June 30, 2014 10:33 pm

Indian restaurant serving curried goat’s brain wins top award

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Gymkhana Restaurant

Gymkhana Restaurant

A new Indian restaurant serving delicacies including curried goat’s brain has topped the table of the UK’s finest restaurants for the first time, heading a London-centric list of establishments showing the capital’s appetite for new tastes.

Gymkhana, in London’s Mayfair, opened last September and went straight in at number one on the list of the UK’s top 100 restaurants, compiled annually by Restaurant magazine.

Far removed from the typical British curry house, Gymkhana is styled in the fashion of the sports and social clubs of the British Raj. The judges praised head chef Karam Sethi’s “refusal to tone down his cooking for the European palate”.

There were 20 new entries to the list of 100 restaurants, the second highest being the Chiltern Firehouse, a former fire station in Marylebone popular with celebrities. It is the first London creation of hotelier André Balazs, who is behind Château Marmont in Hollywood and The Mercer in New York.

The two biggest restaurant trends, according to Stefan Chomka, editor of Restaurant magazine, were creative young chefs opening their own establishments, and the rise of new eateries in residential neighbourhoods outside central London.

Restaurant Story in London’s Bermondsey, with cooking from Tom Sellers, 27, won the “highest climber” award, rising 69 places to 26th. It was praised for its “creative” dishes including a candle of beef tallow which melts to form a pool of dripping to dip bread in, and “three bears’ porridge” served in a trio of dishes – one too sweet, one too savoury, and one just right (diners have to guess which).

“A generation ago, these young and highly ambitious chefs would be the number twos and threes [in established kitchens] for another 10 years,” Mr Chomka said. “He’s one of a handful of young chefs at the vanguard of this very playful approach to cooking.”

Rents in central London are so fierce that the boundaries of where you can open a top restaurant are moving in lots of different directions

- Stefan Chomka

The “neighbourhood” trend was evidenced with new and rising rankings for establishments outside of central London, including The Dairy in Clapham (ranked 24th) Mayfields in Hackney (ranked 30th) and Lyle’s in Shoreditch (winner of the “one to watch” category).

“The key reason for this trend is that rents in central London are so fierce, meaning that the boundaries of where you can open a top restaurant are moving in lots of different directions,” Mr Chomka said.

The Dairy also embodies another trend – local sourcing – which it takes to a new level by growing ingredients on its own roof garden.

Also noted was The Goods Shed in Canterbury (ranked 77th) whose menu is created from produce on sale in the farmer’s market below.

Mr Chomka also remarked on the propensity of many of the winners to offer “tasting menus”, although he observed these now tended to fall into two categories: first, the 12-course gastronomy of establishments including the Fat Duck (ranked 18th) and secondly, the four or five course versions for less than £50 offered by new eateries, including the Clove Club in Shoreditch.

“People don’t have as much time for lunch as they used to – they often need to eat and go within the hour,” he said of the speedier trend.

It has proved a winning tactic for the Clove, whose head chef is Isaac McHale, 34. The highest entry on the list last year at number five, he has now jumped to second place.

Restaurant magazine’s top 20 UK restaurants 2014

 Ranking  Restaurant  FT Reviewer’s verdict:
1 Gymkhana, Mayfair, London “Chef Karam Sethi has created a restaurant that delivers highly labour-intensive and flavourful dishes with style and wit. The price he will now have to pay is that he will have to spend far more time in Gymkhana’s kitchens than with his new bride.”
2 The Clove Club, Shoreditch, London “I never felt the need to talk about narrative in my dinner until I finally got to The Clove Club.”
3 The Ledbury, Notting Hill, London Unusual pairings work – scallop ceviche with turnips, or chicken with caramelised almonds.”
4 The Hand & Flowers, Marlow, Buckinghamshire “Just the sort of cosy, low-lit, low-beamed affair that causes city folk to decide to downsize.”
5 Pollen Street Social, Mayfair, London Another example of a classically trained chef moving into more relaxed surroundings . . . this one, I feel, will owe its eventual success to a combination of talent – and northern grit.”
6 The Sportsman, Seasalter, Kent Think Noma – but closer.”
7 Hedone, Chiswick, London My attention was focused on the course that was to follow, which had sounded extraordinary on the menu: Cévennes onion with pear shavings . . .”
8 L’Enclume, Cartmel, Cumbria “Chef Simon Rogan’s style of cooking is experimental, in that he eschews the proven and attempts such dishes as “50 degree cod with black beans, pumpkin and tonka.”
9 Dinner by Heston Blumenthal, Knightsbridge, London “Chefs who best interweave the freshest ingredients into historic British menus [include] Ashley Palmer-Watts at Dinner by Heston Blumenthal in the Mandarin Oriental.”
10 The Square, Mayfair, London N/A
11 Restaurant Sat Bains, Nottingham N/A
12 Midsummer House, Cambridge N/A
13 Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons N/A
14 The Walnut Tree, Abergavenny, Wales N/A
15 Kitchen Table, Fitzrovia, London N/A
16 The Waterside Inn, Bray, Berkshire N/A
17 Chiltern Firehouse, Marylebone, London “Chef Nuno Mendes’s interpretation of thin slices of raw scallop, turnips and tiger’s milk (a Peruvian citrus-based marinade) as a first course was exemplary, not so much for its technique or its appealing colour but because it was precisely spiced and served at just the right temperature (cool but not cold) to enhance all its flavours.”
18 The Fat Duck, Bray, Berkshire N/A
19 Restaurant Nathan Outlaw, Rock, Cornwall N/A
20 Restaurant Andrew Fairlie, Auchterarder, Scotland “When the doors closed, I was in an adult Narnia: a small world of dark teal walls, Cezannesque paintings and illuminated white-clothed tables.”

Source: Restaurant magazine

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