Moti Mahal, Covent Garden

Our features assistant discovers an exotic treasure right in the heart of the West End.

Every once in a while, you come across a restaurant that makes you look at a well-known and popular cuisine with fresh eyes – and Moti Mahal is just that place. Having always loved Indian food in its humblest takeaway form, we were excited to experience it gourmet-style, but confident that we knew what to expect. Not so – visiting this delightful eatery gave us a newfound appreciation for the huge depth and variety of Indian dishes.

Not to say that we weren’t expecting something special. The original Moti Mahal opened in Delhi in 1959 and quickly became world-famous for allegedly inventing the chicken Tikka Masala and entertaining the likes of Indira Gandhi and the Kennedys. The London outpost launched in 2005, headed up by talented chef Ani Arora, who was cooking for India’s Prime Minister when he was just 25.
At first glance, Moti Mahal looks more like a stylish bistro than a traditional Indian restaurant. Think white linen tablecloths, red leather upholstery, crystal chandeliers and a glamorous brushed-copper bar. But a quick glance into the kitchen, tucked behind a curved glass wall, reveals the restaurant’s authentic tandoor oven, while the gentle aroma of spices in the air whets your appetite for the exotic delights to come. 

The restaurant’s dishes are inspired by the regional cooking styles and flavours found along India’s Grand Truck Road, one of the longest routes in Asia, which stretches right across the country from West to East. This is what makes the Moti Mahal menu so varied and eclectic. 

We started out with a complimentary mixed salad to share, and were invited to season it ourselves with a mix of sea salt and fried curry leaves or Indian masala powder. The effect was surprisingly refreshing, and warmed up our palates nicely for the starters. 

Sharing food is a big part of Indian culture, so our waitress advised us to choose three of the restaurant’s smaller dishes to try between us. We opted for the Polichathu (baked baby red mullet with coconut, tamarind and shallots), which was served in a banana leaf parcel. The dish was genuinely delicious and oh-so fragrant. Next up was the Baigan: crisp fried aubergine and chilli pepper pakoras, dipped in an apple and mint chutney. This dish was probably the least exciting that we tried, but the chutney gave it a nice kick. 

To finish off, we decided to try something from the restaurant’s grill section and opted for the Barra Peshwar (lamb chops with caraway seeds and Kashmiri chillis, served with a tomato salad and avocado chutney). The chops were cooked to perfection, to the point were the meat was practically melting in our mouths. The flavour itself was spicy without being overpowering, and was offset nicely by the avocado. 

Next up came the mains, and we opted to share yet again. We chose a real classic – Moti Mahal’s signature chicken tikka – and something a little more unusual – quail dumplings poached in ground poppy seeds and yoghurt curry. Without exaggerating, these were definitely the most delicious curries we’d ever tasted. The chicken tikka, in particular, was beautifully creamy, while the quail’s gamey taste worked surprisingly well with the spicy flavours. On the side, we opted for the Dal Makhani, which had been cooked on charcoal overnight, giving it a lovely rich taste, as well as some delicious tandoor-baked breads to mop up the sauces. 

Feeling absolutely stuffed, we finished up with dessert, opting for the Kulfi selection. These mini delights on sticks looked and tasted like creamy ice lollies in exotic flavours, including mango, pistachio, and gulukand and honey. They were a wonderfully refreshing end to the meal.

To drink, we had a bottle of red Chateau Langorain wine, chosen by the sommelier to complement our dishes. The restaurant also boasts a large selection of exclusive whiskies, with some of the rarest vintages in London. Their cocktail list is similarly extensive, boasting an array of exotic concoctions, made with fresh herbs, spices and juices.

Moti Mahal combines a relaxed atmosphere with a great menu, which manages to feel both traditional and modern at the same time. The classic dishes are beautifully executed, and you’ll also encounter innovative flavour pairings that really highlight the diversity of Indian cooking.

Starters from £7 and mains from £14. Tasting menu from £40.

Moti Mahal, 45 Great Queen Street, London WC2B 5AA, 020 7240 9329
http://motimahal-uk.com/

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