La Porte des Indes: Appearances can be deceptive (March 2016)

Most people think of curry as being a uniquely British institution and few probably even know that the French once occupied parts of India. The somewhat pretentiously named La Porte des Indes takes its name from France’s colonial heritage in the region, but there is nothing remotely French about the restaurant. Moreover, if you weren’t even looking for La Porte des Indes, you might easily walk by it, the place being located in a fairly nondescript building on a slightly shabby side street near Marble Arch. Yet walk inside and diners cannot help but be amazed by the sheer size of the place, room after room open up, there is a large water feature and no shortage of palm trees and other greenery. I first discovered La Porte about a decade ago by chance and had not visited in around three years, but recalled favourably their Sunday buffet (of which more in a moment) and hence booked a table for a recent family event, our group comprising nine diners. Things began inauspiciously even prior to going to the restaurant. Despite having booked close to two months’ prior, a receptionist from La Porte had the audacity to call me up just three days before our meal to suggest that not only did they want to amend the time of our booking but also jack up the price of the meal (it being Mother’s Day). I was willing reluctantly to concede the latter, but held my ground on the former, and the whole conversation left a notable bad taste in my mouth. Things did not approve on arrival. Despite the large flurry of serving staff, no-one really seemed to know what they were doing. It took around 10 minutes just to get a jug of tap water for the table and a further wait for our wine. Two bottles between six adults did not seem an unreasonable request, yet for some reason our server brought us just two glasses (rather than bottles) and seemed thoroughly confused and somewhat put-out when I requested said two bottles. At least things improved from then on. The concept on a Sunday is simple: eat all you can for a set fee. Despite a buffet format, the quality of the food was generally very high across starters, mains and desserts. We particularly rated some of the street food starters, and a little basket of highly flavoured chickpeas with a tamarind topping was one stand-out example. Mains covered a broad range, from the predictable and slightly bland (tikka masala) to the much more original (Goan minced lamb curry with egg). Vegetarians were also well served throughout and some of the dishes here also showed initiative, particularly the curried corn main. The wine (an Australian Riesling) was also pretty decent when it arrived. Furthermore, at no stage did we feel rushed (arguably, the less interaction with the staff, the better) and the children also loved the additional services provided – free of charge – such as face-painting and sugared animal creations. It’s certainly an experience coming here; a pretty good one at that, which could be an excellent one with a bit more work.