Restaurant review: Gymkhana, 42 Albemarle Street, London

 

Five years ago, Trishna opened near Baker Street specialising in upmarket (and expensive) Indian cuisine. It was the brainchild of Karam Sethi and his brother Jyotin, both born in London, and specialised in the cooking of south-west India. The memory of its Isle of Shuna mussels and its coastal lamb curry has remained with me ever since, and I wasn't surprised when the place picked up a Michelin star last October.

So when I learnt Sethi had a new place in Mayfair, I seized my wife's hand, hailed a cab and dashed there on the day it opened. The new place is called Gymkhana, a name that could lend itself to bad-taste jokes about horsemeat and pony curry. But the word is, appropriately for such a London-Delhi operator, Anglo-Indian. It originally meant 'a place of assembly', then mutated into the Hindi word gendkhana, meaning 'ball-house' or 'racket-court', which became mixed into the word gymnasium. During the Raj, a gymkhana club meant 'gentlemen's club'.

And very clubby it is, too. Marble tables, dark wood booths, Hades-hued mahogany with oxblood leather panels, serious mirrors, globe lamps, ceiling fans, nicotine-hued, rag-rolled walls. It's Raj minimalism, if that is, indeed, a thing. One's first impression, however, is of gloom. The lighting is so penumbral, subdued and melancholy, you feel like weeping when you're hardly through the door. And when you've settled into your booth, you can't read the menu. This is a beautifully designed piece of graphic art in shiny plastic, but the low lighting renders it fatally indistinct.

Downstairs there's a second dining room and a cosy bar with a nice, speakeasy feel. On the wall are Punch cartoons and late-Victorian prints of pig-sticking and related Raj amusements. Karam Sethi used to see such things, along with billiards and polo matches, when visiting his folks in New Delhi as a child. I can imagine it being a major draw on autumn and winter nights.

The cocktails have been outsourced to drinks specialists Fluid Movement, which also owns the Worship Street Whistling Shop. Angie's Ooty Town Gimlet featured Old Raj gin with rosewater cordial, crystallised rose petals and a dangling (genuine) rosebud; it gives a sweet, rosy glow. Quinine Sour is a re-imagined gin and tonic, with Tanqueray, 'tonic syrup', ginger, lemon, egg white and a curry leaf; wonderfully clean-tasting, it leaves you aching for more.

Instead of starters, mains and puddings they offer seven courses: the Gymkhana bar, nashta (breakfast) dishes, kebabs and tikkas, game and chops (there's a striking array of game – quail, grouse, guinea fowl, roe and muntjac deer), curry and biryani, sabzi (side dishes) and puddings. A trio of poppadoms, sorry, 'papads', flavoured with cassava, lentil and potato, came with a fabulous tomato-and-shrimp chutney. Chettinad duck, minced with garlic and black pepper, was served inside a tent of dosa pancake like a wildly sophisticated samosa; while Keralan moilee mussels (presumably sourced somewhere nearer than Kerala) occupied a rich bath of coconut milk, mustard seed, onion, ginger and curry leaves.

Some old Trishna favourites were detectable amid the kebabs and tikkas, especially the Goan cafreal bream with a salsa of cherry tomatoes called katchumber. We shared lasooni wild tiger prawns, marinated for hours, astonishingly soft, tomatoey, garlicky and fiery, calmed down by red-pepper chutney. Main-course-sized lamb nalli barra meant best-end chops and lamb shank chops, marinated in turmeric, ginger and cayenne pepper, that were falling-apart tender and tasty. In a side order of spiced okra, the often-slimy ladies' fingers were chopped up small and extremely yummy.

Chicken butter masala had a brilliantly smoked quality – the result, apparently, of charcoaling tomatoes in the tandoor before putting them in the sauce; it swarmed over the super-tender chicken like a yellow tsunami over a sea wall. Indian puddings often defeat me, but the 'jaggery and black pepper caramel custard', though unappealing displayed on a willow-pattern plate, was fine and treacly.

The Gymkhana has a lot of style. Waiters are dressed in black with Nehru jackets. Sommeliers are clad in grey (not that it helps them explain why the viognier on the wine list is from Greece rather than, say, France). Food arrives by trolley, as in every other Indian restaurant, but the serving dishes are posh silver. I predict a great future for the brilliant Mr Sethi's new venture – once they've turned the lighting up a smidge.

Food ****
Ambience ****
Service ****

Gymkhana, 42 Albemarle Street, London W1 (020-3011 5900). About £150 for two with cocktails and wine

PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
News
i100
News
Budapest, 1989. Sleepware and panties.
newsDavid Hlynsky's images of Soviet Union shop windows shine a light on our consumerist culture
Arts and Entertainment
Eleanor Catton has hit back after being accused of 'treachery' for criticising the government.
books
News
In humans, the ability to regulate the expression of genes through thoughts alone could open up an entirely new avenue for medicine.
science
News
Williams says: 'The reason I got jobs was because they would blow the budget on the big guys - but they only had to pay me the price of a cup of tea'
arts + ents
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Recruitment Genius: Car Sales Executive - Franchised Main Dealer

    £30000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity for...

    Recruitment Genius: Group Sales Manager - Field Based

    £21000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Located on the stunning Sandban...

    Guru Careers: Email Marketing Specialist

    £26 - 35k (DOE): Guru Careers: An Email Marketing Specialist is needed to join...

    Recruitment Genius: Tour Drivers - UK & European

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity to join a is a...

    Day In a Page

    Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

    Isis hostage crisis

    The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
    Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

    The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

    Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
    Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

    Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

    This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
    Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

    Cabbage is king again

    Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
    11 best winter skin treats

    Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

    Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
    Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

    Paul Scholes column

    The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
    Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

    Frank Warren's Ringside

    No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
    Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

    Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
    Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
    Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

    Comedians share stories of depression

    The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
    Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

    Has The Archers lost the plot?

    A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
    English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

    14 office buildings added to protected lists

    Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee