Restaurant Review: Moti Mahal, London

Friday night one of my best friends treated me to dinner as her Christmas gift to me. We went to Moti Mahal in Great Queen Street (between Holborn and Covent Garden tube stations).

Last year we went to Zaika for Christmas and we’d been planning to visit Benares this year. My friend lives in Canada and we meet about once every six weeks, when she’s in London for work. Last night’s date was made at the last minute as she thought she’d still be at a client’s site in South Africa but her plans changed last minute. Unfortunately, a few hours notice for a table in Benares (on a busy Friday night) was unlikely (though I did phone and check just in case) so instead I booked us a table at Moti Mahal, 45 Great Queen Street, between Covent Garden and Holborn.

Having eaten a few times at a Moti Mahal restaurant in Delhi (when visiting family) I had been keen to try one of the London branches for some time. Moti Mahal is quite a Delhi institution. I expected the same as what I’d experienced in Delhi – familiar annd tasty dishes cooked very well at reasonable prices. Apparently, although the other London branches are more along the lines of an above-average curry house, the one we visited was something else entirely.

The food was absolutely fabulous. Really, really good! And far more refined and elegant than standard curry house fare.

After cocktails we were served an amuse bouche of carrot and celery soup in miniature white mugs. On top of each mug was balanced a dinky disk of pastry with a chutney or vegetable compote on top. Luckily I couldn’t taste the celery so enjoyed the thick, carroty soup.

For starters we shared:

Sagar Rattan – Scallops seared with onion seed and coriander stem, tamarind glaze, pan fried Devon crab cakes

The scallops were meltingly soft, coated in a rich brown sauce that complimented without overwhelming their flavour. The tiny crab cakes were rimmed with a ribbon of aubergine peel and full of flavour.

Barra Peshawari – Tandoor roasted lamb chops with kashmiri chillies, cumin mash, spiced puy lentil salsa

The lamb was beautifully flavoured and very soft. A touch too hot for my wussy preferences but still delicious.

For our mains we shared:

Khyberi Nalli – Braised lamb shanks glazed in the tandoor, tomato and green pea upma, orange and mustard cress salad

I don’t think I’ve ever had a lamb shank with such tender, meltingly soft, beautifully flavoured lamb. The meat quite literally fell off the bone and the spices were subtle enough to let the flavour of the lamb shine. I even sucked the marrow out of the bone end – lamb marrow is one of my very favourite things! We both thought this dish was a highlight.

Paneer Akhrot ka Salan – Paneer, walnuts and peppers simmered in Hyderabadi ‘Salan’ sauce

The paneer and sauce were very nice though without the wow factor of the other courses and I wasn’t as keen as I hoped on the walnuts in the dish.

Crab Pepper Fry – Crisp-fried spiced soft-shell crab, shrimps, red onion, green mango and ginger

Wow, this was spectacular! Tender crab within a soft crunchy shell that itself was encased in a thin but spicy batter and then deep fried. Even with the strong spices the crab was still part of the whole. Served with king prawns and other vegetables, we cut it down the middle and had half each. I’d only had soft shell crab in oriental cuisines before. This Indian version was fabulous and another of the evening’s highlights.

With our mains we had a saffron pulao rice and a plain naan, both good.

Greedy as ever, we made room for desserts:

Custard apple kulfi, summer berry soup

A nice variation, was delicious though I couldn’t discern the custard apple flavour I did enjoy the bite of pistachio nuts within the kulfi. The soup was more of a sauce in which the tower of kulfi was stood and was nice enough.

Christmas pudding, whisky ice-cream

My friend seemed to enjoy this dessert. No Indianisation applied to it.

The bill before cocktails, wine and tip was about £85.

Both of us had really enjoyed our 9 course degustation menu at Zaika last year, though we’d agreed that the starter dishes were far better than the main course dishes there. We both agreed that we had enjoyed the majority of the dishes at Moti Mahal more.

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