Last night I went to a wake and a christening. All at the same time and at the same place.
Sadly, after many years, the Mughal Spice Indian restaurant in Chepstow is no more. The wholesome food and bonhomie of the brothers is a thing of the past. However, in its place is born an additional iteration to the very successful Mint & Mustard. The south-west based Indian food explosion has finally cracked the holy grail of the “Indian”, to offer distinctive, regional, genuine menu’s with a dash of great service and in cool surroundings. Although the new Chepstow outlet is pretty much just a lick of paint and a refresh for the old Mughal upstairs rooms at the moment, they have great ideas for the downstairs lounge. Anyone who has been to their other restaurants, particularly Penarth, will know that the decor style of this quickly expanding group is definitely upmarket and trendy with nods to all of the interior design trends and tricks of the new wave of uber-cool bars and restaurants.
As most now know, many of our beloved “Indians” have in the past been run by Bangladeshi folk. Nothing wrong in that, but since the days of the Raj, Asian food has been adapted and adopted by the British palate as only we seem to do with any world cuisine. Partly because of this restaurant menus became the anonymous high streets of the restaurant business. Homologous lists of dishes you could get from anywhere – with often differing resemblances to the stated contents.
Mint & Mustard is changing that. The reason for their success so far is simple? Of course the great levels of service are important but it’s the food. Genuine south Indian, predominantly Keralan, dishes all served up with lashings of style and presentation. Finally! An Indian restaurant that gets it all right.
Kerala, known as the “Land of Spices” because of its history as a spice trading centre to the world, sits on the Arabian Sea on the tropical Malabar Coast. No wonder then that fish is one of the staple elements of the Keralan diet. But it’s also famous for its meat and vegan dishes (Hindus in the Brahmin community are vegan). Coconuts abound in Kerala and, in all its forms, it’s a significant feature of the local cuisine.
Our starters of Scallop Thengapal served in their shells with an unctuous soft lemon and coconut milk sauce and the theatrical Keralan tiger prawns, deep fried in chilli and turmeric paste – delightful. A selection of mains followed which included expertly spiced chicken Kori Gassi, King Prawn Peera, chicken Dhaba Murgh with chilli, garlic and ginger and a Master Chef Mixed Grill Platter with an assortment of meat and fish tikka dishes. Accompanying sides of dals – Olan (butternut squash and cow peas) and of course Tarka dal.
Tarka dal is such a domestic staple of Asian cuisine from Nepal to the southern tip of the continent that it’s a litmus for the quality of any Asian restaurant. If a restaurant can’t get this right, the thing they have been cooking at home and eating for years, then it doesn’t bode well. If the tarka dal is good, you can have confidence that everything is going to be just fine. M&M’s tarka dal is great. Just the right amount of sauce, spice and texture in the lentils – a real treat.
Add to that a full house and lots of early evening atmos – and that’ll be another winner for Mint & Mustard!