park
So I had to pop in to London for another fitting in preparation of my wedding and needed a place for a quick lunch at short notice. Most Mayfair restaurants are fully booked at lunch given the business clientele and I wanted a place where there was a good chance of getting a table for one without any booking. Doing a quick search on the internet, Gymkhana fitted that bill, as even though they were fully booked for lunch, the restaurant reserves a couple of seats at the bar for walk-in customers to have a quick bite.
Gymkhana opened to much fan-fare and huge PR hype. It is run by the same owner of the very successful Trishna which has a Michelin star. Gymkhana was awarded a star themselves after less than a year from when they opened. While Trishna focuses mainly on seafood, Gymkhana’s main draw is the meat and tandoor cooking. Prices are as you would expect of Mayfair although the restaurant does an excellent value lunch menu with plenty of items from the ala carte on it for a fraction of the price.
I rare speak about decor of a restaurant because when I go out to dine, the main draw for me is the food. Yet, stepping into Gymkhana, the restaurant instantly transported me back home. Back during the colonial times, the British had their own sports club (often times cricket) with a club house attached to it. These club houses were exclusive to the British and served as a restaurant and more importantly a pub where they could get completely wasted without being seen by the locals. Today, many of these clubs are still around and are open to paying members.
While figuring out the menu and what life’s purpose was, some papads (essentially papadums) were brought to the table. To go with it were two chutneys – the ubiquitous mango chutney and a shrimp chutney. While the mango chutney was perfectly fine, I was more impressed with the shrimp chutney which had great complexity of flavour but was also very more-ish.
I started off with a duck egg bhurji which is their version of a scrambled egg. Creamy and velvety, there were nice big chunks of tender lobster interspersed within. The spicing of the egg was very gentle and at this point I was wondering whether spicing here had been toned down to suit the Mayfair crowd. On the side, an excellent malabar paratha. I have had my fair share of malabar paratha during my childhood and the version here ticked all the boxes for an outstanding one – crispy exterior and a soft but chewy interior.
Next, I had their signature kid goat methi keema with the addition of beeja (brains). My waiter recommended for it to be mixed into the curry to give it a creamier texture I went along with his suggestion. Now in contrast to the egg starter, the spicing here was very bold and I loved it. There was also some birds eye chilli on the side in case you needed more heat. Even though the spicing level was fine as it, I am a glutton of punishment and had the whole chilli with the curry. To accompany the dish were some pao which were similar to parker house rolls. Again these rolls are something I grew up eating as a kid and they were excellent.
To be honest, by this point I had eaten enough and should have moved on to pudding. But I did not want to miss out on trying at least one meat/tandoor-cooked dish. After consulting with my helpful waiter (who has been wonderful throughout the meal), I plumped for some lamb. On a silver platter were two huge lamb chops and two lamb shanks with a light onion salad on the side. I loved these. The lamb had excellent spicing (not heat, but complexity of spicing) and a hint of smokiness which came through after being cooked on the tandoor. More importantly, the lamb chops were kept pink and juicy. If that wasn’t enough, they threw in some sag paneer, dhal and roti. Food overload!
Somehow, I still managed dessert. A classic Ras Malai was given a twist with a raspberry fennel chutney. The portion was very dainty but I was fine with that after the amount of food I had consumed prior to this. The sweetness was well controlled – I often fine that Indian desserts are overly sweet as this is the general preference of Indian people. It was fine, if unspectacular.
Prior to my visit to Gymkhana, I was a bit skeptical as to whether this was yet another Michelin starred Indian restaurant which would disappoint. Michelin’s decision of which Indian restaurant deserves a star is as consistent as their ability to make an apple tart. I was very impressed with the spicing here – the level and complexity of spicing were right up my alley. For a restaurant which prides itself with their meat/ tandoor cooking, the lamb dish I tried certainly shows why. Desserts, like many Indian restaurants is a bit of an afterthought. It was pleasant, but merely that. I would happily come back to Gymkhana to try a wider variety of dishes.