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42 Albemarle St, Mayfair, W1S 4JH
020 3011 5900
In India, a gymkhana is a member’s club where high society locals can socialise and participate in sporting activities before retiring to drink and dine the night away.
In London’s Mayfair, Gymkhana is a Michelin-starred Indian restaurant that pays homage to this same concept, offering exceptional sub-continental flavours that challenge, ignite and satisfy the senses.
Tiger rating: 4/5
Great for: business lunches, after-work suppers, group dining
A bit of background
Gymkhana is the third restaurant from patron-chef Karam Sethi, who is also the creative force behind Marylebone’s Trishna. It threw its doors open in 2013 and raised through the ranks, taking home a Michelin star and the top spot in Restaurant Magazine’s Best British Restaurants in 2014. While it no longer retains its number one ranking, the Michelin star has stuck around – and rightly so. It continues to dominate the city’s Indian culinary scene, delivering diverse fare that combines the sentiment of home cooking with the highest-quality produce.
The menu takes most of its inspiration from the North India, meaning richer textures, deeper flavours and a liberal dose of spices. Since we’re there for lunch, we opt for the lunch menu, a very reasonably priced three-course extravaganza. The adventure starts with three different types of papadums – lentil, cassava and tapioca – served with shrimp and mango chutneys. The tapioca papad is most reminiscent of prawn crackers: light, crunchy and the perfect textural accompaniment to the sweet mango jam.
The starters range from soft shell crab with Bombay bhel (puffed rice) to mattar paneer pao with a sesame and peanut chutney. Two of our party beeline for the crab, whilst the third opts for the duck egg bhurji with lobster and Malabar paratha. The bhel is a revelation – puffed rice is complemented by the fresh bursts of cucumber and tomato and the crunchiness of roasted peanut. While the crab is equally as textural, the entire dish would have benefited from a sauce or chutney as it’s quite dry.
In contrast, the duck egg bhurji is a masterclass in silken egg, folded with lobster, tomatoes, onion and chilli. Accompanied by a flaky yet buttery paratha, it’s a luxurious way to start the meal.
The mains will challenge even the hungriest of eaters, with sides galore. The tandoori guinea fowl is marinated for over eight hours before cooking in the tandoor. It’s served with a green apple chutney that cuts through the marinade, offering a balanced sweetness. The Hariyali bream is coated in what we could only describe as an Indian-inspired salsa verde, fresh and fragrant with a bright green hue. The accompanying tomato kachumber is made by charring the tomatoes over charcoal to remove the skin and then combined with chilli, spring onions, ginger, baby plum tomatoes and coriander stem, creating a great complement to the spinach and coriander-based marinade.
Our final main dish is the kid goat keema, a beautifully complex combination of minced goat and fenugreek, topped with potato matchsticks with a side of brioche buns and chopped onions. It’s a surprise of a dish, decadent in its flavour and offering more with each bite.
On the side, classic staples like daal and naan are elevated through the subtle use of garlic and saffron respectively, while the vegetables are cooked with the same attention as the main dishes. In fact, this small side was nominated by one of us as a favourite – not because the nominated mains were lacking, but the sides were just as finessed.
Everything is incredibly flavoursome, so we struggle to finish what’s in front of us. But this doesn’t mean we don’t have room for dessert. Instead of opting for one each, we share the stewed fig kheer, a cool rice pudding spiced with the likes of cardamom and nutmeg. By the end, we’re rolling up the stairs.
The first thing you’ll notice upon walking into the cosy space is the smell – the wafts of the tandoor oven hit your nose almost immediately, preparing your stomach for the feast to come. We have a reservation and are promptly seated downstairs, sans coats, with the maître d’ warning us of every unexpected step. The two spaces may not appear that visually different, but on closer inspection, there is purpose in their design. Upstairs, the space is informed by the idea of a traditional restaurant, with high ceilings, retro fans and marble table-tops. Downstairs, the feel is a little more intimate, harking back to the idea of a 19th century tearoom. Brass and dark wood panelling complement the rattan chairs and heritage photos of times gone by. Paired with the lighting, quiet background music and embellished furnishings, it was an ideal escape from the blustery weather outside.
However, if we could, we’d be opting for one of the private vault rooms, found on either side of the lower ground floor. The secluded areas can each seat up to 14 people and hold the option of either enjoying a set menu or designing your own.
No matter where you sit, expect attentive service, with water glasses filled at every opportunity and waiters attuned to our every move.
Gymkhana combines colonial style with the hallmarks of home cooking, offering refined dishes that are both surprising and impressive. With interiors reminiscent of its namesake, and service that leaves nothing to be desired, it’s a sure-fire winner for any PA looking to book a decadent culinary experience for their principal.
Looking for more spots to eat and drink in London? Check out our reviews of Quaglino’s and Cecconi’s at the Ned.