One of the things that’s been most pleasing about the last several months is that I’ve focused on going to more of London’s Indian restaurants than ever before.
Whilst I don’t consider myself any kind of authority on Indian food, I did, of course, develop a taste for the Indian food my mum, family friends and relatives cooked during my childhood and ever since. I run Mamta’s Kitchen with my mum (and Pete) and the flavours of Northern Indian food feature strongly in my comfort food list. So visiting more of London’s Indian restaurants is high on my agenda.
Recently, I was invited by La Porte des Indes to attend a cookery masterclass by head chef Mehernosh Mody, followed by lunch.
Restaurant manager Sherin Alexander-Mody greets us with an introduction to the restaurant, its food, the history of the building and some of the details of the interior design.
Established in 1996, La Porte des Indes is so named because the core of its menu is inspired by the cuisine of Pondicherry, a former French colony which has assimilated many French touches into its native dishes, what Mehernosh and Sherin describe as French-Creole. The rest of its menu features dishes from other Indian regions and cooking styles.
The restaurant takes up two floors in a grade listed building that was once a former ballroom. Sherin talks about the decor the sources of some of the materials chosen by the architect. It’s a huge space and he’s gone for quite a grand old-school look. The dining spaces are more formal, whilst the bar is a cosy colonial design.
A tour of the kitchen is next, fascinating mostly for the chance to peer more closely into the three tandoors; two are charcoal and one gas powered, the latter allowing for more accurate temperature control for the cooking of breads. A skewer of lamb chops is removed from one as we watch, and hung to cool ahead of a second immersion before serving. One brave class member thrusts a disc of dough into the oven, pressing it carefully against the hot wall. Shortly afterwards, eating naan fresh out of the tandoor is a delight.
Really, the group is a little too large for the narrow confines of a restaurant kitchen, and it’s hard to remain close enough to Sherin to catch all of what she says, animatedly sharing insights into spice grinding and mixing and telling us about some of the dishes being made while we are there.
Afterwards, we are invited to take our seats for the demonstration by Chef Mody and his sous chef, Rohit. Again, the large group size means we’re somewhat distant from the action, sat behind a row of tables that distance us from the ingredients and cooking work surface. I wish we could ditch the tables and pull our chairs up close to see everything more clearly.
I’ve met very few people who are as full of energy as Mody, indeed he moves around so quickly I struggle to capture anything but superhero-style motion blurs on my camera!
Having not caught her full name during our initial introductions, it’s only later that I become aware that Sherin and Mehernosh are husband and wife; Mehernosh hired fellow chef Sherin as his assistant a decade before La Porte des Indes opened its doors. Now, the dynamic couple are clearly the joint force behind the restaurant, and indeed they researched and wrote the restaurant’s cookbook together.
During the masterclass, Mody and Rohit make chard and water chestnut pakoras, bombay potatoes and Assadh prawns. The pakoras are unusually light, with wonderful crunch from the chestnuts; the prawns are perfectly cooked and their sauce an absolute winner.
We enjoy a taster of all of the masterclass dishes, matched with various wines for those who wish to indulge, before heading to the main dining area to enjoy the restaurant’s set lunch menu.
As I order a rose lassi to drink, a small shot of warm vegetable soup is also provided.
Starters served on a platter – seekh kebab, chicken samosa and little chaat puris, served with lovely condiments – are a great introduction.
For our mains, we have poulet rouge in a creamy sauce; monkfish in a similarly creamy but much hotter sauce, too hot for a number of us, though we suck desperately at our lassis and eat it anyway; and a simple spinach and mushroom dish. Rice, naan and raita sides are provided too.
For dessert, individual tasting plates featuring a rich chocolate mousse, a mini chocolate and walnut samosa, a thick mango and yoghurt cream and a rose phirni (rice pudding). The samosa and the rice pudding are my favourites, but all are good.
Whilst the course isn’t hands on we still pick up lots of tips and ideas. For just £45 per person for the kitchen tour, master class, a delicious lunch and a copy of the restaurant cookbook, I think it’s good value. It usually runs on the last Friday of each month; contact the restaurant directly to check dates and availability.
Kavey Eats was a guest of La Porte des Indes.