Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Gaylord Restaurant Mortimer Street

I've been watching a bit of the BBC series Back in time for dinner, where an unprepossessing British family eat their way through British history. They spend a week in each decade from the 1950s onwards, with their kitchen remodelled appropriately, typical gender roles enforced and menus taken from the National Food Survey (an annual survey carried out between 1940 and 2000). Now, originally this survey was only of urban working class households, to make sure that everyone was getting sufficient nutrition during the war, but it was expanded in 1950. So the utterly dire food they showed through the 1950s episode can't just be blamed on class or location (although rationing was still in place).

Mind you, the fact that Rochelle doesn't usually do the cooking for her family may have made a bad situation worse. The look of horror on her children's faces when served a week's worth of liver rations, overcooked, cold and leftover from lunch, was superb. And the relief when, mid-way through the 1960s episode, spaghetti bolognese hit the menu, was palpable.

With that sort of post-war culinary history, I think Gaylord's Restaurant, opened in 1966, hit a sweet-spot where people were ready for a bit of novelty and were starting to develop more of a culture of eating out. I'd love to see a menu and maybe some of the recipes from those early days, to see how they have changed with time. Even with all those years of British colonisation, Indian food must have come as quite a surprise. I was invited with a group of other bloggers to try their new menu though, not the 1966 version.

We started with Sharabi Saffron Thandai, a very rich and very sweet (and reading the ingredients very strong) cocktail of rum, saffron-infused gin, Malibu, saffron and Thandai, a mixture of almonds, spices, milk and sugar. The saffron provided a very necessary bitter edge to the rose, cardamom and coconut sweetness. I'd drink it again, but as an alternative to dessert - it didn't exactly stimulate the appetite.

Much more to my taste was the second drink, a virgin paan mojito. The rose, mint and lime was very refreshing.

We had a series of canapés, which General Manager Sameer Berry explained were examples of the sorts of food they serve when catering parties. I thought they were mixed successes. The Golgappa shots (the Northern Indian name for what I've usually seen called pani puri) were very tasty, but anything requiring detailed instructions in order to eat them - pouring the shot glass of tamarind water into the crisp shell (while leaning well over a plate) and putting the whole thing in your mouth at once - seems like an awkward party canapé.
Golgappa shot
The bhelpuri cone was good, the aloo papri chaat (potato disc topped with chickpeas) was a bit dull and dry but the murg malai tikka and zaffrani chicken tikka were absolutely gorgeous, delicately spiced and very succulent.
Bhelpuri cone
murg malai tikka
If the canapés weren't enough, we then had some starters which were slightly larger than the canapés and again had mixed success. A large tandoori prawn looked impressive but tasted dry and woolly. Murg Gilafi Seekh, a minced chicken kebab, was really delicious (although impossible to photograph attractively). A crab cake, presented like Vietnamese chao tom on sugar cane skewers, was pleasant but a bit too soft to eat on the skewer. For me, the least successful starter was the lamb seekh kebab taco. Elaborately presented, it was a bit of a case of style over substance. To be fair, I really don't like hard shelled tacos, but the lamb seekh kebab wasn't nearly as succulent or flavoursome as the chicken version we'd had, it was awkward to eat and needed a big spritz of lemon juice or something to give it a lift.
Lamb kebab tacos - cute gimmick but not for me
Sameer asked us to choose between two menus for the main courses, although I am not entirely sure why because all the dishes from both menus came out. It was a lot of food and with the best will in the world I couldn't try all of it.
Lamb chops Anardana

I was very pleased to see my second favourite aubergine dish, Hyderabadi Baingan on the table, but I didn't think it was as good as mine. It was very mellow, whereas I prefer a sharp prickle of intense tamarind. Both the Lamb Chops Anardana and the Lamb Shank were wonderful, and the Dal Bukhara was extremely good - rich and thick. I particularly enjoyed the fluffy bhatura bread, which Sameer recommended we eat with the Chana Peshawari, and the garlic naan was excellent as well.
Dal Bukhara
I don't often eat Indian desserts. I like the occasional kulfi or piece of burfi but usually I am way too full to face them. I did manage to have a small spoonful of each in the interests of research though!
Rasmalai was sweet, creamy and fragrant, which are all things I like, although the texture of the curd swimming in milk was a little offputting. The carrot halva was served warm in a charming silver box - this time the presentation was matched by the delicious flavour. My favourite of the desserts, though, was the gulab jamun, flambéed in dark rum. Even without the booze these were the best gulab jamun I've ever had: light and fluffy, drooling syrup but not cloying. But the rum and the theatre of flaming it at the table made it even better.

I had a very pleasant meal. I assume that they chose the most-likely-to-please options instead of taking too many risks: there were several items on the à la carte menu which I thought sounded more interesting (black pepper calamari, rabbit seekh kebab, kid goat keema). As befits the restaurant claiming to have brought the tandoor oven to Britain, their strength seems to be the items cooked on charcoal. The curry house favourites were done very well, but weren't the choices I would make. I would also have enjoyed more variety in the heat levels of the dishes, although a couple of people sitting near me were struggling even with quite mild chilli heat, so I suppose safer not to kick it up more!

Many thanks to Sameer Berry and his team for their hospitality, and to Sarah and Jenny from Salt PR for the invitation.


Bettina Douglas said...

an interesting experience

leaf (the indolent cook) said...

Gulab jamun is one of my favourite Indian desserts - and the version here does look good! So plump and enticing.

Sue/the view from great island said...

What an amazingly exotic meal!

Joanne said...

Now you've got me craving Indian food!


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