Gymkhana, Mayfair, London

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Memoir  |  House: Booksie Classic
Capsaicin hallucinations in the kitchen vapours once again spark the chilli-twisted urges of a ravening spicehead. Housekeeper diverted by the parlour port bottle, Pickles bolts. Brown Betty stews amongst the abandoned dinner things.

From the gate of his Victorian home, Pickles doffs his trilby. The female figure at the bay front window wildly gestures the universal sign language for ‘madman’ and ‘I’m going to wring your neck’. Then, more obscurely, ‘My beef skirt and dumplings!’, heedlessly scattering last drops of port wine over a dozing siamese.

Submitted: November 19, 2016

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Submitted: November 19, 2016

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Saturday 3rd September 2016.

London. That fag-soot belching, gin-swigging doxy. Remember her raucous, shrill sing-a-longs and that prodigious embonpoint? Those days are gone. She’s under the knife most nights. Primped and tucked, lifted and peeled, she exists like a skinned alien captive subdued under scaffold ligatures. Sunken rose madder cheeks suck the fetidness – a lifeform appears to stir beneath a concrete carapace; ballooned botox lips form a fervid, thwarted kiss. She loves you, she really does, this grotesque grimalkin: Lady London.

And she’s not short of admirers either, over the years: Samuel Johnson, of course; Peter Stringfellow between nubile chicks; Clare Balding ditto. Peter Ackroyd with his restraining order… Personally, I favour her arteries over her flesh – the Victoria Line, for instance, garlanded with its exalted register: Walthamstow, Islington, St Pancras, Euston, Oxford Circus. Pimlico, Brixton… And how it flows! A subcutaneous hot swarm permeates turgid, aluminium cells: first, a chugging, then a whooshing, then a screeching; all darkly foreshadowing a climatic expulsion over teeming pavements.

Killing half an hour, we stood among the rare books of Mayfair. Peter Harrington’s shop. Had my hands on 1930’s first editions of two favourites: Orwell’s “Keep The Aspidistra Flying”  – “Some minor foxing mainly to prelims, a little dusty but overall a very good copy.” – £1,250; Kafka’s “The Castle” –  “Some typical spotting to fore edge, very minor partial browning to the endpapers, spine just a little faded, but an excellent copy” – £4,750. If it’s a first edition signed copy of “The Great Gatsby” you’re after, that’s a mere £275,000. Shooed off that one like a slum dog cur.

An innocuous dull green facade, a dimly lit glass frontage revealing little. The substantial, handsome door looking decidedly locked shut. Until a couple of beautiful young things sashayed through, as if effortlessly parting gossamer drapes. We trailed uncertainly behind, ready to flee. Michelin star restaurant dining not exactly our bread and butter. But it was a friendly reception, the formalities efficiently stage managed. Didn’t feel too poncy. Just a little bit dark and wood veneered. Black fan blades whirred above a jazz soundscape.

In fact, the warm, faultless service was unstinting, compensating somewhat for our table for two, set side-facing, at the end corner of the banquet seating – I enjoyed an uninterrupted view of the reception desk and the long central aisle down the restaurant. It felt strangely proprietorial, scrutinising the waiting staff and diners with my Paddington stare, munching an aubergine.

The pickle tray was disappointingly sparse – just the two glorious dips. An exquisite spicy mango chutney partnering a unique, more-and-morish shrimp pickle. Two styles of papad (cassava/ lentil and rice) added a textural variety. If only they’d thrown in the tamarind and ginger dip that accompanied the delicate, bite-sized samosas, or the sweet creamy raita served with the chilli crusted chicken wings – they’d smash it. Of the starters though it was the kid goat methi keema (including brains – bheja) that triumphed. Stuffed into miniature bread baps with onion shavings – a rich, sumptuous goat medley.

The Torquemada of butter chicken inquisitions, Skippy Pickles, ultimately declared Gymkhana’s attempt a touch heretical compared with Amontola of Richmond’s blameless, beatific version. However, the wild boar vindaloo, was spot on: succulent boar meat; a rich sauce with subtle, tamarindy depths. Delivered an effective ungulate’s kick too (not quite in the knackers). The bread basket was also top notch: two styles of sliced naan, both light, buttery and crisp; sublime rotis imbued with essence of charcoal ovens.

Good and stuffed we declined the dessert menu. Just supped the remainder of an oddly sulphurous masala lassi, shot a wink to the boar’s head hunting trophy, and coughed up the £110 including tip. They tipped us back onto those London streets as in bygone times the sewage slops. We seeped down the congested paths, trickled between impatient motor traffic. Swelled by other tributaries we finally deposited on the shores of Greater London’s Ganges delta. (Tottenham Hale.)


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