Rāj: They called it and still do and the reference dates back to nearly 114 years ago in this particular instance that I can suffice i.e. the Delhi durbar, 1911 when George V was crowned the Emperor who physically visited India for a change to meet the royal subjects amongst others.
Inspiration is a familiar word that you hear either via aspiring students or the legacy of the Chinese mass manufacturing industry post 80’s. We are inspired by everything through the dissemination of knowledge but Gymkhana’s inspiration was more like a marketing tagline similar to that of banned commercials of Walt Disney in the 40’s.
Let’s attract the nouveau rich and play the empire game chaps! Ramdas you sit over there by the creases and Hari you get my Gin and tonic ready and not forgetting ‘Ello Singh’ why was my shoe not polished to perfection. Enough of Indian gymkhanas because there is probably more literature on Ottoman hamams within the then British Raj then India’s gymkhana legacy. The chap / lady who came up with the concept did well because it is a niche that didn’t even exist in the name you have portrayed and tried to articulate this through the interiors of the restaurant. An invention of heritage – should be the strapline
However moving inside Gymkhana; the old Dishoom that I reviewed looked like a mainstream brother with similar ideas. Busy was the theme of the day but a lot of effort was put into the decor. In fact it was a cross between a 20’s barber in Mayfair coupled with Lords’ trophy corner minus the trophies just photos for this instance. After all it is an eatery and they did a pretty good job but space was tight. Given its recent popularity and going head to head with other Indian Michelinesque restaurants the decor and ambience beats Trishna for the theming. Beanres and Quilon probably didn’t spend much time in the procurement and design front as they are personality driven.
So once we sat down not so far from what looked like a Swiss nuclear hideout; it seemed like their quest for space was similar to NASA’s vehicle on moon mission. We will take Soviets on? so what Yuri Gagarin did it first? I presume it was a cellar converted into a private dining corner with the same roughness that you would expect from a brick cladded Victorian furnace.
I must however stress that once you are in the premises the staff do provide you with all the watermelon smiles, courtesy and overall get involved personally in true recommendation of the popular, tasty and their own preferences food / cocktail options. Fair play for this humanely touch and the fact that they are committed to take you in this journey of eating a decent (in all its modesty) food.
Now I have always stressed in my reviews in the capacity of hulk that it is all about experience be it any consumer related travel or hospitality, retail etc. When you step into Harrods, Bergdorf you expect to be bombarded with the fragrance carefully calculated by some back office chap, chapette to provide that experience. But don’t overdo it and you all do it as you just can’t control it.. And experience is all encompassing not limited to one element of restaurant or and Food & beverage vendors. For this theatre I rate Gymkhana very well.
I started off with the Arrack Punch. Very good and served rather well. So Huit Points on that one (I feel like numbering in French today). The waiter / server we had was not only friendly but deserved a medal the size of a prying pan for his warmth and hospitality. The beauty of any fine dining is that the waiters would have worked so hard that behaviour and body language becomes a cue; aah he wants another drink, aargh he found the fish too spicy, aaah they are still hungry.
We started with Lasooni Prawns which was great followed by achari stone bass which was equally good. The presentation won me over so it gets Sept point from the Hulk followed by the taste which deserves Neuf point. Well done Gymkhana was actually bold enough to beat to hoo haa of the other fine dining Indian establishments by sticking to something rather traditional and good albeit the calorimeter must have already hit the peak of richness.
I am sea-food lover and who isn’t. In my view they surpass the land grazers and land growers due to the fact they are submerged in H20. The deer chops were alright so i didn’t particularly see the point of that apart from trying to have diversity in the menu. That is another identity of the Gymkhana the hunters club a recreated boys hide out which is great for the unknown customer i presume but i wasn’t fooled. Concept designers out there; what to throw in and what to contain when drawing up plans.
Moving to the mains the Biryani and raita were succulent, tasty and satisfying; considering we are still in UK’s capital and if i were the so-called curry minister of the parochial land once known as United Kingdom i would make it mandatory for all the establishments up and down the country to come and taste the Muntjac Biryani as a benchmark (Neuf point). Because frankly the ‘Curry Houses’ as individuals from the bottom of the pyramid of the island of 4 not so united kingdom like to refer to; has lost the genuine charm of Biryani. Albeit these days a Chinese chicken fried rice and a Biryani have one difference, the turmeric. So Kudos to gymkhana’s Biryani. Now that i just started a very sticky topic; most Indian curry houses in the UK are in fact run by the Bangladeshi Diasporas of the UK. There is no racism here it’s just that it probably is a Bangladeshi curry house not Indian. Just come clean like the Sri-Lankans in the restaurant business do too with a header reading (South Indian cuisine and Srilankan) PS no puns, or offence meant just crudely pointing out the general state of curry houses in the UK.
Rajasthani Bhindi, Daal maharani all very good too coupled with Venison Keem Naan (again venison in a Naan – was trying too hard as it didn’t matter nor kept your brand standards intact Gymkhana)
Sept Point for all of the above and Cinq Point for the venison Naan
So the Hulk in all its fulfilment doesn’t usually dwell on desserts but i gave it a try although I was also considering other main dishes like the Duck Dosa hmmm, quail sheikh kebab. Plum rabri was phenemenoal. Chocolate samosa reminded me as a cheaper alternative somewhat a cross between deep-fried mars bar and the chineses fritters- (trios point) get rid of it as its again trying too hard.
All great but as i mentioned from the beginning this is a reinvention and the reinvention attracts customers and does retain returning loyal ones. This is only my second visit here and frankly they are busy and are doing rather well from the outset as we see it and the Green hulk also enjoys their hospitality. Yes a definite GO but i believe by now they would have figured out their core competencies i.e. what really works versus what is good to have in the menu for show to tick the diversity, Michelin, critics, awards, adventurous tick-boxes. The vegetarians and the vegans of the world will have limited but good quality choices regardless with the usual starches of bread, rice and potato alongside some vegetarian dishes and chaats.
Overall Hulk likes this place and this probably is one of the top Indian eatery in London today minus the space which is tiny but they smile. It has made the Hulk go there twice already ; Food Too good that Hulk forget how many points to give…
7/10 would be a fair judgement…