Tuesday, April 16, 2013

La Porte des Indes: French Colonial Indian Cuisine

La Porte des Indes is Indian cuisine on a grand scale, from the nine-metre waterfall cascading through the restaurant to the eight chefs in the kitchen. The food is just as spectacular, borrowing flavours from the former French colonies to add to its array of traditional dishes. Part of the Blue Elephant Group, the acclaimed La Porte des Indes restaurant in London offers a unique style of Indian cooking inspired by the French créole cuisine of Pondichèry and other former French trading posts in southern India. Dishes such as Demoiselles de Pondichèry, scallops in a saffron sauce, Magret de Canard Pulivar, roasted duck breasts in a banana leaf parcel and Riz au Lait de Rose, crushed basmati rice and clotted cream milk pudding, blend French and Indian ingredients and flavours with elegant refined flair. This restaurant has been on my culinary radar for years, but I was so accustomed to basking in Veeraswamy's Indian gastronomic sun that I was blinded to other opportunities.

Lotus Pond with floating candles in the entrance to Porte des Indes

A painting of Pondicherry

Entering La Porte des Indes, is like being transported into another world. Inside, elegant palms, moghul waterfalls, antique carvings and paintings evoke the exotic atmosphere of French-colonial India. Established in 1996, La Porte Des Indes looks like any smart bistro from the outside, but inside is a spectacular two-storey former Edwardian ballroom, adorned with antique Indian artifacts, a stunning white marble staircase, 40-foot cascading waterfall, exotic Jungle Bar and private dining rooms. Decorated with tropical plants and fresh flowers, Porte des Indes imports over 5,000 stems each week.

Stairs leading downstairs to The Jungle Bar 

Dining at Porte des Indes is an unforgettable experience. Opulent and luxurious, the restaurant is famous for its fabulous bar and exotic fruit cocktails. Located on the lower ground floor of La Porte des Indes, the Jungle Bar is an exotic retreat from the hustle bustle of Oxford Street. The inspiration behind the Jungle Bar comes from Raffles Long Bar, a famous meeting point in colonial Singapore, where patrons first began the custom of throwing their empty peanut shells onto the floor — a tradition that's embraced at the Jungle Bar.

A marble staircase descends into the two-storey space 
that used to be an Edwardian ballroom

The bar was designed to replicate a hunter’s perch with paintings of animals and forest scenery adorning the walls. Hurricane lamps, rattan wall coverings, comfortable cane furniture, leafy palms trees and tiger skin rugs complete the scene. Both the alcoholic and non-alcoholic cocktails have a unique Indian flavour and most refreshing of all, you can try young coconut juice served straight from its shell or a melon-infused champagne Monsoon cocktail, which I enjoyed. A delicious array of bar snacks are also available including Bombay Mix with sea salt and lime, Spicy Grilled Salmon Salad rolled in betel nut leaves, Lemongrass and Prawn Kebab and Tandoori Smoked Cottage Cheese and sautéed wild mushrooms on a rice cracker.

The Jungle Bar at Porte des Indes, where a German-Swiss film crew 
was busy filming Chef Mody as we arrived for cocktails so all the chairs 
and tables had been put to one side for the interview

Chef Mody was being filmed in the Jungle Bar while we were having cocktails, 
so I asked if I could take a photo during their break

As we arrived in the Jungle Bar, there was a German-Swiss film crew busy filming Chef Mehernosh Mody. Having bought his cookbook many years ago and being an ardent fan, I was overwhelmed at seeing him just a few feet way. I strained my ears to try and eavesdrop into the conversation being recorded and filmed for TV. During a break in the filming, I summoned up the courage to approach Chef Mody and asked if he would mind if I took a photograph. Without a pause, he obliged, and I snapped a shot. One of the film crew then offered to take a photograph of us together — not what I was angling for. I told Chef Mody that this was the first time we'd dined at Porte des Indes, that I had his cookbook and having the incredible opportunity to meet him in person was the cherry on top of my trip to London. He was visibly flattered and said, "You haven't even tasted my food yet."

