When your boyfriend is a chef working unsociable hours, but you bow down to the monotony of a 9-5 working day , you know it’s going to be unlikely that you’ll get to spend one of the busiest nights – Valentine’s Day – together. Whilst this proved to be true, we did miraculously manage to spend the following evening together. Naturally, we opted to dine out for the evening.
Mint and Mustard is a place which has been on our radar for an extremely long time. Fancying somewhere new to try, we finally bit the bullet and booked a table here. Situated on the busy Whitchurch Road, we were extremely lucky to steal a parking space located precisely outside the restaurants doors. Entering the building, a waiter appeared as if from nowhere, making a beeline directly towards us to gracefully open the door, take our coats, and show us to our table. Needless to say, we immediately felt like guests as opposed to paying customers.
With a modern decor and bright lighting, the establishment offer far more than the dingy exteriors of many a take-away Indian. In fact, the only critique I could find with the lay out of the restaurant was the close proximity of tables. Sitting next to a group of four students, I was soon hearing the details of their busy day. On the other hand, this closeness would be brilliant for an intimate social gathering, which indeed we witnessed first hand that night.
Mint and Mustard specialises in contemporary Indian Dining, stating that they are inspired by the ‘Keralan philosophy of fresh, light and healthy food created with passion and care’. Whilst their takeaway menu does feature some of the established British favourites of Indian food (think Tikka Masala), the restaurant’s main menu showcases a much more vibrant and interesting array of dishes. Deciding what to chose was no easy feat, and my stomach was definitely not thankful for the prolonged indecision. Eventually, with the help from my boyfriend, we made our orders. One completed, I was pleasantly taken by surprised when our waitress quite literally whisked the white folded napkins from our table, swiftly laying them upon our laps. Once again, the attention to detail was fantastic, further highlighting that this restaurant strives for refinement.
To start, we had gone for the rather typical option of Poppadums with a selection of dips. In all honesty I wasn’t expecting much here; after all, how much difference can you really make to such a popular but basic sundry? I quite literally ate my words. Arriving in an overflowing wicker basket, we were both surprised by the actual size of the Poppadums. Gone was the typically large and awkward ones which require breaking and dissembling before you can actually proceed to eating. These were already the perfect size for both eating and dipping, the awkwardness completely eradicated. Even better, they were so light and crispy, without an inch of greasy residue, that we continued to eat and eat and eat until every sparse crumb had been consumed. At £3.95, this was a bargain not to be missed!
The selection of dips continued the theme of surprise, with the absence of the more usual choices. The one which I was most intrigued to try was also the first one to catch my eye, with the striking yellow hues being entirely symbolic of the actual ingredients used; lemon and pickle. On first taste, the acidic tang of the lemon was most noticeable, slowly giving way to the growing intensity of a spicy heat which builds on your tongue. My boyfriend, a lover of spicy food, absolutely loved this unusual combination, and whilst I was a bit more undecided, it was certainly unique. The second option saw the much tamer combination of coriander and mint, providing a cooling touch after the first one tried. Although there was a hefty amount of mint, which most definitely gave this one a delicious freshness, I am an avid hater of coriander. I am ones of those people who think it taste like a soaped up devil, and whilst my boyfriend enjoyed it, all I could taste was the dreaded herb. Definitely not one I would recommend for fellow coriander haters. Not to fear, however, for the last and final option was by far the best! The ginger, date and pineapple dip had myself and Mr Chef quite literally at war with our respective spoons and poppodums, each determined to grab the most. It was sticky and sweet; a perfect balance of flavours which was highly reminiscent of my favourite mango chutney. For lovers of more traditional options, fear not, for I did hear a table ask for and receive some mango chutney.
For our main starters, I instantly gravitated towards the ‘Exotics of Chicken’, but feeling adventurous, and wanting something much more unusual, I finally went with the vegetarian friendly ‘Bombay Chat’. Upon arrival, our waiter took the time to explain how to eat this dish for the best flavour, which was essentially to pop the entire thing in your mouth at once. I did just this, and can honestly say it was nothing like I was expecting. This is a dish served cold, and after the initially crunch of the outer crispy shell, I was met with an avalanche of creamy, liquid yoghurt bursting with flavour. Whilst I didn’t really get anything taste wise form the extra garnishes, the main bulk of this dish was delicious in its won right. The yoghurt was so refreshing that it acted as the perfect palette cleanser after the poppadums. Looking back, I almost could place this item on the dessert menu, although that is probably more to do with my British upbringing than anything else. At £4.95 for four of these items, it was good value for money.
My boyfriend opted, of course, for a meat option in the guise of the ‘Crab Porichathu’. I sampled from a small piece which he could bring himself to share, and we both agreed this was fantastic. The meat itself was incredibly fresh in taste, with the batter being light and crisp. This was exactly what Mr Chef had hoped for, as he hates the dreaded stodgy, almost viscous batter which can so often completely annihilate the delicate crab. This was quite pricey for a starter, coming in at £8.50, but when you take in the quality of crab meat and the portion size, the pricing is probably about right. As you can see, this is also quite a garish looking dish, and I wouldn’t recommend it for people who don’t like contemplating where their food comes from, or what they are actually eating! As a Chef, my boyfriend clearly had no such qualms . . .
