Thursday, 24 October 2013

Gymkhana - It's curry Gym, but not as we know it - Oct 2013

Prepare to see a lot written about this place... This latest Mayfair big hitter (from the hand of Trisna founder Karam Sethi) is already a darling of, among others, Time Out, Fay Maschler and big Jay Rayner. The latter having managed to spectacularly annoy the frothing loons below the line in the Guardian by having the temerity to airily suggest that at £70 a head it was superb value for money. While there are very few who would dispute that you can get close to as good for a lot, lot less money, this wasn't deliberately a Guardianista baiting claim. Given the location on the same block as Mahiki, where clueless braying clods regularly compete to spend more of daddy's money than the other yahs on insane champagne and oh so accurately named cock-tails, it's not bad value at all, and it's a world of calm class away from the hoorays and their nightclub tuckshop Roc Lobsta.

There's something quite confidence inspiring about a short menu, though it's rarely seen in an Indian restaurant. You won't be pleased if you were desperately seeking your chicken / beef / lamb in a generic gloop, but then there aren't many places nearby that are so unreconstructed. It's a calmingly brief list that takes you by the hand, leads you to a comforting rattan Raj era chair and fetches you a gin and (matched) tonic before suggesting that you accede all thoughts of ordering and let Karam and his team decide.

We don't quite give them that leeway, but do grab what promises to be a seasonal standout on the gamey menu - the wild Muntjac biryani - as well as a host of smaller plates from the snacks and starters.

A minced kid goat and onion Methi Keema deeply steeped in fenugreek, pepper and other spices is sprinkled with shreds of deep fried potato, a flavoursome and texturally lip crinkling delight, genuinely one of the nicest things I've eaten in some time. After nailing the soft buttered rolls it was served with, we resorted to the serving spoon so desperately were we trying to scrape the Crown Derby pattern off the artfully mismatched dining plates.

Other small plates, from a similarly small menu, were more hit and miss. Wild mushroom and sweet potato Shikampuri kebabs were closer in taste and texture to falafel, not unpleasant, and raised from tedium by a thick girolle raita, but I wasn't fighting to claim the third puck. Venison keema naan on the other hand was exceptionally light and sweet.

Served showily with a thin crust dotted with nigella and pumpkin seeds, the pastry lid of the biryani cracked to release fragrant steam and soft, perfectly cooked insides. Morsels of braised deer were scattered throughout a subtle rice, like dark jewels in the sand. The only missed note (for me) was a pomegranate and mint raita too close to a sweet dessert yogurt in taste and texture. I'm in a minority of one here, my dining companion greedily scooped it solo from the bowl. For me a better accompaniment was a dark smokey aubergine Khati Meethi side, its seductive and silky textures inevitably will come back to haunt me in moments of abstinence.

Happy I got in there before the reviews, sad that it's unlikely to become a regular due to the, now inevitable, queues. Gymkhana stands out as one of my meals of the year so far and, if you can get a table, is a divinely decadent treat for an autumn supper. As a critical smash as well as the new favourite takeaway (yes, of course they do) to the Mayfair set, it's clear that they plan to be here for the longhaul. 

Gymkhana on Urbanspoon 

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