Or is it curry favour? What is curry favour anyway? Lending a buddy your Balti dishes? Well, apparently the idiom has an etymological base (or episteme) rooted in horse rubbing and a vain donkey. Excuse me? In layman’s terms what this means is that the expression “curry favour” comes from a verb (culinary linguistics, French of course) that meant “to prepare” which has the same root as “curry combing” a horse. Also the word favour is from Favvel, a fictional false donkey prophet and now I just know you’re all thinking yep, he’s finally lost the plot again. Read all about it!
So on matters Gallic and spice we arrive neatly at the kitschly splendid palace of La Porte des Indes, a restaurant of quite Titanic proportions in a tardis fashion, nestled in a Mayfair warren. Quite why I’d never heard of this sumptuous Southern Indian French Creole culinary Mecca (and, breathe) is a mystery, although from the outside you wouldn’t guess at what lies beyond the doors. It’s bold, overstated, colourful and tropical all at once; a sort of Keralan equivalent of a tiki bar if you like, although draws it’s influence from Pondicherry, a former French trading quarter. Think Quaglino’s meets Mahiki. I know, sounds wild and frankly it is. It’s all a matter of personal taste, however the food is likely to appeal to most if not all palates, being freshly prepared, carefully sourced, innovative and beautifully presented.
We were there not only to graze but to spectate as the head chef and proprietor Mehernosh Mody demonstrated some of the flair that has helped put La Porte des Indes on the map. He cooked and chatted away at length, taking us on a whirlwind tour of his particular style of Indian cookery, whipping up such delights as Chard and water chestnut pakora, Bombay potatoes, and Crevette Assadh, the latter being a fine number of prawns simmered in coconut milk, curry leaves and splinters of green mango amongst other aromatic ingredients. The warming sweet scents drifted out across high ceilings and as the specially selected wine flowed, so too did the conversation, regarding such matters as how to source, store and prepare spices, what ingredients to pair with which grape, the cultural influences of family on cookery and restaurants, and eventually on to the matter of Indian game cookery, which intrigues me. It’s something about the idea of Persians and Moghuls with scabbards and early day rifles, taking pot shots at wild fowl. I can picture Maharajas of Jaipur on horseback (I have no idea what any of this means, just the names sound so bloody exotic) like the fellows depicted on richly coloured paintings and tapestries, curly moustachioed, turban clad and galavanting across the plains in hot pursuit of a specially imported grouse from the lowlands of Bonnie Scotland. I really ought to get out more. Somehow I love the idea of game being cooked by Indian chefs – whether it be rabbit slowly braised in deep rich spices and packed with pickle, or tamarind roasted duck or grouse glazed with anise, cloves and cardamom oh I don’t know I’m making it up but you get the picture don’t you? Good. Mehernosh mentioned a book he had on his shelf some years back featuring a medley of dishes cooked by (or for) a certain Maharajah and based on the birds he had exported and hunted for his sport. I fully intend to track this book down and start experimenting. The journey from Borough Market to Brick Lane is not a short one alas.
In all seriousness, Indian food lovers should certainly head to La Porte Des Indes at least once in their lives. For some it has become an institution. On account of the sheer scale, the smart sections and partitions, genial service and highly inventive cocktails, it certainly makes for good entertaining. What stands out about the menu is that in spite of the wide selection, there is no evidence of the kitchen over-stretching itself, perhaps largely on account of the eight chefs staffing it. Whilst flavours are in abundance, each dish is simple enough in essence. Highlights for me included Kerala Meen curry, tender monkfish simmered in coconut, chillies, coriander, roasted spices and smoked tamarind, also the vegetarian Thali selection – very imaginative; and finally dessert (below) a beautiful array of sweet treats, the chocolate samosa being my favourite. For any of you poor souls unable to make it to London, fear not. There is a La Porte Des Indes cookery book available on Amazon. Happy reading / drooling / cooking!
Enquiries and bookings here.