There’s not much one can answer to a colleague you don’t know so well when the first thing they utter upon picking up the “surprise” keyring from the office party Christmas cracker is “ooh, that’s an odd looking cock ring.” But then merriment and jokes bordering on the inappropriate being de rigueur at these functions, one can only answer with a large guffaw and then encourage said person to keep going. Which was apparently my solution.
We were whisked to Moti Mahal in Covent Garden for our office Christmas shindig. This after craftily plying all 60 of us with champagne in the deliciously sexy bar at soon-to-open Four Seasons Park Lane. I’ve clearly been dining in all the wrong curry places, most especially the disastrous and disgusting Gufaa in Islington or the trendy and yummy but not mind-blowing Dishoom, but this gloriously simple and elegant Indian restaurant whips their arse with the fervour of a steroid-fuelled jockey on crack.
I am no Indian cuisine expert, I know what I like and I like to vary but I’m not going to write a lecture on the regional idiosyncrasies of the Spice Route or pretend I can identify the 52 individual spices that have made up a secret blend then tell you if it is more typical of Manipur or Kerala. All I can say is this: The spices sang, popped, crackled, each having its own little party in my mouth, the dishes displaying distinct nuances and wonderful textures. The Dal Makhani stands out particularly, as does the sweet and crispy Bhalla Papadi Chaat – a starter of crispy friend pastry and chick peas drizzled with creamy yoghurt, tamarind and mint chutney.
That being said the Gosht Ka Salan lamb curry with saffron was meltingly divine and the vegetarian option of our set menu, whole baby aubergines simmered in a creamy cardamom sauce was the kind of dish I’d weep for on a bad day.
We were treated furthermore to a saag aloo I never even got a whiff of as it was whisked to the other end of the table by people whose wits had not yet succumed to the fuzz of the Cotes du Rhone we were drinking, and crispy Pudineywaley gosht ke kebab, “Enid Blyton midnight-snack” quality lamb kebabs with mint.
Then two types of kulfi, saffron and honey or the classic mango, both of which were the perfect round off to an elaborate, but not heavy meal. Moti Mahal joyously covers most of the important regional cuisines of India, with dishes from Goa, Peshawar, the Punjab and Bengal amongst others – prices are a reflection of the quality of the food, this is a place to come for serious dining and a spicy assault on the senses (and not in the Lynx effect manner…)
The concept of Moti Mahal is to present the cooking of the Grand Trunk Road and frankly the little poetic blurb by the chef on the top of the menu is enough to have you packing your suitcases tout-de-suite. But if you can’t afford a dusty train ride along the exotic terrains from Peshawar to Bengal, just hop in a cab to Covent Garden and eat your way through the menu.
MOTI MAHAL: 45 Great Queen Street, Covent Garden, London WC2B 5AA