Chef Mody and me

The film crew then asked me if we'd mind being filmed during our dinner with Chef Mody chatting with us. There was no other answer than "No, we'd be delighted!" Was this really happening? I returned to our table in the Jungle Bar and stunned, took a big gulp of my Monsoon, and explained what had just transpired. My husband and stepson were stunned. I had disappeared with my camera and had unexpectedly returned with news that a film crew would be joining us at dinner. So? What's the problem.

The exotic Jungle Bar cocktail menu

The bartender mixing drinks in the Jungle Bar

The Monsoon with Champagne, Midori and Green Melon 
garnished with an orchid blossom - how fabulous!

The Painkiller with Vodka, crushed mint, ginger, lemongrass and soda

Detail of a hand painted wall mural in The Jungle Bar - Grrrrrrrr...

Peanuts arrive in a beautiful rattan and brass trimmed basket...

...which was a fun and easy bar snack with our drinks

With a cocktail, peanuts and a film crew as an appetizer, we were escorted to our table in the main dining room. A spectacular room, we seemed to have a superb table with an excellent view of the whole room. Dinner menus were placed before us, and as Chef Mody said — "We hadn't even tasted his food yet. The night was young.

Our table in the wonderfully atmospheric Porte des Indes dining room

2012 Chenin Blanc from Maharashtra, India

Chard Pakoras with water chestnuts, gram flour, green chillies, 
coriander, turmeric and caraway seeds

Rubiyan Jhinga, which are wild tiger prawns marinated with garlic, star anise
and coriander, smoked in a tandoor and served with fresh red chilli sauce

An amuse-bouche of Coconut Yoghurt Soup

Tandoori King Prawns, Rougail d'Aubergine and Bombay Aloo

The Kari de Mouton arrives in a lovely ceramic pot with a lid to keep it warm

Kari de Mouton, a home-style goat meat curry 
spiked with robust spices and laced with coconut milk

Xacuti de Galinha - 'Black Leg' Chicken from France, cooked in a rich
aromatic curry of roasted coconut and fiery spices

Tandoori baked Naan in a classic teardrop shape

Traditional rice and lentil Dosas from Pondicherry

Lime Rice tinged with fresh lime, curry leaves and nuts

The German-Swiss film crew that we met in the Jungle Bar with Chef Mody earlier in the evening during cocktails, asked if they could film our table during dinner chatting with Chef Mody. My answer: "Absolutely!" As our sumptuous dinner was arriving, the TV crew started panning around the restaurant and Chef Mody quietly approached our table. "Ah, we meet again," he said. I mentioned that he was "being a good sport about this whole thing", and he admitted that he "preferred being in the kitchen rather than in front of the camera". We chatted about being from Canada, that my stepson was teaching English in Japan and that we had been looking forward to dining at Porte des Indes for a long time...and before we knew it, the filming was over...but Chef Mody kept chatting with us for a while longer. He thanked us for being so accomodating, and unknown to us, paid for our cocktails at The Jungle Bar, as a small thank you for "being such good sports." What a sweetheart.

Chef Mody was filmed chatting with us during our meal
by a TV crew that evening, for a German-Swiss television show!

The dessert menu

The dessert menu open to reveal Porte des Indes traditional sweets

Bebinca, a spiced warm layered cake with molasses and served with 
Madagascan Vanilla Bean Ice Cream

Lychee with a Wild Rose Petal Scented Panna Cotta

Cardamom Mango Rasmallai, infused milk with poached fresh cheese dumplings 
served with an Alphonso Mango Coulis

The coffee and tea menu

Red Lychee and Jasmin Tea

Chocolate dipped dried mango

The German-Swiss TV crew that filmed us and Chef Mody during dinner!
Well, I filmed them...

