“ Address: 32 Bryanston Street / London W1H 7EG / United Kingdom / Tel: +44 20 7224 0055 „
La Porte Des Indes is an Indian with a difference. Not only is it more expensive that your local curry house, but it prides itself in French inspired Indian cuisine from Pondicherry and the surrounds in the South East of India. The French stayed in this part of India until the fifties - about seven years after independence. This means there are dishes with a difference on this menu, the emphasis is on fine dining rather than a casual Friday night 'beer and curry' crowd. My boyfriend had been given some Christmas money from his father and had decided that he wanted to return to this restaurant which he had last visited a few years before. We had a booking for 7pm on a Sunday night, as the restaurant is open seven days a week.
We were actually a bit early when we arrived, the restaurant being only a couple of minutes walk from Marble Arch tube station. Knowing there was a bar inside we went in anyway, but they took our coats and were able to seat us at a table immediately. First impressions were of excellent service and the most amazing Indian restaurant interior I have ever seen! The restaurant is on two floors with a wall fountain in the middle and lots of palm trees growing up from the basement level to the ground level. There is very much a 'colonial conservatory' theme about the décor, with its glass domed roof. Whilst the cushions, tablecloth and napkins were printed in an orange and black design on white that wasn't to my personal taste, it did fit in with the whole concept.
We were first presented with the cocktail and drinks list, which offered juices, spirits, beers and wines by the glass. We both decided to go for 'Super Juices' to start at the slightly prices charge of £6.90. Mine was the Vitamin C juice which contained orange, lime, passion fruit, mango and lemongrass. It was so full of healthy goodness it gave me a bit of a headache! Afterwards the waiter brought the food menus and wine list. There is a separate menu for vegetarians but it seems that non meat dishes are not always available on the main menu, which is a shame as you don't have to be a vegetarian to enjoy non-meat dishes - after all if you go to India most of the authentic dishes are vegetarian. Some dishes are marked at Medium Hot, Hot or Very Hot, or containing nuts. Unmarked dishes are considered to not be particularly hot or spicy (or nutty). The wine list separates wines not just into colour but into types such as dry and refreshing or full bodied or complex. I like this touch, you then don't need to be a sommelier to work out the best wine to have! The wines start at about £20 a bottle, but there is a Prestige List if you are pushing the boat out and fancy a £1700 Chateux Petrus. We picked a mid range Sancerre and it was delicious.
As a veggie I had a good sized menu to peruse and decided on the Tandoori Paneer Kebabs which were marinated (in garlic and caramelised onion) pieces of Indian cottage cheese, stuffed with a mint and mango relish and char-grilled. It didn't arrive how I expected, the mint and mango were on the side and not dissimilar to the mango chutney and mint yoghurts that you get in 'regular' Indian restaurants. It didn't seem to be char-grilled, just lightly grilled but whatever way you looked at it, the portion size was generous (three 'sandwiches' or six pieces), and they were very tasty. My other half had a mixed platter starter that contained small samples of scallop, crab, lamb, chicken and aubergine dishes. He thought this delicious and really enjoyed it also. Both dishes were beautifully presented, so full marks for the starters from our table.
For the main my partner's original choice of seabass was off the menu, but the waiter recommended Black Cod, which was marinated and grilled in banana leaves. He tried this and thought it excellent, but found the portion of two small pieces of fish a bit unsubstantial. Especially when you consider it was £23. I chose Rougail d' Aubergine, which was crushed aubergine with ginger and chilli and lime, a regional speciality. It looked a bit like a dhal when it arrived, a puree, and had 1 spice mark indicating it was fairly hot. Now I am fairly used to eating spicy foods but I really struggled with this. If I eat a dish heavily laced with chillies I usually find my ears ache by the time I have finished the dish (is this just me?!), with this my ears ached after just a few mouthfuls. I regularly eat chilli based dishes and would normally eat dhansak strength without any trouble at a high street Indian restaurant, and this was a step up from that. My boyfriend also found it very hot. When the waiter came round to ask how everything was, we mentioned that this seemed very hot and he offered me some sweet sauce to go with it, but I didn't fancy that. We decided that a small pot of yoghurt would help, but to be honest by that time I was more or less done with it. It was getting cold and I had eaten a large starter, however had it been more of a heat that I expected I think I would have eaten more. Portion size wise it was about the size of a regular curry house dish. Again all food was served elegantly and our saffron rice was lovely. One portion was enough for two. I would certainly not consider attempting a 2 or 3 strength dish here.
I am not a big dessert fan and we debated on this one, but after our disappointment on the main courses decided to treat ourselves as the dessert menu was a little different from your 'typical' Indian. The sorbets and ice creams included interesting flavour mixes - none of your orange or lemon sorbets or bland ice cream in 'a free plastic toy' that most Indian restaurants offer! I had been thinking towards the sorbets to cleanse my poor palette but couldn't decide which flavour to have - pomegranate or passion fruit were the two most appealing options. I decided to have the chocolate fondant and my other half the dark chocolate mousse. Desserts were about £6.50-7.50 each. I had never had a fondant before, I have just watched them being made on cookery shows, but by all accounts mine was made perfectly - crunchy top and warm, thick runny chocolate in the middle - divine! It was served with Madagascar Bourbon vanilla bean ice cream (no regular vanilla here), which had a really strong flavour. It was only a small pot but would have been possibly too rich to have any larger. I would like to have been able to test this theory though... I thought the mousse was lovely also, but my boyfriend thought it had too many egg whites in it (obviously must stop watching too many cookery shows).
After the initial enquiry as to how our mains were, the waiting staff (albeit immaculately turned out) seemed to keep their distance from us and I thought that a bit poor in this environment. The restaurant was only half full, so service was prompt and we were there about 2.5 hours all in all (mainly because it took me ages to finish my wine after eating the sweet dessert). At the end of the evening I was handed my coat rather than helped into it. I don't expect to be treated like the Queen, but if my local curry house can help me on with my coat when I leave, then a restaurant of this standard should do it as a matter of course. There is a jungle themed bar in the bottom floor, and beyond this were the toilets. The communal sink area was smart and clean with the option of a hand drier or a hamper of soft guest towels if you prefer. The toilet cubicles themselves were clean and had plenty of toilet paper but that is about it, they were a bit ordinary and after the attention to detail in the décor of the main restaurant I expected something a bit more.
All in all, the bill, including 12.5% discretionary service, came to about £140 for two. I would never have spent this money on a meal if I had been paying, and I do think it was a bit over-priced. Discounting the fact that we were disappointed by our mains, I would like to try this restaurant again for a special occasion (providing someone else paid!) as the menu and concept was interesting with lots of choice. Recommended for those special occasions when someone else is picking up the bill!