Add a dash of spice, stir it with ingredients grown in Britain and slow cook it with an ambience in tony Mayfair that reminds one of the colonial days in India, and you get a recipe for a restaurant that must win awards in a Britain hooked on tingly ‘desi’ food.
That is exactly what Delhi-origin Karam Sethi did when he rustled up the Gymkhana restaurant in Mayfair in September last year with an Anglo-Indian seasoning. It uses seasonal British ingredients, “with a strong focus in the tandoori oven”.
The popularity of Indian food in Britain has spawned a range of awards, including the British Curry Awards that are attended by the movers and shakers in Britain, and the Tiffin Cup, which is run and judged by MPs in the House of Commons.
Sethi’s Gymkhana has now been named Britain’s best in the National Restaurant Awards, run by the 'Restaurant' magazine. Voted by industry experts, the award is Sethi’s second accolade, after earning a Michelin star in 2012 at his first restaurant, Trishna.
Gymkhana’s ambience is described thus: “The interior design of Gymkhana references British Raj India with ceiling fans that hang from a dark-lacquered oak ceiling, cut glass wall lamps from Jaipur, hunting trophies from the Maharaja of Jodhpur and Grandmother Sethi’s barometer”.
“Reminiscent of the gymkhana clubs, the dining room is flanked by turned oak booths with marble tables and fluted, bitter chocolate leather banquettes. Brass edged tables and rattan chairs punctuate the dining space, which is embellished with Punch sketches and Indian sports prints and divided by lead framed, mottled glass screens”.
Cocktails and punches are also reminiscent of the Raj era: Ooty Town Gimlet, In Light of India (named after the title of a book by Octavio Paz), Arrack Punch, Bombay Presidency and East India Panca.
The restaurant is family-run, with Sethi's brother Jyotin looking after the business side as managing director and sommelier sister Sunaina curating the wine lists and looking after operations.
Sethi said: "To be voted the number one restaurant in the UK is a big surprise and beyond our wildest dreams. There are so many brilliant restaurants and inspiring chefs in the list who probably deserve it more, so to be recognised by the industry in this way is incredible. It's a credit to all the Gymkhana team who have worked extremely hard to create a restaurant we are so proud of.”
The first Indian restaurant in London, the ‘Hindostanee Coffee House’, was opened by Patna resident Sake Dean Mohamed in 1810. Over the years, the Indian food industry grew exponentially and is today estimated to be worth 3.5 billion pounds.