Onto the mains next, and despite the tantalizing options of exciting new dishes to experience, I was really in the mood for a simple curry, so went for the ‘Mint and Mustard Korma’. I know what you’re thinking; yes this is a boring and incredibly tame choice. But it was what I fancied, and I personally think that every dish on a menu should be a stand out, not just the more exotic choices. Of course, with a Korma lacking in heat, it really must excel in flavour, and this was really what I was looking for.
The sauce was extremely smooth (free from the odd texture of coconut flesh some can have) and almost had a shine to its surface inviting you in. Upon tasting, it had a pleasant enough flavour, with the sauce consisting of a careful balance between the flavours of coconut and cashew nuts used. The pieces of chicken were very tender, revealing fantastic white meat inside. All in all, I wasn’t blown away by this dish, thinking it quite similar to other chicken kormas I have previously had. Then again, as my boyfriend always says, you can’t really take a massive amount of liberties with something as mild as a Korma, although if you’re going to call it the ‘M and M Korma’ I do you think you expect something a bit more unique. The portion size was about average, and a standard price at £9.25.
Being a big fan of duck, and having had it recommended to him by a friend, my boyfriend went with the ‘Barbary Duck’, which the menu describes as a ‘Kerala hunter’s special cooked in the tandoor’. I personally though the portion size was a bit on the small side considering the price tag of £14.80. The large size of the plate used also aided the diminutive appearance. The duck itself was quite a nice portion, but the small salad and bowl of sauce I felt could have been accompanied by something a bit more substantial, perhaps in the form of some rice. Nevertheless, Mr Chef absolutely loved it, devouring it within seconds. He said the meat was beautifully moist, with a natural sweetness from the meat and a hint of pinkness upon cutting. The sauce had a pleasant heat, and complimented the meat to perfection.
We shared a portion of steamed rice, costing £3.75, which was a perfect example of the light and fluffy heights rice should strive for. We also opted for a ‘Garlic Naan’ (£2.95), which came handily cut into four portions. The bread was lovely and light, again being grease free, although being big garlic lovers, we both wished its presence could have been stronger.
My favourite dish of the night was undoubtedly a shared side order of the ‘Aloo of the Day’. Costing £4.95, this side dish consisted of potatoes tossed and coated in various spices, which, as the name states, differs on a daily basis. We were told our Aloo of the day was Aloo Jeera, and my god am I thankful for this information, because I will definitely be coming back for more of these. The potatoes themselves, a fairly humble ingredient, were elevated to culinary royalty. They were perfectly cooked, with no hard interiors which I hate so passionately. Instead, the deliciously crisp exterior gave way to the fluffiest, yet perfectly intact potatoes I may have ever eaten. The spices/sauce which they were cooked in was lovely, consisting of tiny pieces of chopped onion amidst a marriage of various spices which produced the most amazing flavour. There was also a heat which took me completely by surprise. What I liked about this was that although this heat was noticeably, it was not simply a raw heat, but actually retained the flavour of the spices. I thoroughly recommend this dish to any one as a true testament of the often simple, but completely delicious Indian dishes we can be lucky enough to taste.
I think it’s a fair statement to make that Indian Cuisine is not especially known for its dessert. Nevertheless, justifying it with the fact that it was a special, albeit belated, Valentines date, we greedily decided to sample a dessert platter. This consisted of three items which are also individual dessert options. First, we tried the tandori pineapple. I for one really enjoyed this. I couldn’t massively tastes the tandori spices, although I would say this was intentional, as the savoury flavours I could detect seemed to heighten the gorgeously warm, almost caramelised taste of the fruit.
Next we tried the crème brulee, which was another experimental option. The menu sated that this changes daily, and while I thought that the waiter told us our was rose flavoured, my boyfriend seemed to think he had said raspberry. This was probably the only dish of the night I did not like. Where a crème burlee is synonymous for a decadently creamy texture, and that beautifully crisp sound as the caramelised top is shattered, this dish had neither. We did try to crack the top with our spoons, but there just didn’t seem to be enough caramelisation to maker this happen, resulting in a disappointing mush instead. Sampling it, the dish seemed to clog and congeal in my mouth, rather than melt on the tongue, and the flavour was strongly perfumed, making me think it most definitely was a rose flavoured one. Thankfully, a rather simple but effective chocolate Samoa saved the day. If you have kids, I would definitely recommend this option. The crispy outside texture of the actual samosa gave way to a delicious avalanche of melted chocolate, with a hazelnut taste resembling the much loved Nutella.
This visit really showed me that Mint and Mustard strives to go above and beyond the typical British views of Indian Cuisine. The attention to detail in the service and the beautiful presentation all made for a lovely visit. The menu, bursting with new and exciting dishes which I have never before tried, all strive to bring contemporary Indian cuisine into the spotlight. Whilst I did not think the entire evening was perfect, there were many stand out dishes which on their own would more than encourage me to come back. I do feel somewhat as if I did the chef’s a disservice by picking the tamer option of the Korma, and already have my eye on other main dishes to rectify this. All in all, well worth a visit to sample much more than your substandard Indian takeaway would have to offer!