79-81 Mortimer St, London W1W 7SJ
When family run Indian restaurant Gaylord launched back in 1966, the owners were so concerned about the safe arrival of their tandoor charcoal clay oven, they purchased a seat for it on the flight over from Delhi rather than sending it as cargo. Co-founder PL Lamba had already celebrated two decades of success in India, with restaurants in Delhi and Mumbai, and the tandoor was at its heart. Theirs is fabled to be the first oven of its kind to land in Britain and, with it, our love affair with traditional Indian cuisine took hold.
Serving up Mughlai and north Indian dishes from its home on Mortimer Street, Gaylord is the kind of place that people talk about and the kind of restaurant they return to time and again. The iconic dining room is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, and has dropped the price of its famed chicken tikka masala to the ‘opening price’ of 30p, introducing it to a new following.
Let’s be clear, you’re not here for the interior design which, while smart, is minimalist at best. The real pull is the food – a menu of colourful and gutsy balanced plates with oodles of flavour. Specialities come in the form of grilled meats and naan bread from the original tandoor.
Starters are top-drawer – opt for golgappa shots, an Indian street food snack of puffed savouries with coriander and chickpea-spiced water and a sweet date and jaggery sauce. An optional shot of vodka on the side modernises the traditional, while crispy onion bhajis with mint chutney are delivered without a hint of oil.
Delicious, familiar mains are ever-present but elevated from the usual. Butter chicken stripped from the clay oven is headily adorned with aromatic spices and rich tomato, while the Goan fish curry celebrates regional red chillies and freshwater tilapia fish. Saffron jumbo tiger prawns come perfectly cooked from the griddle, and fragrant, spiced lamb chops with pomegranate blush rose after a visit to the hot coals. Puddings are a classic affair: go for the less familiar gajar ka halwa (grated carrot with milk, dried fruits, cashew and cardamom).
Service is splendid, and there’s a strong vegetarian offering. Lucky residents in Zone 1 can even opt for fast delivery, making the trad take-away a thing of the past.