Gallop to Mayfair for modern Indian cooking (and punches served in medicine bottles) in a wood-panelled room that looks and feels like an Indian colonial club.
Patron-chef Karam Sethi has added a new venture to his line-up of Trishna (a suavely modern Indian restaurant in Marylebone) and Bubbledogs (Charlotte Street’s hot-dogs and fizz trendster). Gymkhana has the look and feel of an Indian colonial club with its retro ceiling fans, marble table-tops, and yesteryear photos of polo and cricket team triumphs.
Bar staff theatrically deliver Indian punches in sealed medicine bottles, accompanied by ice-filled silvery goblets. Bombay punch, a blend of arrack (rice spirit), butterscotch-like palm sugar and fragrant Darjeeling tea, is deceptively smooth and even comes with its own miniature nutmeg grater for a spot of DIY spice action.
Sethi lays on a splendid spread of modern Indian dishes based on regional masalas and marinades. Fried South Indian chicken wings, steeped in wispy gram-flour and chilli batter, pack a fiery kick, and make a tempting opener for dinner. The cutlery was redundant – even in a posh restaurant, chicken wings should forever remain finger food.
Goan pork vindaloo – slow-cooked chunks of suckling pig cheek, with vinegary red chilli-garlic masala, spiced with sweet cinnamon and pounded coriander – was outstanding.
Game lovers are well looked after with a separate menu dedicated to the likes of muntjac biriani, fried peppered partridge, and roe deer cooked with pickling spices. Tandoori-seared guinea fowl breast boasted a mellow mustardy smokiness enhanced by toasted sesame seeds – making a tasty contrast to herby potato straws tossed with tongue-tingling chopped green mangoes.
Less impressive were the Kerala-style mussels, which were let down by a cloyingly thick coconut cream masala. Although astutely seasoned with turmeric, curry leaves and popped mustard seeds, the sauce called for a lighter finish.
The ground-floor dining area is gloomy, an impression not helped by the dark-wood panelling, bottle-green leather banquettes and partitioned booths. It’s a sight more lively in the main bar downstairs where some additional dining tables are located. On our visit, the banter of well-heeled Mayfair office types unwinding at the end of the day brought welcome warmth.
The service team are clad in black but dressed for the occasion and up for a cosy chat. Unlike Gymkhana clubs in India, there’s no dress code here, but have-a-go Bollywood heroes would do well to leave their sequins and sparkles at home.