The French Gateway to India – La Porte des Indes

La Porte des IndesI was intrigued to find an Indian restaurant in Dubai with a French name. La Porte des Indes’ which translates to ‘Gateway to India’ has outposts in Brussels and London. Research revealed that for centuries, France had a strong presence in India. In regions like Pondicherry, the influence of their culture still lives on. I have always enjoyed the idea of fusing cuisines together, ever since my amateurish childhood experiments in the UK of making hummus tuna sandwiches or adding labneh to baked beans and toast. So, interest piqued, I made a reservation to try La Porte des Indes’ fusion cuisine.

The restaurant’s entrance is conveniently located in a hallway linking The Address Dubai Mall to Bloomingdale’s. Warmly welcomed, we were led into a space drenched in blue fluorescent lighting. The dark wooden tables and intricate wall carvings did little to tone down the feeling of stepping back into the 70’s (or at least what I imagine that era to have looked like).

Once seated, we focused on the lengthy menu, finally settling on the sharing menu (a starter platter, four mains, three sides and dessert), which had our preferred choices anyway, and a chance to taste a variety of dishes for AED225 each – much less than a three course meal. Prices are on the high side especially in a city filled with cheap and cheerful, authentic Indian food.

After an amuse-bouche of almond buttermilk (creamy and sweet with small pieces of almond), came our slightly watery lassis along with crunchy gram flour sticks and chutney. Good to nibble on while we waited. The starters platter arrived piping hot, with neatly arranged chunks of chicken tikka, chard pakora and murgh malai kebab. The tikka marinated in cream cheese was tender and delicious. The green pakoras were crispy on the outside, and soft inside, with the nutty floury spinach contrasting nicely with the mango sauce drizzled on top. Finally, the lamb kebabs were a dream – finely minced and oh so moist. Every bite was a pleasure – a spicy one, but a pleasure nonetheless.

We were told that the chef would only then begin making our mains to give us some breathing room. Taking a closer look at our surroundings, on a Friday night, the restaurant was less than half full. Tables were nicely spread out creating a sense of space and enough distance to carry a private conversation – albeit in hushed tones. But those lights! I thought my eyes would grow accustomed to them. Instead they seemed to glow brighter as the meal progressed. While I understand the restaurant is trying to create a modern atmosphere, it’s a little cold and impersonal. And it drenches my food photos in blue. Onto our main courses, all four of them!

Starter platterSaag paneerRougail d’aubergineCinnamon fondant

Poulet rouge, a house speciality, was my original choice for a main. I was interested to see how the French influenced version of my go-to Indian dish butter chicken would compare. It had a thicker, richer body and was less creamy with yoghurt adding a tangy saltiness. It was quite a dish and would have been the star of the show, had the chicken not been tough, marring the velvety texture of the sauce.

Kari de mouton was highlighted in the menu as a cherished family recipe. I could taste why. The goat meat was luscious and cut like butter. The smooth tomato-based curry was robustly spiced and flecked with crushed black pepper – only the subtle hint of calming coconut milk explained why I wasn’t downing my lassi.  This is the kind of dish that keeps you coming back to a restaurant time and again.

We still had two dishes to try, both vegetarian. Saag paneer, a traditional dish of sautéed spinach and cubed cottage cheese, was well executed but rather unexciting. Rougail d’aubergine, another French-infused dish, looked just like guacamole. The smoked aubergine was delicately seasoned with ginger and green chilli. The fresh green lime ensured the dish had a cooling effect in spite of the aubergine’s bite. While a decent dish, it was no match for the first two. The sides were tadka dal (mushy yellow lentils), appropriately fluffy basmati rice and crispy naan bread served fresh out of the oven throughout the meal.

Hot towels were provided in preparation for the cinnamon fondant we had requested instead of the dessert platter. It arrived looking simple yet elegant. Digging in with no time to waste as molten chocolate oozed from the side, we were in awe. The warm temperature of the gooey centre beautifully complemented the cinnamon infusing the chocolate. Here was the best marriage of flavours we’d tasted yet, reflecting a truly French touch. Each mouthful revealed a perfect balancing act, proving it a dessert absolutely worth saving room for.

Throughout dinner, our waitress was knowledgeable – expertly explaining each dish. Service was good, though slightly over attentive. The two times my napkin slipped (sad but true – starched napkins rarely behave on a silky abaya), it was swooped up almost before hitting the floor.

The sharing menu turned out to be a brilliant idea. Not only because it gives you feedback on more dishes but because it took us on a little gastronomic tour that extended beyond the French-influenced cuisine of Pondicherry and into the diverse and fascinating culinary landscape of India.

La Porte des Indes makes for an unusual addition to Dubai’s dining scene and whilst the place lacks atmosphere, it’s nothing a little warmth (and perhaps less blue) wouldn’t solve. For interesting flavours and good service, here’s to a three out of five FooDiva knife rating.

Do you like fusion cuisine and if so, what is your favourite?

