I like to think when it comes to putting it away, I can run with the best of them. I’m no Black Widow but for my stature, I put in a commendable effort. Tasting menus are a good test of stamina. Seven, sometimes nine courses with an amuse-bouche and petits fours often leave diners steeping in their own digestive juices, torsos stretched and floor walks made to redistribute the contents of convex abdomens in an attempt to find room for dessert; top trouser buttons discreetly undone two hours ago and only three courses in.
You can imagine my wide-eyed expression then, of both anticipation and fear of death, when faced with an evening menu involving no less than: three amuse-bouches, six starters, five mains, five sides, two desserts and endless wine – I make that 21 separate dishes. I should have worn my elastic pants.
Gaylord is a smartly furnished (in that princely old-school handsomeness long-serving Indian restaurants often do) and established West End fixture of the dining scene focussing on Mughlai and North Indian cuisine. Established in 1966, it is part of a large group with a sister Gaylord in Mumbai and was the first to house a tandoor oven in the UK. It was also the chosen venue for a dinner organised by the restaurant review platform Zomato for some of their most prolific contributors – they know how to put on a good show.
Crisp puri spheres containing a little potato and chickpea and filled at the table with flavoured water and tamarind chutney were demolished whole in the mouth, just before the liquid made a break for the table linen. Cones of fluffed up and chewy rice, vegetables and a tangy tamarind sauce (bhel puri) were tasty nods to the classic Mumbai beach snack. The flavours and textures of crunchy, aromatic, hot and sweet aloo papdi chaat came together very well in one mouth-swoop over the spoons they were presented on.
Meaty prawns marinated in saffron and tandoori masala provided good resistance against the molars. The burnished-orange tilapia fillets fried in a paprika gram flour batter were less interesting, but the mint chutney side-kick worked wonders at lifting. Murg gilafi clove smoked minced chicken manipulated around skewers and presented alongside mild tandoor roasted chicken tikkas were delicately flavoured, but the stellar meat was the lamb in the form of expertly cooked Anardana chops and minced patties.
The former marinated in ginger and grilled, still a deep pink at the centre with charred corners and a splendid amount of fat disintegrating on the tongue, with seasoning good enough to call for teeth-stripping of any remaining flesh from the bones. The latter soft and yielding to the point of it unrecognisable as animal based, but with all the depth of flavour you could hope from it.
The butter chicken was very good, an unmistakable smokiness from the presence of fenugreek. Prawn coconut curry, delicately spiced and aromatic from kaffir lime leaf and mustard seeds, provided a perfect medium via which to absorb the saffron basmati . A fiery garlic, onion and tomato masala in which hunks of lamb had been stewed until flaky represented the corner for rogan josh rather well (even if with a little too much oil), with puréed spinach elevated by a lot of ginger representing the corner for paneer.
Slow-cooked (overnight) dal bukhara and chickpeas with a secret spice mix were both bowls of hearty and comforting pulses, providing much needed fibre amongst a table creaking under it’s own weight of sauced-up protein. Naans and rice and puris filled with scalding steam helped to mop-up and a number of chutneys – including a great homemade lime pickle – complimented the spread.
The malai kulfi was very agreeable – dense and solid from the reduction of milk and sporting a twist of cardamom and a flourish of chopped pistachio. And it was my first encounter of gulab jamun (made from milk solids) flambéed in dark rum; the sort of dessert you should run round the block to make room for between courses. It was celestial, despite me fighting unconsciousness by this point.
We had it all, and it was laid on thick. A constant flow of wine and cocktails, a magnum of posh 5-grape South African something-or-other which I know nothing about other than it tasted really great, attentive service from Sameer (the General Manager) and his team with explanations of each of the unending conveyor belt of dishes, and the remaining doggy-bagged for some good eating the following day.
The restaurant takes a lot of pride in what it does – it shows. There’s tough competition from the likes of Gymkhana and Trishna, and the very accessible and more contemporary Dishoom these days. But Gaylord has survived on its own merits with a loyal following and good food coming from the kitchen, all contributing to a restaurant that continues to fill seats.
I’ve had more comfortable sleeps than I did that evening, but it was worth it. As always, a huge thank you to Zomato for the blowout – you don’t half do them well.
Liked lots: lamb chops, lamb patties, kulfi, gulab jamun, service, location, atmosphere
Liked less: fried tilapia, I expect bills can quite easily creep up when entertaining alcohol
Good for: a big Indian blow-out
My rating: 3.5/5
Note: I was invited as a guest to this event.