Gymkhana (April 2014)

The Brits have always loved curry and it is no surprise how pervasive the Indian restaurant is within British dining culture. Into the fray comes Gymkhana, open for around six months, but visited by me and two friends for the first time last week. It is an undoubted success and there is every reason to believe it will remain a permanent fixture of the London dining scene. Given that the team behind Marylebone’s Trishna are also backing Gymkhana, this in itself is a strong endorsement. The name of the restaurant refers to those clubs set up in India during colonial times by the British Raj, locations where members of high society came to socialise, dine, drink and play sport. With the exception of the latter pastime, this is the reason for going to Gymkhana. There is inevitably a colonial-style feel to the décor, particularly the paintings/ posters on the wall. We were led downstairs, a spacious room, filled with leather sofas and banquettes. There are also two private dining rooms, a useful feature to be aware of. Don’t be put off by the dark lighting downstairs, one soon gets used to it, and the effect is to create a certain intimacy. The main reason for going, of course, is the food and Gymkhana absolutely excelled itself in this respect. Diners can benefit from a conventional a la carte, but also specific game and vegetarian menus, as well as more extensive tasting menus (again available in a variety of formats). We opted for the set lunch menu, comprising a choice of four starters and four mains, priced at an amazingly competitive £20 (or an additional £5 for a dessert to be included too). Two of us went for the dosa (an Indian-style pancake) filled with duck, while I chose the duck egg bhurji (somewhat akin to scrambled egg) featuring lobster and chilli. The flavours were complex but hugely satisfying, the dishes light and well-balanced. We were similarly delighted with our mains, kid goat keema (with optional brains – which we declined, hangover being the excuse) and a tandoori guinea fowl breast. The same observations made for the starters would certainly apply here too. These dishes were also accompanied by a generous quantity of rice and bread as well as two vegetable sides, a lovely spinach and also a daal (this being probably the relative low point). The wine list is a further delight, albeit more heavy on the wallet. It is more original than many in comparable restaurants and we were opted for Ernie Loosen’s Eroica Riesling from Washington State, a personal favourite of mine. The meal concluded with coffees, served in quaint British china cups, another nice nod to the colonial era. In conclusion, I liked Gymkhana so much that I made another booking for a lunch later this month almost as soon as I had returned to the office. Praise deserved.