Anja Madhvani jumps on the swing seat for an up and down experience
We arrive at Mowgli on a cold January eve to a bustling restaurant where nobody speaks to us for a full ten minutes. We loiter awkwardly by the door, unable to move due to a sizeable group occupying the bar area. It could be worse though, we could be the people behind us who are trapped in the porch, the chilly void between frosty pavement and cosy, twinkly restaurant.
We suspect there may have been staff shortages due to covid and the state of the hospitality industry post-Christmas, where it felt almost impossible to guess how busy service would be. I hasten to add that the service throughout the rest of the evening is the best you’ll find anywhere, but a lack of acknowledgement on arrival is a pet peeve of mine.
I want you to call a pani puri a pani puri, rather than a 'yoghurt chaat bomb'
We have the choice of sitting at a table in the midst of the thoroughfare of busy waitstaff or waiting a few minutes for a swing seat in the window. We decide to wait. After all, have you even been to Mowgli if you didn’t sit in a swing seat?
We browse the menu as we wait and enjoy watching the bartender mixing drinks. We order a couple of alcohol-free cocktails (£5.20 each) and are impressed by the complexity of flavour. A lot of care has gone into delivering something grown-up without the booze, which I appreciate.
We dive in with a Monkey Wrap (£8.75). Tandoori chicken is succulent and well seasoned, the warming spice offset by the sweet tang of tamarind and pops of refreshing pomegranate. The roti this is served on is dismally brittle, a real crime against bread.
By contrast, Himalayan Cheese Toast (£5.25) is a crime of a different nature, it’s somewhat soggy and has seen a little too much cumin. It puts me in mind of something a student might turn out in an episode of Come Dine With Me. The jury is unconvinced by the small plates.
Our main dishes are served in a tiffin, which is very cute but not the most practical. I pity the kitchen porter. Green Rhubarb & Ginger Dahl (£4.95) has a delightful tart quality. It’s little touches across the menu like this clever use of unripened rhubarb that I think really celebrate the resourcefulness of cooks from the Indian Subcontinent in using the ingredients available to them to recreate favourites from home. We love to see it.
House Lamb Curry (£7.95) is unfortunately not "falling apart" as stated on the menu, the meat needed a little longer to really break down. The sauce however is quite something, aromatic spice and sticky fruity notes, a playful balance of sweet and heat.
Butter chicken is often presented as an almost spiceless, creamy thing for people who don’t enjoy tasting their food. Thankfully, Mowgli’s Mother Butter Chicken (£7.95) may be one of the best I’ve ever had, it is unctuous and complex, fragrant spices hold their own against the richness of the dish.
At home, I usually use a stack of rotli (this is what Gujarati folk call "roti") to scoop up my entire meal by hand. But with roti here weighing in at £3 for 2, and puri an eye-watering £3.20 for two, I must go against my instincts and resort to cutlery, a sad day indeed.
I cannot resist ordering some Gulab Jamun (£4.50) and Mowgli’s are large, sticky, wotsit-shaped pieces of syrupy indulgence. We also have The Mowgli Chocolate Brownie (£5.50), which is a brownie. The Chai Espresso Martini (£8.00) sadly lacked any hint of spice, which is a real shame because I’d earmarked it as the drink I was really looking forward to.
I can’t help but feel that Mowgli is trying to be two things at once, and falling slightly short in both areas. As a curry house, I feel it’s missing some of the sundries I would want to see, the bread selection is limited and there’s an upsetting lack of pickles.
As a street food kitchen, I want the classics. I want vada pav, I want samosa, and I want you to call a pani puri a pani puri, rather than a "yoghurt chaat bomb". This restaurant has the opportunity to provide a gentle education to a largely Western audience, so the anglicised dish names feel like a missed opportunity. I’m just a little dissatisfied by the overall experience.
I leave knowing I’m probably not the target audience here. The staff are fantastic, and I can picture this being a great setting for a first date. Indeed, the couple next to us appeared to be on such an outing, and it seemed to go well.
The issues with the food that let the experience down felt very much like mistakes that on any other day may not have been made. I’m pretty sure had I visited another day my review may have been quite different.
Mowgli Street Food Unit C, 34 Boar Lane, Leeds, LS1 5DA
All scored reviews are unannounced, impartial, paid for by Confidentials and completely independent of any commercial relationship. Venues are rated against the best examples of their type: 1-5: saw your leg off and eat it, 6-9: Netflix and chill, 10-11: if you’re passing, 12-13: good, 14-15: very good, 16-17: excellent, 18-19: pure class, 20: cooked by God him/herself.
Monkey wrap 5, cheese toast 3, green dahl 9, lamb curry 6, butter chicken 9.5, puri 8, roti 7, gulab jamun 10, brownie 8
A cute, romantic setting
The awkwardness on arrival let down otherwise excellent service