This year is all about my (slightly obsessive) quest to uncover what makes a restaurant experience truly memorable; from the interior design, through to the food, service and marketing – that magic combination of ingredients that makes a restaurant experience stand out.
Next on my list was the famous Gymkhana in Mayfair, which serves classic and contemporary Indian cuisine using seasonal British ingredients. Opened in 2013 and awarded a Michelin star in 2014, Gymkhana takes its name from the colonial-era Anglo-Indian ‘gymkhana’ sports clubs. This is the second tour de force from Karam Sethi after Trishna in Marylebone and Sethi, along with his siblings, have made a sizeable impact on the London dining landscape and now have a roster of much-lauded London restaurants (Bubbledogs, Bao, Hoppers, Brigadiers…)
Having arrived at the venue a little early, I had a chance to read through the whole menu, which is lucky as it is slightly overwhelming with four different menu options at lunch alone. There are a number of tasting menus or an a la carte option.
Perfectly-grilled meats form the mainstay of the menu and include everything from Tandoori Masala Lamb Chops to Mangalorean Guinea Fowl Pulimunchi. Whatever you order, it seems to be excellent. Kid Goat Methi Keema with small brioche rolls to make your own sliders… yes, please.
Décor and the depth of experience
The secret in Gymkhana for me is the genuine depth of the experience. The interior manages to feel authentic rather than themed and has the rare sense it has been here for a long time. The nuances and references to the clubs of India are subtle, with dark leather banquettes, lazy ceiling fans whirring from the dark-lacquered and polished oak ceiling, cut glass wall lamps from Jaipur and sepia hunting photographs on display.
The restaurant occupies two floors on Albemarle Street, with the brighter, more traditional restaurant upstairs and the bar below, with an emphasis on intimate booth seating. There are also two private dining vaults either side of the lower ground floor, either side of the aged brass bar. The materials and detailing throughout Gymkhana are quite straightforward – there is no grand statement, but there is definitely care and generosity in the layout of the space.
Exemplary and carefully edited details
Then there are touches of craft that make the real difference and elevate your experience. The drinks menu specialises in Indian punches, carefully selected gin and tonics and has an exemplary cocktail list, dedicated to Indian female pioneers, complete with detailed stories and illustration. Examples include Tea Break Fizz, named after Shanta Rangaswamy, Captain of the women’s Indian cricket team and the Himalayan Gimlet, dedicated to Bachendri Pal, the first Indian woman to climb Mount Everest.
The flowers on the shopfront, introduced for the upcoming Diwali festival, at the time of visiting, were exuberantly beautiful and unexpectedly abundant.
Both of these examples have two key components; they have clearly taken effort beyond the bare minimum that might be spent on ‘marketing’ and they utterly resonate with the Indian soul of Gymkhana. In short, they feel authentic.
The Experience Map
As you can see from my experience map, Gymkhana really does live up to its reputation. The old-world and understated feel, delicious food and drinks and authentic ambiance means I would be willing to spend many hours here having indulgent lunches or special dinners with friends.
I wouldn’t say there were any negatives to the experience, I have only marked down the pre-visit communication and goodbye format as a ‘3’ as they were acceptably normal and polite without being memorable. All in all; a really fantastic experience.
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This post was written by David Chenery