Influence of the British Raj on India,its culture and their indelible influence on the railways , architecture and the many places of tourist interest is common knowledge but India was also ruled by Mughals,the Portuguese,the French and the Dutch. Each of these colonies bear distinct stamps of a deep-rooted influence especially on the food with some beautiful foods that have become a part of the local community and recipes developed by such confluence of are not only brilliant in taste but also a mixture of flavours that otherwise would not have been combined.
I had heard so much about Le Porte des Indes and Chef Mehernosh Mody who has been awarded Ethnic Chef of the Year 2012 at the Craft Guilds of Chefs Awards for people who pay attention to things like that. So when Fiona who blogs at London Unattached asked me to accompany her for a lunch at Le Porte des Indes it was an offer too tempting to pass up!
Le Porte des Indes literally means Gateway to India. The decor is warm and welcoming and I felt was in some old, Indian palace with intricate wood carvings, huge artefacts, paintings especially replicas of Raja Ravi Verma’s magnificent originals and stone statutes which reminded of the ones at Khajuraho. Indoor plants are similar to ones I would see probably at The Taj Hotel in Mumbai, India lots of wooden statues of Lord Ganesha too.
We started by ordering some drinks I ordered for a Tamarind Martini while Fiona ordered some white wine.My gin,tamarind and limoncello martini came adorned with a slice of Star Fruit on the side .The sight of the star fruit took me back to my college days when my friends and me , about ten of us would get off the train and trade the crowded bus journey on way back from school and walk home instead on the dusty footpath – our treat for walking, a tangy snack packed in an old newspaper sold by a haath – gaadi or hand cart street food vendor which included roasted peanuts in shells, tamarind -imli and star fruit slices sprinkled with chilli powder and topped with a squeeze of lime – very ,very tangy but totally fun. On a good day when we had some extra change between us we would follow this up with a fizzy drink from a small shanty opposite the gates of the IIT,Mumbai campus mummm – simple pleasures. Seems so far away now and I only ever see my friends on Facebook and comment on old scanned photographs 🙂
I fell in love with the beautiful cutlery and the copper plate sighh…
Our starter was Demoiselles de Pondiche’ry – seared king scallops with a hint of garlic in a delicious saffron sauce – succulent and morish…
The cuisine is a mix of French,Tamil and Creole influences and lots of fusion recipes using the chefs imagination.
Next up was a platter of starters with kebabs and a fish called ”Patra ni Machi” or Parsee fish (Patra – leaf , Macchi – fish) this divine fish was made using fillets of sole encased in a mint and coriander chutney steamed in a banana leaf.I remember eating this fish at a Parsee friends wedding feat in Bombay 5 years ago and it had green chillies in a generous amount in the green chutney.There was a mild hint of chilli in our fish ,just perfect, excellent in fact and I could have made more,no wonder this is Chef Mehernosh Mody’s speciality. The other starters on our platter were Kathi kebabs – spiced lamb kebabs rolled in an egg served with a dark fruity chutney. Murgh Malai Kebabs – tandoori grilled chicken tikkas marinated in a creamy cheese sauce with spices.A twist on the usual onion and potato pakoras we ate Chard Pakoras – red and green chard rolled in gram flour, green chillies,coriander, turmeric and caraway seeds and fried crisp – very tasty!All this served with Garlic and Coriander Naan.
In the picture about L-R :Murgh Malai Kebabs,Parsee fish,Chard Pakoras and in the middle Kathi kebabs.Peaking on the right side corner is a rice cracker with a roughly ground green chilli chutney with a cooling yoghurt and saffron dip.
In the picture above is the Pomegranate Raita -Natural yoghurt with pomegranate, a touch of cumin and paprika.We then ate this most perfectly cooked white fish in a rich tamarind sauce steamed in a banana leaf – pure pleasure.
For our mains we got a large assortment of dishes served Basmati Saffron Pillav Rice, Seed Naan and Red Rice– Steamed organic red rice.
L -R in the photo of our mains platter below:
Tandoori Barra Chops: British Lamb Chops Char-grilled with cinnamon, cardamom and cloves finished with caramelised onions -everything you expect from a tandoori lamb really – smoky,soft,packed with flavour and juicy ,falling off the bone.Prawn Assadh curry as it is made in Pondicherry with turmeric,ginger, green chillies,coconut, mustard seeds and green mangoes – so creamy and delicious we couldn’t get enough of it scooping it off our plate with our naan stuffed with spiced lamb.Poulet Rouge, spécialité de notre maison is a gallic inspired dish – Chicken Slices marinated in yoghurt and red spices, grilled and served in a creamy sauce. Rougail d’ Aubergine: Smoked aubergine crushed with red chilli, ginger and green lime also called Baingan ka bharta in Hindi.I was most delighted to find we had a portion of mutton – it is not easy to get goat’s meat locally and this Mutton Braised home style as in Pondicherry with robust spices and laced with coconut milk was a delicious curry with the mutton having soaked up all the flavours of the spices .With the Saffron rice it was very good.Chef Mehernosh Mody also let us in who his regular suppliers who he told us are all local British producers.
We also had a selection of chutneys to go with the naan.Though I was stuffed I was hoping I could manage to have some dessert. After all a grand meal like this is not complete without some Indian sweets!;)
Fiona had to leave in a hurry and only managed to taste some the many treats on our mixed dessert platters.
L-R : Frozen dessert – Rose flavoured kulfi -the indian home-made ice cream with no artificial flavourings or stabilizers, made using Jersey & Guernsey Milk with pistachios ,followed by a mini chocolate filled samosa – thin pastry stuffed with chocolate and deep-fried ,Belgian Dark Chocolate Mousse(55% Cocoa Solids) served in traditional leaf cup – in India its is common practice to serve desserts in a dried leaf folded into the shape of a cup especially at large public gatherings like the Sarvjanik Ganpati Festival and during Navratris – these are bio-degradable and much better option over plastic or foam cups, a fruit tart and a slice of mango carved artistically.
Chef Mehernosh Mody then took me on a tour of the premises .There is so much room for big parties in the Maharajah room which is very tastefully done up antique Indian artifacts, the Shamiana perfect for weddings and a lovely,a fully private big dining room with French colonial decor for corporate lunches too.If that is not enough there’s a Jungle Bar complete with cane furniture ,palm trees and tiger skin rugs so while you sip on a tropical signature cocktail called Karma which has – oh yes coconut juice and vodka, you can pretend your on the beautiful shores of Pondicherry ne Puducherry with pristine beaches of blue water and warm silky sand and are about to set off for a hunting expedition in a while with your buddies! Did you know that Puducherry meaning New Town is also referred to as ”The French Riviera of the East”?
That’s not the talented Chef Mody also conducts live cooking classes in the restaurant where the chef and his team unravel the mysteries of Indian cooking , explain the intricacies of the spices and how to cook a great Indian Meal – fab idea for team building exercise I say where you actually eat the fruits of your labour!
The Beautiful dome of the former Edwardian ballroom this adds to the grandeur of the place.
One of the private dining rooms, notice the beautiful statues at the back? 🙂
At the Jungle Bar it was common practise for patrons to throw peanut shells across the floor and then walk all over them on crunching shells!Fun I say.
For the images of the dome, the private dinning room and Jungle bar – Image Courtesy -Le Porte des Indes
Disclaimer: With many thanks to Chef Mehernosh Mody, the attentive team at Le Porte des Indes and Fiona. I was not required to write a positive review and was not compensated monetarily for this post. Like all my previous posts about events and reviews, ALL opinions expressed here are entirely my own.