Mint & Mustard – A small corner of Kerala in the Wye Valley

David Broadbent Photography, Mint & Mustard, Indian, street food, Chepstow
Grand opening of Mint & Mustards Indian Street Kitchen in Chepstow. July 2017

We have it all in this article, a VIP gala opening, great Indian food based on traditional Keralan cuisine, a new and exciting restaurant in the heart of Chepstow and the Wye Valley, oh, and a little bit of an exclusive….

http://www.mintandmustard.com/locations/chepstow/
Traditional Keralan drummers

Well, street food has finally landed in the Wye Valley and for one beautiful July evening a very small corner of Chepstow town was transformed into a small section of the Chalai Bazaar (a famous market area in the Indian state of Kerala).

David Broadbent Photography, Mint & Mustard, Indian, street food, Chepstow
First dosa hits the pan.

For the grand opening of the Mint & Mustard Indian Street Kitchen now firmly, and stylishly, located on the ground floor of this small part of the Keralan state. The throng of invited guests, from far and wide, filled the street-side patio to capacity. Excited chatter about the already well established fine dining restaurant on the upper floor (see our previous blog http://www.wyedeandeliconfidential.co.uk/blog/mint-mustard-opens-in-chepstow/) being the currency of the conversation together with excitement about what this new addition to this very popular and ever growing restaurant will bring.

David Broadbent Photography, Mint & Mustard, Indian, street food, Chepstow
Tandoor chef in full swing

As you might expect from a Grand Opening, the staff were on top form, with the management present in the form of the very friendly Mint & Mustard owners Ajit Kandoran and Latheesh Kottilil and their Operations Director of Chai Street (the Cardiff based Street Kitchen restaurant), Ankur Baria all on hand and really very charming.

David Broadbent Photography, Mint & Mustard, Indian, street food, Chepstow
Roar of the greasepaint and the smell of the crowd

But, although the crowd were enjoying the social side of their invitation to this fab event, the overheard conversations said it all. All of the chatter was about the smells now emanating from the Tandoori, Chat and Dosa stands set up around the restaurant wall inside the patio to represent a Keralan roadside – all eyes were fixed on the activity here. The tandoor blasted heat at anyone who got too close. When the tandoor chef moistened the Seekh kebab and lowered it in you could hear the crowd salivate. Chicken and a glorious paneer tikka followed and the whole marinated fish went in two by two. And like any good roadside food, much of Chepstow’s evening traffic slowed to see what all the fuss was about.

David Broadbent Photography, Mint & Mustard, Indian, street food, Chepstow
Great service

If you were in any doubt that this was about the food, you only had to observe Executive Chef Santhosh Nair for a few moments. His steely overseers’ glare saw everything, and we mean everything that his chefs were doing in preparation for our street inspired feast. His bonhomie was reserved specifically for invited guests and it was great to see an accomplished exec chef communicate with his staff by extra sensory perception alone.

Heated by the earth’s core.

As we walked into the VIP reception a Chaat stand dispensed tangy snacks consisting of crispy dough balls, onion, chickpeas, fresh coriander and yoghurt dressing. These stands (thought to have started in Uttar Pradesh) are now widespread across Indian, Pakistan and Nepal and serve these tasty pick-me-up snacks to workers and weary travellers. A Dosa stand dispensed wafer thin dosa (water and flour pancakes) with a masala sauce and next to that, the tandoor stand with blazing oven driven into the bowels of the earth and those wonderful tikka snacks on long skewers.

David Broadbent Photography, Mint & Mustard, Indian, street food, Chepstow
Fish and Paneer tikka

A stylish bijou room at the back now decorated in muted subtle tones housed the buffet serving the Master Chef’s lamb special and chicken biryani with the full nine yards of accompaniments for tonight. In operation this will also be a private function room for hire. Boy, we could just see it laid out as a private dining room for a couple of dozen people. The management would also like us to mention that the room (with IT if required) is also available for business hire for meetings etc. We’ve eaten a lot of business buffet food, but we’ll wager here and now, whatever you want that the Mint & Mustard food will top it all.

David Broadbent Photography, Mint & Mustard, Indian, street food, Chepstow
Beautiful fish, paneer and meat selection.

And there you have it. All fairly predictable for a Mint & Mustard event – top class service, a great and innovative idea delivered with aplomb and (most importantly) the best Indian food for miles!

