Magazine article The Spectator

Restaurant: La Porte Des Indes, Ragam and Deedar

Magazine article The Spectator

Restaurant: La Porte Des Indes, Ragam and Deedar

Article excerpt

ACCORDING to Peter Harden, whose invaluable guide, London Restaurants 1997, has just appeared, there are some 3,000 Indian restaurants in Greater London. This makes the subcontinent the leading category of London restaurant. Until recently there was but one kind of Indian restaurant; in fact mainly Bangladeshi or Pakistani, with flock wallpaper and serving curries and tandooris. But the last decade or so has seen the appearance of two further types: the south Indian vegetarian, and the glamorous de luxe restaurant with themed menus and prices that match its European neighbours. I decided to try one of each.

I took Adrian George, the artist (in keeping with the Editor's request that, when it might interest readers, I name my accomplice - I hate that phrase `my companion') and a long-term aficionado of Indian cooking. Our first outing was to the latest luxury venue, La Porte des Indes. The style here is French-Creole Indian cuisine from Pondicherry, and a vast, 300-seat, two-level dining hall has been constructed around an atrium and foaming fountain. `It's not like India at all,' reflected Adrian, as he gazed down on the frothing waters. `You'd think you were at Miami Beach.' La Porte was far from full the night we went, but the service was friendly and helpful. You could give them full marks for trying, if not for cooking.

This is split between `Les Indes francaises' in the first part of the menu, and 'Voyage a travers des Indes' thereafter. I decided to go for the French and Adrian went for the rest of India. But La Porte's cooking tasted uniformly bland from wherever it stemmed. My starter of Demoiselles de Pondicherry was two little scallops on the shell, in a creamy, nondescript sauce devoid of the curried saffron suggested on the menu. Adrian's Parsee fish, cooked in a banana leaf with coriander and mint, was distinctly better. Then I had Plateau des Indes francaises (16), a selection of meagre helpings of poultry, fish and vegetables, all, apart from a spicy aubergine dish, unexciting. Adrian went for the Tandoori Selection (18), of which the same could be said. The wild riz de coco, with curry leaves and coconut was excellent, however. Adrian finished with a pistachio kulfi (Indian icecream) which tasted factory- rather than home-made, and I had an underspiced and oversugared masala tea. With two flowerbedecked lassis and three halves of Indian lager at 3.50 a shot, the bill came to an astounding 86.34, including 121/2 per cent service. When my card slip was presented for signature the bottom line was left blank, `in case you want to add extra service,' suggested the hostess. …

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