Reem. x

So who’s our new anon guest reviewer with the pseudonym Reem? “I am a proud Emarati, although spending most of my childhood in the UK makes me a bit of a Brit at heart. As much as I loved it there, I enjoyed returning to witness a cosmopolitan Dubai be born. I’m married to a wonderfully traditional man –  a rare breed. We spend our free time exploring our lovely city – new spots, hidden gems and all. At twenty something (don’t ask!), I’ve realised just how much I still have to discover, experience and enjoy.” 

FooDiva Rating: Knife Rating: 3
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8 Responses to “The French Gateway to India – La Porte des Indes”

  1. Dave Reeder March 24, 2014 at 1:09 pm

    I’ve eaten several times at the outlet in London and the atmosphere there is very different – lots of greenery and wood. I don’t like the style of this Dubai version though I was told they felt the need to bling it up to suit the local crowd. Interestingly, the corporate chef who oversees all three restaurants spent some time in Pondicherry learning family recipes which have then been given a professional gloss, so the tastes are authentic even if the presentation isn’t. Personally, I enjoy the food but it’s not somewhere I’d want to eat more than a couple of times a year and the location – Is it in the Mall? Is it in the hotel? – is questionable.

  2. Reem Al Shamsi March 24, 2014 at 2:38 pm

    Hi Dave!
    I’m not surprised to hear that the chef spent time in Pondicherry as the food definitely tastes authentic. The presentation of the food was also done well- minus the blue lighting. Funny how a little detail can really make or break an evening. I appreciate it can be tricky to maintain a restaurant’s identity and yet make sure it fits in with the local dining scene. So if, as you say, the restaurant was designed to cater for the local crowd, then I’m hoping a bit of de”blinging” is in order.

    As for the location- it is an interesting one and should help drive in mall goers in search of more upscale dining. We actually used the restaurant’s own little entrance from the Fashion parking- more of a lucky guess than actually knowing where to look.
    This is an unusual addition to Dubai’s dining scene so it would be interesting to see how it fares. I will say, after tasting the food and hearing your feedback, I’m keeping “La Porte des Indes” in mind for my next trip to London!

    Reem.x

  3. IshitaUnblogged March 25, 2014 at 9:22 am

    I am most curious, as I have been exposed to the Portugese influence in Indian cuisine quite a lot. Even Bengal has a history of Portugese influence and the Paneer or the Cottage Cheese that go into the famous Bengali Rasgulla is a Portugese ‘import’. I tasted Chef Vishal Rane’s cooking in the Taste of Dubai and was surprised that the French influence also had it’s spiciness. Even we had visited Pondicherry, the food tasted much like the Goan curries (Portugese influence). So, I need to really go to understand the *French* influence.

    • Reem Al Shamsi March 25, 2014 at 12:33 pm

      Hi Ishita!
      How intriguing! I wasn’t aware of the Portuguese influence on Bengali cuisine. It would be interesting to compare it with the French influence on Indian cuisine. I think you’re right, a visit to “La Porte des Indes” is in order- for the sake of research, of course 😉

  4. The Man in the White Hat March 25, 2014 at 12:24 pm

    I haven’t had the opportunity to eat at either the London or Dubai branches yet (though the Dubai one’s definitely on my list), but – like Ishita – the point that interests me is where the French influence lies. The online menu offers hints, but it would be interesting to get some insight into what the specific French influences are.

    And Reem, I fully sympathise over the lighting and atmosphere; Cafe Belge currently has a not dissimilar problem, though it’s clearly trying for a very different feel.

    PS: While we’re on the topic of interesting European-Asian fusion cuisines, and so long as Portugal’s come up in passing… I don’t suppose there’s any appetite for a Macanese restaurant in Dubai? Macau has a fantastic but little-known local Portuguese colonial – Chinese fusion cuisine; but it’s virtually impossible to find outside of Macau itself….

  5. Reem Al Shamsi March 25, 2014 at 1:03 pm

    Why, Hello! I enjoyed reading your review- and it came to mind when we stepped into LPDI. Also, I love that between us (you, myself and Dave), we seem to have covered all the restaurant’s branches.

    You know I did try to ask more specifically about the French influence, but once I started listing spices that weren’t on the menu- I sensed the waitress starting to panic. So, I stopped. *sigh*

    As for a Macanese restaurant in Dubai- Yes! I definitely think there will be an appetite for it. Dubai is a melting pot (no pun intended) of nationalities and it’s only expected that its dining scene will reflect that. Macau’s cuisine got my vote the minute I knew tapas are an important part of it. Who doesn’t love tapas?!

  6. GregM October 23, 2014 at 11:51 am

    Hello there!we have been for dinner in La Porte des Indes, after good reviews in tripAdvisor and wanted to find French influence like Man in white hat.

    what defenetly has french influence from what we have tried – it’s Foie gra! the difference with common way, it has smoky flare from tandoor oven. it’s really different compare with foie gra in french restaurant and not indian at all.
    i can say duck breast didnt taste indian, with some sweet chatney it was really nice and juicy, but if you eat only well done grill, it’s serves medium.
    i haven’t expected my Slovenian gf will like be satisfied,as it’s always problem to bring her to indian restaurant,as i love curries. what was recommened for her by supervisor she liked as it was not spicy and she liked Creme brule for dessert.

    Experience was difinitly very good.

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