A touch of spice

Spicy food works well with whisky.Martine Nouet visited La Porte des Indes for a special Indian food and whisky tasting
By Martine Nouet
Britain is certainly the European country which has established the most refined tradition of Indian cuisine, for obvious historical reasons. No wonder London boasts some of the best addresses featuring the great classics of Indian gastronomy.

La Porte des Indes, opened in 1996, offers a total change of culinary scene with dishes rooted in French cuisine from Pondichéry and other trading posts established at the French colonial times in South India.

The lush decoration of the bar as well as of the restaurant rooms adds to the exotic sensation. When it comes to the plate, the same luxuriant sophistication mixes Indian and French influences.

A parsee from Bombay, award winning chef Mehernosh Mody became executive chef at London’s Porte des Indes after 10 years of training and experience. He loves experimenting with unusual foods… and unusual drinks. He responded with enthusiasm when he was challenged to create a menu which would match the Morrison Bowmore range of single malts, including Suntory Yamazaki.

It may sound daring to combine spicy dishes with whisky. There’s a risk of the food overpowering the dram, but not if the pairing is carefully worked out. The first whisky dinner initiated at La Porte des Indes obviously proved that both get on together.

The food was chosen by Mehernosh Mody and each of the five courses paired with a whisky by Colin Dunn of Fior Brands, the United Kingdom distributor of Bowmore, Auchentoshan and Suntory’s range of Japanese whiskies.

”We have trained the team here,” explains Colin Dunn. “We just wanted to create something new with them. The idea behind this meal was to highlight how well Indian food and whisky can be matched, and remove all the misconceptions that good Scotch whisky should only be consumed after a meal.

“Of course, the complex flavours of whisky won’t work with every food type, but fresh, gently spiced food prepared on the tandoor offers the necessary muscle to complement the spirit.”

The subtle character and elegant flavours of Auchentoshan combined beautifully with the opening course, tandoori grilled Scottish salmon with dill and Scottish king scallops in a mild saffron sauce. The saffron sauce enhanced the cereal and lemony notes of the whisky, giving length to the finish and bringing out a nutty touch. The combination left a pleasant refreshing and tastebuds teasing sensation on the palate. To make the combination even better, I would have slightly chilled the whisky.

A starter of tandoori seared foie gras was based on the interplay between oak and sweetness of Auchentoshan Three Wood; the whisky providing enough muscle not to be outdone by the characterful starter. Rich, fully flavoured, the association was quite intimidating, but the crispy honey naan uplifted the pair and eased the combination while the chutney released a sweet and sour fruitiness which toned down the slight bitterness of the malty, oaky character.

With the second starter, the Bowmore 17 year old found a happy relationship with the Mumbai lobster which had been marinated in coconut milk (a hint to the gorse aromas of the malt).

The marriage opened up a full circus of flavours with floral and nutty notes followed by a spicy outburst. It was served with a garlic naan which I found overpowering. I personally hate garlic, which may seem a contradiction in a French person (but do all Irish have red hair?), I have always found it difficult to match whisky and garlic, the latter aggressively impregnating tastebuds.

So, though I could not avoid tasting it in the dish, I skipped the naan to better enjoy an interesting exchange between the peaty flavours of Bowmore and the sweet and firm flesh of the lobster. Quite a complex and intriguing match.

The main dish provided an aromatic progression with the Barbary duck breast glazed in the tandoor and served with a dark roasted spice and tamarind sauce and grilled figs, as it was accompanied by Bowmore 25 year old. An obviously classic marriage between the fruity sauce and the sherry character of the Bowmore 25. A great ‘Pondisherry’ treat!

Those who think that Indian sweets are not very tempting should have tasted the three small desserts of the menu. Tandoori smoked pears and pink peppercorn mousse, caramelised milk nuggets with nutmeg and Belgian dark chocolate mousse were served with Yamazaki 18 year old. A mix of delicate and subtle flavours with more concentrated ones, especially liquorice and tamarind.

The 18 year old Yamazaki itself has the same double personality: the sweetness of sherry releasing plum wine aromas is balanced by a dry oakiness opening on liquorice roots.

Once more, the proof was in the pudding. A perfect conclusion to a lusciously aromatic meal. And a beautiful voyage on the once thriving shores of Pondichéry.

The menu


Demoiselles de Pondichéry Tandoori grilled salmon with dill and scallop with saffron.
Auchentoshan 10 Year Old

Starter: Tandoori Seared Foie Gras

Tandoori seared foie gras, served with fresh tamarind and medjool date chutney and a crisp floral honey naan.
Auchentoshan Three Wood

Second course: Mumbai Lobster

Tandoori grilled lobster served with a garlic naan.
Bowmore 17 Year Old

Main course: Magret de Canard Pulivaar

Barbary duck breast seared in the Tandoor, served with a roasted spice and tamarind sauce with grilled figs and saffron rice.
Bowmore 25 Year Old

Dessert: Coup de Coeur

Belgian dark chocolate mousse Caramelised milk nuggets with cinnamon Tandoori pears and pink peppercorn mousse.
Yamazaki 18 Year Old

How to find inspiration

Why not try your own combinations?

A single glance on La Porte des Indes Cookbook immediately whets your appetite. Chef Mehernosh Mody and his wife Sherin, who is also the restaurant managing director, have compiled La Porte des Indes’ most acclaimed dishes in a beautifully illustrated book. A mouth-watering taste of the French cuisine of Pondichéry. If you don’t feel confident enough to recreate by yourself those inspired recipes, join the chef’s cooking demonstrations on the last Friday of the month (including in summer) from 12.30 am to 1.30 am. Presentation of a three course menu, tasting followed by a buffet. £22 per person.