Vignettes of Old Marylebone: No 6. A Taste of India

commons voluptuary

When I hobble up to Sainsbury’s for a Simply Ham sandwich on sliced white, I am entranced by the leisurely Arab diners on the terrasses of the glorious restaurants of the Edgware Road. They look so effortlessly graceful and elegant on their cushioned benches and basket chairs, with all the time in the world for good food, ruminative chat and an inhalation of perfumed narghil smoke. Some of these establishments have the charming addition of caged exotic birds beside the tables, chirping, singing and chatting along with the clientele: another therapeutic aid to relaxation.

Portman Village has always been a pioneering centre of exotic dining ever since the Romans marched down Watling Street to where Marble Arch now stands, with their barrels of oysters and pots of garam. Around 1810, as England was consolidating her Indian Empire, the Hindoostanee Coffee House opened just north of Les Senteurs at 34 George Street: it’s now renumbered as 102 if you want to make a little pilgrimage. The owner was the enterprising Sake Din Mahomet newly arrived from Patna ( famous for its fine rice), and for a couple of years he kicked up a great stir with his provision of hookahs, sumptuous seating arrangements and native delicacies. English adventures in India had led to a curry mania at home during the Napoleonic period: remember Becky Sharp choking half to death on a chili at Joss Sedley’s over-spiced dinner in “Vanity Fair”?

On the corner of Duke Street, in the now vanished Edward Street, was Parmentier’s: this was not the Parmentier who pushed the potato as health for all, but a namesake who sounds as though he kept the most magical confectionery in the world for the beau monde and Royal Family. Preserves and conserves both “wet and dry”, ice creams and superior macaroons (just like Laduree) all piled on the health problems which Mr Din Mahomet then alleviated while wearing his other professional hat of “shampooing and vapour surgeon” to two Kings and the Quality.

I suppose we at LES SENTEURS might also consider ourselves as vapour surgeons of a sort – and our collection of gourmand perfumes are second to none. Come by and sample the Indian Raj tea party as interpeted in Parfum d’Empire’s “Fougere Bengale”: truly in Portman Village there is nothing new under the sun!

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