David Broadbent Photography, Mint & Mustard, Indian, street food, Chepstow
Street food and Chaat

The idea of Mint & Mustard was borne from a dinner conversation of two hard working doctors, Ajit Kandoran and Latheesh Kottilil, would you believe. Sitting in an Indian restaurant close by their hospital dreaming of the food they used to eat back home in Kerala. Wondering why they couldn’t find it all in the UK led to, just a year later, opening the very first Mint & Mustard in Cardiff. We often talk of passion as the magic ingredient in food and drink and surely it can’t get more passionate than that!

Grand opening of Mint & Mustards INdian Street Kitchen in Chepstow. July 2017

Our exclusive? Keralan Cookery courses coming to Chepstow! The very charming and engaging Latheesh Kottilil told us that it was definitely on the cards for Chepstow’s development.  In the crowd we chatted to Dave and Lisa from Newport who had already been on the course in Cardiff. Ten minutes later they stopped telling us how good it was and how fantastic the chefs were and  only then because the food was served!

 

Links

facebook.com/mintandmustard/

Twitter @mintandmustard

www.mintandmustard.com

The Queens Head Micro pub, Chepstow

Queens Head micro pub
Lights back on at the Queens Head

 

On the face of it the last thing Chepstow needed a couple of years go in the high street economic climate of the day was another pub. Why then is Glen Ellis’ Queens Heads micropub on Moor Street in this quiet border town, still going strong?

In an age when reality TV delivers anything but reality, people have become jaundiced by tripe served as prime beef steak. This group of people, who are largely immune to advertising, are known by the red spectacle wearing advertising crowd, as the Millennial Generation. Traditional methods of advertising conjury don’t work on this group – a phenomenon so worrying to TV market traders that actual scientific research has been done into this disconcerting group. They are sometimes defined as “native digital” (Forbes magazine) and the first generation to have grown up with digital communication and social media rather than mainstream media. But, whatever age you are, you may be one of them.

People don’t change and they know genuine when they see it. And you could never accuse this great little pub tucked into the row just above the town gate and next to the Police Station of being anything other than good and honest! Walk into the single room bar and it feels like a pub. The wooden bar, tables and seats have the homely warm glow that only good old solid wood can offer, a rough timber post props up the roof while a ramshackle shelf, just about, holds thick tomes on craft beer. The timber floor leads to a decoratively carved bar and the bare stone walls are decorated in beer mats and other treatise to drink good beer. The pub strap line is the famous Hunter S. Thompson quote “Good people drink good beer” – I thank you.

Queens Head micro pub
Queens Head micropub

There’s a good reason for all this architectural pub bonhomie. It’s in the building DNA.  It was The Queen’s Head for many years but was closed as a pub for about 20 years (it had a midlife crisis and became a hairdresser, clothes shop and an office in the intervening years). Glen found it on the property website Rightmove and fell in love with it and the town of Chepstow. Having secured the change of use back to a pub he has just sort of revived it in a way, brought it back to life with a real ale defibrillator in a craft beer paramedic kind of a way. The bar is actually an old church altar, Glen purchased before ever finding an actual venue for his dream micro pub.  The carving IHS in the middle stands for the first 3 letters of Jesus’ name in Greek. The Alpha symbol on the left stands for the first, and the Omega symbol on the right for the last. So, ladies and gentlemen, please step up to the altar of great Welsh beer.

Queens Head micro pub
Queens Head micropub

In many ways what you see today is the manifestation of Glen’s lifelong dream. Now 34 years old and married to Catherine with a 9 month old daughter called Ivy, Glen has worked in pubs since university days. Back in the day when you could choose how you spent the student grant, Glen invested very wisely in an appreciation of good beer and he’s had – important word here – passion for Real Ale ever since.  After university Glen worked at his mum and dads (The Tower Hotel in Talgarth), running the public bar for them which is where all of that academic research became practical experience and customer service.

Don’t get the idea that this is some sort of beardy man cave though. This is a pub for all, young old, couples, workers – all are welcome and the common denominator is that they like a proper pub for proper people who like their beer to be interesting and taste of something. We chatted to Jon at the bar during “early doors” on Friday. He owns Toytastic the toyshop nearby and calls in for a pint after work. OK, he has got a beard, but otherwise he’s largely normal and very charming. Mike runs Trans Wales Trails, horseback trail riding based near Pengenffordd at the foot of the Black Mountains. He is a regular customer in my Mum and Dads pub at Talgarth where Glen learned his trade craft in working a bar. Mike always calls in on his occasional visits to Chepstow from the hills above Pengenffordd .There’s a northern saying that you can’t stand in a pub there for more than a minute without someone talking to you. At the Queens Head – make that a few seconds and after a few seconds more the regulars will also be congratulating you on your discerning choice of hostelry and telling you what a great pub this is.

