I’ll always firmly believe that a good meal is priceless. Sometimes, ‘priceless’ might equate to a 500 euro bill in a 3 star Paris restaurant, other times it might cost less than a fiver on the side of the road somewhere.
Which is to say that, on the financial side of things, I knew full well what I was getting into when I sat down at Gymkhana – just like I did when I ate at Kurobuta. Knowing it was going to be pricey, all I wanted was for it to live up to the hype – to the three month wait for a decent table, all the 5 star reviews, blogospheric gushing, and ‘best restaurant in Britain’ headlines.
And it did. In parts at least. The venue itself is pretty stunning, a kind of minimalist colonial chic (that’s my top restaurant design tip for 2015 come early…) at once understated and glamorous. So sliding into the bar for an apertif (or two) was obviously the thing to do, and cocktails didn’t disappoint – grapefruit with a gin and tonic being one subtle revelation.
On the dining front, snacks (ordered a la carte) were all perfectly pleasant. “Gol Guppas, Jaljeera, Potato, Sprouting Moong” were little hollow pancakes filled with deliciousness, but you know what? Not really any better (or different) than the fabulous dahi puri ‘taste bombs’ at sadly deceased Kastoori.
But chicken wings were definitely a league apart. Served roughly in the ‘chicken 65’ style with the top of the bone politely trimmed, they were aggressively coated in spice, meaty, and I could frankly eat them by the bucket load. The accompanying tomato ‘chutney’, however, was watery and bland.
On to starters and the famous Kid Goat Methi Keema with added Bheja (that minced goat curry with extra brains) was everything it was cracked up to be – sweet, earthy and rich, it went perfectly with the nicely fluffy bread that came with it.
More troubling was the “Duck Egg Bhurji, Lobster, Malabar Paratha”, which was basically an egg curry tarted up – an exercise in using premium ingredients for the sake of it. The lobster did add a nice meaty texture (and they weren’t too mean with it) but it’s essential flavour was drowned out in all the creaminess.
Grills picked things up a bit again, with two nice sized quail seekh kebab – well made, nicely spiced and herbaceous, and plenty juicy. The accompanying green chilli chutney was decent enough, but it needed a hell of a lot more heat in my opinion.
Main courses consisted of a vegetarian option, “Kadi, Corn Pakora”, which was basically corn dumplings in a creamy sauce. Not unpleasant, something different, but hardly spectacular. Similarly, sides of daal and aubergine were both excellent, but not necessarily any different from what you’d find in a really good curry house.
The “Bhatti Ka Grouse”, however, was a taste of the sublime. Served with a leg meat samosa and garlic pickle, it was tender and amazingly delicate (one suspects a marinade was involved) with just the right balance of hearty game flavour and spicing.
So there you have it. Gymkhana is a really, really good curry house. The problem is, it’s being trumpeted as something else entirely. It’s got a particularly deft touch in some places, namely its grills and game, but one or two dishes aside, there’s nothing you get there that you can’t find at other good eateries – and not end up with a £250 bill for two.
On that front, like I said, no regrets. We worked our way through the menu (and bar) fairly thoroughly, and it would have been cheaper (possibly by quite a bit) if we’d opted for two tasting menus instead, which aren’t terribly priced (for a flash place) at £60-70. Unfortunately, Gymkhana’s strict tasting menu rules prohibited a pescetarian and a meat fiend from dining together in this manner, which is really quite unthinkable these days, especially given how much you’re paying.
If you feel the need for a sommelier (the wine list is ridiculously good and priced to match) to top up your glass at appropriate intervals, actually like going to Mayfair, and feel reassured by being told by countless influential people that you’re dining at the ‘right’ place, then maybe Gymkhana’s for you. Keep the unwarranted hype going if you must, but I’m off back to Tooting and Apollo Banana Leaf thanks.