When you first think of Indian food in London, what comes to mind? It’s probably not crisp white table linen, fragrant sparkling wine and fine dining. And yet if you venture down to Gaylord’s on Mortimer Street, Fitzrovia, that’s exactly what you’ll find. Founded in London in 1966 following the success of it’s predecessor in Mumbai, Gaylord’s serves the freshest curries and Indian delicacies in a sophisticated setting with service to rival the top London restaurants.
We arrive on a wet and blustery Wednesday evening and are quickly shown to our table; it’s big enough for four, though there are only two of us, and instantly I am impressed that details such as ensuring there is plenty of room to lay out the variety of dishes we are to consume over the next few hours have been so well thought out. Poppadum’s and a range of relishes and chutneys are awaiting our arrival so we tuck straight in and enjoy a leisurely peruse of the menu; Sameer, the restaurant manager, has already offered to order on our behalf and we are more than happy to trust his judgment and enjoy a surprise or two, but I just can’t help but read and stroke each word. No, I have not gone insane; the menus, which are hand printed and bound in India, are delicately embossed and create a stunning first impression.
The cocktail list is extensive and I order the house signature ‘Saffrontini’ on recommendation of the waiter. It arrives in a wide martini glass with a slice of orange and a sprinkle of saffron on top, the Cointreau takes the sharp edge off of the saffron gin and lime cordial based blend and it feels a fittingly indulgent way to begin the evening. We start with a selection of Golgappa shots; a blend of spiced aromatic water with date and jaggery sauce which you drink by pouring into a little puffed savoury bowl and devour in one mouthful. Our kind waiter subtly demonstrates how to do this without dribbling everywhere, and for this I am very grateful! It’s a difficult taste and experience to describe but definitely adjusts my taste buds nicely to the idea of the Indian flavours to come, and it’s very rare now that I go into a restaurant and have the opportunity to try something totally new so from this perspective it’s rather exciting.
The starters arrive in a quick succession of beautifully presented dishes; the Murg Gilafi Seekh (char-grilled minced chicken with onions and bell peppers) is placed straight onto our plates from a rather impressively sizzling hot pan, lamb Shamm i Kebab (minced lamb patties; a Gaylord special) delicately drizzled with mint sauce and bejewelled with pomegranate seeds are tender and tasty, if a little dry, and perhaps most surprisingly, pulled chicken tacos wheel their way onto the table in a colourful wire truck. Yes you read that right! Gaylord have added their own twist to this Mexican staple, piling up taco shells with soft meat and fresh Indian flavours such as mint, coriander, ruby chard and spring onion. The presentation is colourful and it makes us ‘ooh’ and ‘ahh’, even if it is a little gimmicky. The real star of the show however is the Pao Bhaji; soft buns like those that you might dip in chai, are oozing with butter and just crying out to be slathered in the mashed vegetable and potato curry blend, which is kept warm in a quaint little Le Creuset pot above a fondue flame. This is a dish which I could wax lyrical about for hours and would highly recommend to anyone visiting.
To accompany our first course we enjoy a bottle of Gaylord’s own sparkling wine: a Gran Cuvée Brut commissioned with premium Indian wine brand, Fratelli, to celebrate the restaurant’s 50th birthday. Sameer explains at length how he researched and chose the perfect fizz to commemorate such an important occasion, even visiting the Akluj region in India where the vineyards are situated. The name ‘Gran Cuvée’ means best white wine of the house, cuvée matured in a cellar, whilst ‘brut’ is the style of wine; dry, crisp and citric. Like a good champagne, it harbours typically yeasty notes on the nose and the taste is surprisingly soft and creamy, the bubbles are persistent and delicate and the experience is altogether an elegant one. A good wine should add to the experience of the food rather than steal the limelight from it, and Gaylord have got it spot on with this bottle.
We are given plenty of time before the main course to digest our starters, chat away and sip gently on our bubbly and it’s certainly nice to enjoy a leisurely evening in the warmth of the restaurant before the arrival of a Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon marks the start of our main course. Tandoori tiger prawns, marinated in saffron and aromatic spices before being grilled in a traditional charcoal fired clay oven, are crisp and bursting with flavour whilst Yellow Dahl Tadka, kept warm above a tea light, is subtle and comforting; gently tempered with garlic, red onion, cumin and clarified butter. The lamb rogan josh curry is described as hot and zingy, though it is not nearly as spicy as I’ve had it served elsewhere; instead it is warm and aromatic and I’m pleased that the flavours of the meat are not dominated by chilli. It’s years since I would have ordered a butter chicken, now brandishing it too mild and a little bland, which is why I am exceptionally glad that I did not do the ordering this evening! Gaylord’s butter chicken is sumptuous and indulgent and the meat is incredibly tender, there is no grease in sight and mopped up with fluffy sesame naan, it’s a real treat.
Happy and hazy after hours of sipping fine wine and filling our bellies with tasty morsels and soul-warming curries, we’re wondering how we could possibly make any room for more food when the lights dim and a flaming dessert to rival Mama’s Christmas Pudding is brought out in a rather grand procession. Gulab Jamun, fresh cottage cheese slathered in sugar syrup, is an incredibly popular way to end a meal in India, and at Gaylord’s nothing is done in halves and so it is served flambéed with spiced rum for an extra punch. Alongside Gajar Ka halwa, a homemade hot carrot pudding with crunchy almond slivers, we are suitably convinced that we’ve been missing out all these years that we’ve rejected dessert in Indian restaurants; Sameer tells us that most English guests often don’t even bother to look at the menu. Rather than being heavy and button-popping, the desserts are fresh and harbour just the right balance of something sweet to end the meal feeling well and truly satisfied.
We experienced a real feast this evening and the bill justifiably reflects that, though a trip to Gaylord’s can certainly be tailored to all budgets depending on the occasion and your appetite; at lunch time they offer a curry and side with a drink for an astounding £7.99 and the evening set menu (served between 18:00-19:00 and 21:45-22:45) offers two or three courses and an alcoholic drink for just £14.95 or £18.95pp.
I glance at my watch and can’t believe that it’s well past 10pm, a good three hours since we arrived and a true sign of an evening well spent. We make time for a final chat with Sameer over a hot mug of masala tea and it is so incredibly heartwarming to see the real love that he pours into Gaylord. He talks passionately about the restaurant, where he has worked now for over eight years, about his family and about his home country, at which point he gives us the full lowdown on where we should travel to in Indian, even offering to hook us up with his cousin’s restaurant if we are even in the region. We leave feeling very full and very happy and both agree that even at some of London’s finest institutions neither of us have ever felt so well looked after.
79 Mortimer Street, London, W1W 7SJ; Lunch Mon-Sun 12:00-14:45, Dinner Mon-Sat 18:00-22:45, Sun 18:00-22:30
We were invited to dine with compliments of Gaylord. All views and imagery are my own.