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Cookery Quote
We should all be eating less meat and better meat
Never eat anything bigger than your head
Whenever you see crossed chives you are in trouble

Something old, something new: Café Spice and Gymkhana

Over the years Cyrus Todiwala has set the gold standard for Indian restaurants in London. For decades he has been promoting authentic dishes from the Indian regions and gradually he has been joined by a handful of restaurants with similar ambitions - Amaya, Tamarind, Benares, Rasoi, Chor Bizarre... But sophisticated Indian food is still the exception rather than the rule. Recently a newcomer – Gymkhana – was voted the best restaurant in Britain in the National Restaurant Awards, leaving a long list of famous names trailing in its wake. One thing is for sure, Gymkhana is not really the best restaurant in the country (that ranking is a by-product of their voting system), but it is a very fine restaurant indeed.

One of the defining elements of Todiwala’s menu is the due respect given to the provenance of the ingredients used. Vindaloo is made with British Lop Pork; venison tikka aflatoon uses venison from the Denham estate; potato dishes are made with heritage potatoes. At his rather hard to find restaurant in the “Hilton London Heathrow Airport Terminal 5” – Mr Todiwala’s Kitchen – he is cooking up a storm. Real flavours and eager friendly service. Dhansaak that is made with lentils rather than tinned pineapple. A stunning prawn and scallop balchao. Very good breads. A subtle vindalho, chilli hot, but with every nuance of the pork coming through. If you find yourself in West London and close to the airport Mr T’s Kitchen is worth a visit, if only because truly sophisticated Indian food is something of a rarity.

First of all there was Trishna in Mumbai, a restaurant famous for pepper crab. Then Trishna came to London and once again the quality of the ingredients

were paramount. The most recent link in the chain is Gymkhana which Karam Sethi opened on Albemarle Street in 2013. Since then it has boomed, long waiting lists, tables harder to get hold of than knighthoods. It’s a delightful restaurant the décor is a gentle parody of the Raj – the stuffed head of a wild pig that graces the ground floor is said to have come from the Maharaja of Jaipur. The cooking is very sophisticated here, stand out dishes include the “duck egg bhurji, lobster, Malabar paratha” – a rich, carefully spiced dish of scrambled egg with chunks of lobster and buttery paratha. Very good. Gymkhana is also to be congratulated for not steering away from offal, there is a magnificent “kid goat methi korma, salli and pao” with optional brains! Good prawn dishes, and a tandoori guineafowl dish that may be the only time anyone has ever made sense of that dullest of dull birds the guineafowl.

Neither of these restaurants is cheap. In fact they probably both qualify as expensive (splurging at Mr T’s will work out at £50 a head, while a similar visit to Gymkhana is probably nearer £60 per person). These restaurants are very important because of what they are – genuine centres of excellence.

Mr Todiwala’s Kitchen, Mezzanine Floor, Hilton London Heathrow Airport Terminal 5 Poyle Road, Colnbrook, Berkshire SL3 0FF (01753 766482)

Gymkhana42 Albemarle St, London W1S 4JH, (020 3011 5900)

Charles Campion - Monday 11th August 2014

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