Queens Head micropub
Queens Head micropub

Generally and not unreasonably being situated in Wales, Glen offers a wide and ever changing range of beers and ciders from the home nation. He’s a bit of an authority on small Welsh beers in fact and something of an almanac on the breweries they are made in. There’s a “when it’s gone, it’s changed” approach to stock and the result is a roving travelogue of Welsh craft beer, ably assisted and illustrated by a chalk board map of Wales hanging on the wall. It’s not all about Welsh beer though and when the context allows – like the Six Nations Rugby you’ll find suitably partisan guest beers from your own backyard.

There is of course good beer and cider, a warm and genuine welcome from a knowledgeable and enthusiastic landlord and great Welsh beers. But, there is something here that not all pubs have got. There was good conversation at the bar with nice and interesting people. You could hear what was being said because there’s no “musak” or escalating irritating digital pings or distracting light show from a Tardis in the corner offering Las Vegas style riches at the pull of a handle.

Queens Head micro pub
Queens Head micro pub

There are difficult choices of where to start given the range of beers on offer. You could of course go the logical/analytical route and start on the left working your way across during the night or, more responsibly, you could opt for the Queens Head beer tapas. Tapas (sampling the beers in third of pint measures) will be familiar to anyone who has been to a big beer festival, like the upcoming CAMRA Gloucester event (article coming soon). It helps you sample several new beers, without turning the evening into a train wreck. We tried Grey Trees’ JPR, a very nice IPA beer from the Cynon Valley of South Wales (Cynon Valley lies between Rhondda and the Merthyr Valley).

In Italy all bars offer “Aperitvo” to the early evening crowd, often vying with neighbouring bars for the reputation of the best or tastiest. It’s just a complimentary selection of tasty nibbles to go with a few drinks after work. It suits the Italian psyche of food at every opportunity, enjoyment, talking and above all – welcome. The Queens Head does it Gwent style with short dated food on the “offers” shelf from Marks & Spencer’s across the road – plump and tasty sausage rolls the night we were in!

Queens Head micro pub
Queens Head micro pub

When the new M & S opened about a year ago, regulars from the pub started doing their bit to reduce the food waste mountain by bringing in reduced price bargains to share out amongst the other patrons. Thus, the Yellow Label Club was born. In the Queens, as all over Italy, competition has set in and the goal to find the item with the greatest reduction is now a grudge match. Currently in the lead is another Mike who found a Banquet Pie reduced from £25 to £2.50.

There is a movement to “Save our Pubs”, a fine cause and never a more relevant sentiment than now. You can do your bit too – by drinking in them! Occasional aperitivo is one other way the Queens rolls out the welcome carpet. Saving pubs is important because we are only just now realising that the plight of all those great pubs, now gone, was a litmus, a precursor to what’s now happening in our high streets.

Queens Head micro pub
Queens Head micro pub

Going for a beer is many things. Going for a quick beer after work is a specific thing. It’s an opportunity to unwind and put the working day behind you before going home to family. Psychologists would say that it’s a chance for the brain to compartmentalise whatever has happened in the day as “work”, provide a clear separation between work and home and also to stop you boring the pants off the family with tales of the widget you made today that mysteriously appeared with the face of Jesus on it.

Queens Head micro pub
Queens Head micro pub

Perhaps though the Millennial Generation should be redefined? Perhaps they are in realty just a group of cross-generational discerning men and women who use their powers of research to seek out places like the Queens Head they heard about on the grapevine, who don’t need the hype but instead rely on their own ability to go there and use their eyes and quality of judgement to recognize the real deal when they see it.

Queens Head micropub
Queens Head micropub

We’ll be writing all of our Grand Tour Wye Valley postcards from here in the future…..

Head over to Glen’s Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/queensheadchepstow/ and hit the “Like” button to support the pub. If you are part of the Twitterati – you’ll need this  @QueensChepstow you know what to do.

12 Moor Street, Chepstow. Call 07793 889613

Mint & Mustard opens in Chepstow

 

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.

Classy decoration in the upstairs dining room
Classy decoration in the upstairs dining room

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.

Evoke Pictures Bristol Food Photographers

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.

Evoke Pictures Bristol Food Photographers

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.

Evoke Pictures Bristol Food Photographers

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!