La Porte des Indes
The dated exterior of La Porte des Indes (meaning “Gateway to India”) offers no sign of the fantastical world hidden within. The interior is a lavish landscape of strange artefacts, precious antiques, colourful furnishings and tropical plants. A 40ft waterfall adds to the splendour, alongside a marble staircase and ceiling fabrics. The staff, dressed in red and gold, gracefully greet and serve diners with regal elegance. The combined effect is nothing short of spectacular: a visual explosion of exotic, unforgettable wonder.
The restaurant has been enthralling diners since 1996 and is now one of three global outposts. Showcasing French-influenced cuisine from the days of colonisation, the menu’s Gallic touches are evident: seared scallops, creole sauces and even cassoulet. Indeed, most of the dishes we sampled were subtly spiced, providing a refined take on Indian favourites.
Sadly, this approach didn’t quite work for our starters. Demoiselles de Pondichéry (scallops in a saffron sauce) looked stunning but the mild sauce was undetectable over the char of the scallop. Soft shell Pepper Crabs were coated in a crisp, under-seasoned batter and the accompanying green mango and ginger dip was bland.
For mains, we opted for tasting platters from the set lunch menu: Curry and Tandoor and Tandoori Mixed Grill. Both included Paneer Tikka and a Barra Lamb Chop, plus portions of saffron-flavoured rice and warm naan bread. The tangy cheese wedges didn’t disappoint – although we couldn’t detect the mint stuffing listed on the menu – and the meat was flavoursome but overcooked. This was a recurring problem with the tandoor-roasted dishes: Tandoori Jhinga, a king prawn marinated with whole spices; Achari Macchi, a spiced salmon steak; and Tandoori Murgh, a fragrant chicken thigh.
Punjabi Chole (stewed chickpeas and potatoes with tamarind and garam masala) was sweet and smoky, cutting through the heat of a tasty Dhaba Murgh (a tomato and chilli chicken curry) and Mumbai Aloo (commonly known as “Bombay Potato”).
The wow-factor missing from our mains was over-delivered in an awesome, heart-in-mouth display of coffee pyrotechnics. Intrigued by the Flambé Coffee section of the dessert menu, we opted for a Café Du Pondicherry, made at our table with Grand Marnier, orange peel, brown sugar and coffee. Our waiter deftly created soaring flames, topping a foot in height. The spectacle lasted for five minutes and resulted in a delicious concoction served in a sugar-encrusted glass.
Desserts added to our pleasure: a Goan cake (Bebinca) and a French Chocolate Fondant. The cake looked and tasted like layered crêpes, flavoured with a nutmeg and sugar rub, and the scrumptious Fondant was wickedly gooey in the centre. A creamy Madagascan Bourbon Vanilla Bean Ice-Cream complemented both treats.
La Porte des Indes promised to transport us to another world and it dutifully delivered. Leaving the venue without having a passport stamped seemed incredibly odd and anyone searching for a glimpse of a mystical Shangri La before they die would be wise to stop here. The food may be far from divine, but the overall experience was incredible.
Photos: Erol Birsen
La Porte des Indes: 49/60
To book a table at La Porte des Indes, 32 Bryanston Street, London, W1H 7EG, call 0207 224 0055 or visit here.