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  • The little black book for the City
    Food and drink — 29 August 2013

    Ahead of the Competition:

    Karam Sethi’s new restaurant, Gymkhana, draws inspiration from the gentleman’s clubs of the same name established by the British Raj in colonial India

    By Eleanor Pryor

    Although in the English-speaking world it has come to be associated with an equestrian event or a timed motor race, the name of chef Karam Sethi’s new restaurant, Gymkhana, harks back instead to its Hindu roots, when it described a place of assembly where skills-based contests were held. The gymkhanas established by the British Raj in colonial India were gentleman’s clubs of sorts, at which high society came to socialise and play sport, and it is this bygone era he has attempted to evoke.
    Sethi is currently patron-chef at Trishna, which has garnered such rave reviews that it was awarded a Michelin star last year – one of a handful of Indian restaurants to have received the honour. Gymkhana – which opened on 10 September on Albemarle Street, Mayfair ­– offers a similarly modern take on traditional flavours, but instead of the informal, minimalist feel of its sister establishment, will reference an age of unbridled opulence with its marble tables, oak booths, and walls hung with Punch sketches and hunting trophies from the Maharaja of Jodhpur.

    ‘If you are not already persuaded, then the liquid refreshments on offer may offer further enticements.’

    The menu places emphasis on dishes using the tandoor oven and sigri charcoal grill, such as Achari roe-deer chops with pickling spices and mustard mooli, or jungli grouse, grouse-leg naan, moong-urad-masoor lentils and smoked aubergine bharta chutney. Seasonal curries and biryanis, including suckling-pig vindhaloo and Lucknawi kid-goat raan, will be served alongside lighter club-style nashtas – Indian all-day snacks – such as duck-egg and white-crab bhurji, kerala paratha and veal sweetbread, and wild mushroom dopiaza. Should you have room for dessert, the selection of flavours of kulfi falooda, from saffron pistachio to Alphonso mango, or perhaps the classic jaggery caramel custard – made from the unrefined cane sugar typically consumed in Asia – is sure to satisfy.

    If you are not already persuaded, then the liquid refreshments on offer may offer further enticements. The restaurant’s lower-ground floor has been transformed into a modern-day interpretation of a 17th-century East Indian punch house, resplendent with a grand aged-brass bar at the centre and two secluded, sunken vaults that can host larger groups of revellers. In a London first, a range of spirits, tonics and mixers from the Indian subcontinent will be available, including Old Monk rum, Amrut whisky and arrack made from fermented coconut sap. A number of punches derived from old recipes will also be on offer, such as the Regent’s Punch, comprising arrack, cognac and Assam tea topped up with Champagne and flavoured with nutmeg.

    Karam’s award-winning sommelier sister Sunaina Sethi has assembled an extensive wine list, and the restaurant will serve its own house Pale Ale alongside other craft beers. The cocktail menu includes such concoctions as the Ooty Town gimlet, made with Old Raj Export gin and crystallised rose petals, and the Flutterby lassi with Butterfly Boston absinthe, cucumber and dill, which is served from a traditional absinthe fountain, epitomising Gymkhana’s theme of traditional with a twist.