Since opening its doors in 2005 Moti Mahal has carved itself a niche within London’s Indian restaurant scene and in so doing has earned itself a loyal fan base. This is no small thing in London where the Indian gastronomic restaurants are excellent and highly competitive. Many of the new generation of modern Indian restaurants are Michelin Starred, for example Gymkhana and Trishna (both to be reviewed here later this year). These modern Indian restaurants have challenged the British view of Indian cuisine, which until relatively recently was quite simplistic and homogenous. The menu at Moti Mahal is far from ordinary or conformist.
The restaurant’s interior is modern with clean lines and neutral colours. The tables are spaced comfortably apart and dressed with sparkling glass, gleaming cutlery and crisp linen table cloths that provide a brilliant white background for the colourful dishes that arrive from the kitchen.
Moti Mahal’s menu does not focus on a specific regional cuisine; it offers the diner a culinary journey across India, drawing inspiration from the signature dishes of the cities along the Grand Trunk Road. This is Asia’s oldest and longest road that links the east and west regions of the Indian subcontinent, starting in Bangladesh it traverses India passing through Calcutta, Benares and Delhi, up to Amritsar, into Pakistan and finally ending in Afghanistan. This translates into a gastronomic extravaganza with the menu offering a diverse selection of dishes including the tangy and spicy dishes of Uttar Pradesh, the original Murgh Makhani from Delhi, the famous Tandoori dishes of the Punjab, the richly flavoured dishes from Lucknow and the memorable sweets of Bengal.
The main menu is divided into sections rather than courses or curries and whilst your food is being prepared diners are treated to the Moti Mahal signature salad. This is a beautifully presented wooden plate piled high with fresh salad – but to call it merely a salad does it no justice at all. The plate is full of fresh leaves, herbs, tomatoes, cucumber, radishes and green chillies, accompanied by a selection of small bowls containing different spice mixes and a flask of mustard oil with fresh bay leaf to make your own dressing.
This season look forward to Achari Jhinga: Tandoor roasted jumbo prawns marinated in pickling spices from Delhi; or Gosht Biriyani: Slow cooked lamb and basmati rice with saffron, ginger and cardamom from Lucknow. Vegetarians will be delighted to, try Bhalla Papdi Chaat: Crisp fried pastry and lentil dumplings with creamy yoghurt, tamarind and mint chutney from Old Delhi; Malai Saunfia Paneer: Tandoor glazed, homemade, fennel paneer from Multan; and Dal Makhani: Black lentils, slow cooked overnight on charcoal from Delhi.
The wine list is extensive and as one would expect from a restaurant of this calibre it is carefully chosen to compliment the complexities of the food. The dessert menu is mouth watering and has some innovative twists on some old favourites. Moti Mahal’s Kulfi for example is a selection of mini Kulfis presented on sticks in different flavours such as: Gulukand & Honey, Milk Chocolate & Raisins, Blackberry, Pistachio or Mango.
If you cast your eyes over other reviews you will notice consistent themes around pricing, portion size and service. It cannot be denied that the restaurant would be a better place if it chose to address these issues. It is a shame that there is such a focus on up-selling and the knock-on effect is that you would do well to be very clear about your choices when you order and think carefully about any suggestions from the staff. It is also well worth double checking your bill in detail before you pay. That said Moti Mahal is a great place, serving up good food.
Footnotes and credits: This is an independent review. The author has dined regularly at Moti Mahal since its opening in 2005 and has always paid for their meal. Photography is from google images.