We were given a gift bag from Porte des Indes 
for participating in the impromptu TV film with Chef Mody

The La Porte des Indes Cookbook presents the very best recipes from the London and Brussels-based restaurants, including many of the restaurant's original 'fusion' dishes and regional specialities from across the subcontinent. Chef Mehernosh Mody, and his wife Sherin, spent several months in Pondicherry researching the traditional cuisine of French-Creole communities and persuaded them to part with some of their closely guarded family recipes. The 'grand dames' of Pondicherry gave Chef Mody a unique set of original recipes, some very French, some Tamil and some Creole.

The resulting Porte des Indes menu and subsequent cookbook, offers a taste of the traditional cuisine of the Indian sub-continent with special dishes from Pondicherry. The introductory chapters cover the ingredients and equipment used in Indian cooking, as well as Indian teas and suitable wines to drink, followed by over 80 recipes for hors d'oeuvres, soups, fish and seafood, meat and poultry, seafood, vegetables, rice and bread, chutneys and desserts. A fabulous cookbook, the stunning photography by award-winning Belgian photographer Tony Le Duc captures the beauty of the finished dishes and the unique and exotic ambience of this fabulous restaurant. 

Desmoiselles de Pondicherry: Scallops in a Saffron Sauce
Serves 4
Recipe courtesy of Chef Mehernosh Mody, La Porte des Indes - London

8 king-sized scallops
1 pinch salt
1 1/2 tsp curry powder
1 oz butter
2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
1/2 medium-sized Spanish onion, chopped
6 kari leaves
1 pinch ground white pepper
1 pinch saffron strands
9 fl oz double cream
1 tbsp vegetable oil

Fry kari leaves for garnish. Season the scallops with salt and 1/2 tsp curry powder and set aside. Heat the butter in a sauté pan. Put in the chopped garlic and sweat over a low heat until it's golden brown. Add the chopped onion and fry until translucent. Add the kari leaves, remaining curry powder, pepper and saffron. Stir for one minute, then add the cream and continue to stir gently until the mixture begins to thicken. Add salt to taste. In another tick bottomed pan, heat the oil and sear the scallops for about 30 seconds on each side, or longer according to taste. Place them on the sauce and serve hot, garnished with the fried kari leaves.

Lasooni Jhinga: Stir Fried Prawns
Serves 4
Recipe courtesy of Chef Mehernosh Mody, La Porte des Indes - London

16 tiger prawns, shelled de-veined and heads removed
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
1/2 tsp red chilli powder
2 tsp vegetable oil
6 fresh garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
1 green chilli, seeded and julienned
1red chilli, seeded and julienned
7 tbsp Kadai sauce, bottled or homemade (see recipe below)
5 spring onions, including green part, julienned
Juice of 1/2 lemon
salt to taste

Rub the prawns with salt, turmeric and chilli powders and set aside for at least 30 minutes. Heat the oil in a large sauté pan or wok, and cook the garlic. When it's lightly browned, add the chillis and sauté for about 30 seconds. Toss in the prawns and sear for barely a minute, then add the kadai sauce followed by the green onions. Stir fry over high heat for 1 minute. Add the lemon juice and add salt to taste. Serve hot.

Kadhai sauce:
1/3 cup ghee or corn oil
1 oz garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 tbsp coriander seeds, coarsely pounded
8 red chillies, coarsely pounded in a mortar
2 red onions, finely chopped
2 inch piece fresh ginger root
3 green chilliies
1 lb fresh ripe tomatoes finely chopped
2 tsp salt
1 tsp ground garam masala
1 1/2 tsp dried nugreek leaves
1 tsp sugar

Heat the ghee in a pan, add the garlic and let it color. Stir, then add the coriander seeds and red chilies. When they release their aromas, add the onions and cook until they start turning a light golden yelow color. Stir in the ginger, green chilies and tomatoes. Reduce the heat to low and cook until all the excess moisture has evaporated and the fat starts to separate out. Add the salt, garam masala, and fenugreek leaves and stir. Taste and add some sugar if needed.

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