'Anglicised version of modern India' proves something of a let down for Deanna Thomas
I WAS looking forward to visiting Mowgli. I’d been following their story for a while via social media, watching the brand develop and grow from the first Bold Street branch, swiftly followed by another in Manchester and now a second in Water Street. I’d heard good things but mostly from them, to be fair.
Mowgli is the offspring of Nisha Katona; beautiful and accomplished ex-barrister, author, cookery teacher and sometime telly chef. Nisha is very much part of the brand, which is why the beautiful and accomplished thing was worth mentioning. She was even present on our visit, having her photo taken for a charity magazine. When it comes out you might notice me in the background trying to avoid being in it, which I failed to do.
Mowgli’s menu is unconventional, warm and witty, listing absolutely none of the tired, old, one-sauce-fits-all curry classics
Only a tell-tale aroma emanating from the kitchen - and turmeric stains on the tables - reveal that this is an Indian restaurant. The music and staff are both contemporary western and the fit out is somewhere the editor of Good Homes Magazine might meet the boss of Farrow and Ball for a hibiscus berry tea; muted olive and cream paintwork and props such as plants, fairy lights, ropes and birdcages placed at intervals.
There’s more to the drinks menu than pints of Cobra. No draft beers, only half a dozen bottles along with flavoured lassis, premium soft drinks, teas and coffees. The cocktail list involves spirits infused with herbs, spices and warming ginger. Justifying daytime boozing by paying homage to the fact that gin and tonic was invented in India, as well as the approaching Valentine’s Day, plus it was five o’clock somewhere; I had a refreshing rose and raspberry G&T (£7.20) which contained lime and fresh ginger which obliterated any delicate flower flavour.
Mowgli’s menu is unconventional, warm and witty, listing absolutely none of the tired, old, one-sauce-fits-all curry classics. It goes the contemporary way of sharing plates, of course, which are served in a three-tier tiffin tin. During her “have you been to Mowgli before?” shtick, our waitress recommended choosing three dishes per person plus rice and a bread to share.
First up, from the vegetarian “street chat” section were fenugreek-kissed fries (£4.95); cubes of fried potato tossed with turmeric, fenugreek, sliced red onion and “the Mowgli masala”.
We liked these warm, comforting and moreish spuds to start off with, but became overwhelmed by the sweet, sticky tamarind-heavy sauce by the time we got to the bottom. Didn’t get much of the fenugreek coming through; they must have meant more of a showbiz air kiss than a full snog.
Bunny Chow (£8.50) “Mowgli’s showstopper” was a funny old dish. Apparently a favourite of South African Indian railway workers, it’s a fairly conventional home-style chicken and potato curry served somewhat eccentrically inside a huge hollowed-out wodge of white bread. I’d have been unable to cope with a four-hour shift welding railroad tracks after eating that lot.
Our pick of the dishes was house lamb curry (£6.75) long-simmered with marrow bone, anise, plums, and chickpeas; tender and earthy lamb in a dark gravy, freshened up by chopped green chilli, fresh coriander and crunchy pomegranate seeds. It was on the sweet side, but paled in comparison with Goan fish curry (£7.50.) On paper that came with “a highly fragrant, fiery, tangy, sweet mahogany sauce with tamarind, ginger, coriander and dried smoky Kashmiri red chillies”. In reality it was indistinguishable white fish swimming in an overly sweet, unbalanced, one-dimensional brown jam. More like Goan try again.
From the vegetarian “Hindu kitchen” menu section we tried green ginger and rhubarb dahl (£4.50) because I love a comforting, spiced velvety lentil mash and have devoted my life to creating the ultimate version. This was fine and the muted green mung lentils even matched the decor perfectly. Not quite sure what the rhubarb added apart from a bit of extra fibre. Picnic potato curry (£4.25) was quite different to the fenugreek fries, having being boiled and bound in a tomato and mustard seed-based Bengali five spice mix. Nice and comforting. Wrapped in a warm chapati, that would do me better for a day grafting on the tracks.
Speaking of breads, Elephant Atta roti (£1.50 for 2) is a case of up-selling for what are simply grilled wholemeal flat breads for picking up curries. A quick Google revealed that Elephant Atta is a brand of high quality chapati flour rather than a reference to their size. Mind you, to be fair, there weren’t any bunnies in the bunny chow either.
We passed on desserts, as we didn’t need anything sweet after that fish curry. By the time we left, the place was packed, so Brand Mowgli is giving people what they want – a safe and pretty Anglicised idea of modern India. In all honesty, the experience wasn’t as enjoyable or as vibrant as I’d hoped. Although it had all the right ingredients, there was a distinct lack of promised pazzazz.
Mowgli Street Food,
3 Water Street,
Tel: 0151 236 6366
GOAN FISH CURRY 5, BUNNY CHOW 6, FENUGREEK FRIES 7, GREEN DAHL 7, PICNIC POTATO 7, HOUSE LAMB 7
Pretty and modern