In this grey and wistful time of year, with England enjoying the average annual rainfall of a small tropical country on a daily basis, what we need is a bit of brightness, sunshine and good living. What better then than an evening in the company of the delightful Shanti Maurice team, their colourful dancing girls, exquisite Mauritian cuisine, rhum-laced cocktails and pampering? The invitation was like a breath of fresh air in an otherwise gloomy month and we huddled into Moti Mahal, one of my favourite Indian restaurants in London, to enjoy a night hosted by Shanti – a boutique lifestyle resort in the virtually untouched “Soma” South of Mauritius.
The team at Shanti had brought “Grandma” with them to the UK, a minute, and very sweet old lady, with magic cooking fingers, who is the central focus of a fantastic and rather unique dining concept at the resort. “Grandma’s Kitchen” invites guests to eat in Grandma’s home where she will cook traditional meals from the Mauritian Creole repertoire without the pomp and fuss of fine-dining getting in the way. The food is shared in a big group, bringing visitors “into the home” and offering them a taste of the real island, enjoying all the while the tales of Grandma’s childhood and the history of the island – tales laced with a thrilling background of many intertwining cultures.
This evening, Grandma was serving a chicken curry and rich, spicy meat curry with an octopus salad. Thick, warming, delicious. We couldn’t much communicate together except for a few words of patois French, but hopefully she understood my enthusiastic dribbles and noshing sounds. Beyond this, Chef Willie – quite a hero amongst former guests who all seemed to know him very well and sang his praises – dished out plate after plate after plate of incredible dishes. A special mention has to go out to the soft-shell crab which was simply perfect, a lamb biryani oozing wafts of cardamom and coriander and barely-seared Venison carpaccio with mustard seed – outstanding. Other dishes included wasabi king prawn, chicken tikka, spiced beef curry with udon and grilled codfish with deep-fried onions. There was more, but I was distracted by a volley of rhum cocktails, most notably the delectably smokey Rhum, single malt whiskey and lychee combo which almost had me joining the Sega-dancing girls in straw hats.
There are worst ways to spend a rainy Wednesday. Did I mention the hand massages? Using a range of natural products and essential oils by South Africa’s AFRICOLOGY brand, Asha the therapist and Shanti Maurice’s senior Spa Manager Novie oversaw the administration of soothing, nurturing hand massages. The scent of Frangipane washed down with the lychee and passion fruit cocktails and frankly, I could lie back and dream of island paradise.
Sad then, to trot into the rainy night over Covent Garden. But I have a book of Grandma’s recipes to take home – I plan on nailing that soft-shell crab to see me through the winter blues.