REVIEW: Gymkhana, Albemarle Street, Mayfair

Brass edged tables, rattan chairs and walls adorned with prints and medals of sporting champions from the popular gymkhana clubs that once made up colonial Indian society. It reflects the once lavish lifestyles of the British raj – walking in to Gymkhana was like taking a step back in time. It was light and airy upstairs, but dark – to the point almost becoming seedy downstairs. It’s the trend at the moment you see, to not be able to see your food – or the person opposite (which could be a godsend), depending how you see it. The brains behind this new restaurant is Karam Sethi who also owns Michelin Starred restaurant, Trishna.Since the restaurant opened it has been receiving only praise from critics across the board. Fay Maschler gave it 5/5 – a score she’s so far only dished out to four other restaurants. Cheese & Biscuits (blogger who became critic) gave the restaurant a whopping 9/10 – hailing it as one of London’s best Indian restaurants. The restaurant manager also told me they are currently fully booked for the weeks ahead, once I heard this I had to be quick on my toes and managed to bag a table for a shockingly early dinner at 6:15pm – arriving at a restaurant sober is a new experience for me.

We went for the very competitively priced early evening menu, four courses for £25 (or £45 with wine pairings). Prices from the a la carte are expensive so it’s a great way to try the food and get a taste of it all without having to speak to after your card gets declined – and this is all providing you can get here before 6/6:30. To start we had a selection of spiced popadoms, with mouth-watering good chutney, one which contained fish – very pungent but rather delicious.

Our first course of the evening was potato chat with chickpeas, tamarind and sev (crunchy noodle like pieces made from chickpeas flour paste and heavily seasoned with spices). Chat for me at the moment is one of my favourite dishes, it’s healthy-ish, fresh, spicy and full of flavours – very satisfying. Gymkhana make this dish beautifully and it’s presented on some lovely crockery. For me chat should be eaten at a street food stall, and lots of it – it almost loses its appeal to me so neatly presented here.

Goan cafreal bream arrived, expertly cooked, slightly charred from its visit to the sigri grill and thickly covered in its green spicy marinade. The dish was tiny, but when you see what awaits you further down your meal you’ll understand why. A side of tomato kachumber (tomato, onion and cucumber salad tossed with lemon juice) was on hand to compliment the fish nicely. A good dish, but by no means outstanding.

After I experienced the best paneer tikka in my life at Trishna I was interested to try out this variant – which turned out to be nearly exactly the same. The paneer for me didn’t quite have the smokey strength of Trishna but the flavour was still there – split in two and filled with a fragrant sauce then sandwiched back together before visiting that all important grill. Some cashew nuts and sweet corn chat are simple accompaniments, but very affective.

If I had to pick out the best dish of out night it would have to be the Butter chicken masala. Sounding and looking very similar to the sort of dish you may expect from a British curry house, a spoonful of the heavenly sauce and I could only wish my local delivery was cooking things up this good. The chicken was full flavored and juicy, the sauce was at the same time, rich, decadent, slightly sweet and very fragrant. The dish does feel likes its catering for the British palate – and why not, we are in the UK after all – especially if this means we get to eat food like this.

A main course of wild mushroom pilau arrived at the table with a smell so divine describing it isn’t easy. It had such a rich, fragrant, earthy smell – from a distance its aroma could have been easily mistaken for summer truffles (which I love). Every piece of rice was separated and moist – only slightly fluffy but with a strong dense texture. The mushrooms were silky smooth like an oyster – everything was textured and had an amazing flavour, I was really astounded. If I ever needed to become a vegetarian this would be my dish of choice.

Main courses were accompanied by an extra helping of fluffy basmati rice, delicious wild mustard baby potatoes, a naan, paratha and a gorgeous dal maharani (lentil based dish from the Punjab region of India). Eating everything was near impossible, and I’ve got a huge appetite. Wine matching was also both very good value and all of the wines were of excellent quality – my only complaint would be the woman who was serving it. The menu tells me to expect a white wine from Rueda in Spain, most sommeliers would give a short sentence of what to expect, minerality, peachy, dry but instead I just get told what it says on the menu right in front of me – and I can read.

The dessert of Jaggery caramel custard was effectively a creme caramel dessert but with an intense burnt sugar/molasses taste to it – one of those things that grows on you with every bite. It’s not the not complicated dessert, nor did i want to want one after the meal but for me it was unexciting for such a lavish meal and accomplished chef.

Mango kheer (kheer being one of my favourite desserts) is one of the greatest ways to end a meal. A little similar to rice pudding, its thick and gloopy, filling and full of flavour. Here the mango adds such freshness and flavour while the underlying spices add a sort of refreshingness to it all. It’s another relatively easy dish to make but one which is satisfying every time and harder to execute well then you may think.

Would I go back to Gymkhana, yes. For its early evening menu its a real steal but paying for prices on the a la carte that’s another matter. Food is very good and highly recommendable but I don’t think it’s quite at the Michelin level people have been speculating since its opening, though maybe in time. With Trishna really only round the corner Gymkhana hasn’t yet, managed to sway me away from it, but that doesn’t mean I’m not ruling it out.


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