Two Saturdays ago, Jon and I were craving Indian food and saw that normally-pricey Moti Mahal was offering a £20 dinner menu, so we decided to try it out.
When we arrived, we were happy to find a sleek, warm-colored dining room buzzing with conversation. The upstairs room was not for us, though. Instead, we were led downstairs, which was also an attractive space, but seemingly full of families with kids. I’m not anti-kids at restaurants, but as a sans-kid adult, I wished we could’ve stayed upstairs. (When we asked to switch tables, our server super-politely told us the upstairs tables were already fully booked, and I didn’t have it in me to be bitchy about it – surprise, I know).
So because we’d had to let the restaurant know in advance that we were interested in the £20 menu, our server immediately handed us only that “special” menu. And really, it was comprised entirely of dishes from your local Indian takeaway (i.e., tikka masala, lamb vindaloo). Where were all those creative, modern takes on Indian food that we’d read Moti Mahal specializes in?
So we asked to see the a la carte menu, which seemed to take our server a while to find, and when it arrived, we saw there was no overlap at all between the a la carte and the £20 menu . I’d expected Moti Mahal to showcase some of its tastiest, most creative dishes on the £20 menu in an effort to get diners to return and try the more comprehensive a la carte menu, but instead, it seems Moti Mahal is operating two restaurants in the same physical space.
So, a la carte it was. Jon’s rabbit kofte (khargosh ki seekh) was spicy, moist and flavorful. We liked it, but at the end of the day, it’s minced meat on a stick, so £9 seemed a bit steep.
I was much more impressed with my bhalla papdi chaat, which included crisp pastry bits, yoghurt, chili, tamarind, pomegranate seeds and assorted fritters. Although I’m pretty sure this is a cheap street dish in India, I enjoyed the variety of textures and flavors – chili heat and cooling yogurt is one of my fave food combos.
Jon’s allepy konch (two enormous grilled prawns in a creamy veg stew) was delicately perfumed with coconut milk. The two large prawns were perfectly cooked (i.e., sweet and on just the right side of firmness). The stew wasn’t visually appealing, but it was tasty. Overall, though, an additional prawn and a smaller portion of the thick stew would’ve been ideal. The dish was, after all, £19.
Our server recommended the sorpotel, which is a boar and okra stew, and while I loved the poached egg with masala seasoning (spiciness + creaminess = tastiness), half the wild boar pieces were tender and sweet, and the other half were a bit dry and stringy. And then there was some additional puffy/spongy thing that didn’t add flavor or texture. Disappointing for £18.
Overall, Moti Mahal as a mixed bag. The decor, vibe and service were pluses, and the food had its promising moments, so maybe for £20 a person and an expectation for curry takeaway classics, I’d return. But with wine and a couple of extras like rice and dal makhani (which was deliciously rich and creamy), our tab for two was £100, making our dinner a pretty mediocre value.
Moti Mahal, 45 Great Queen Street, WC2B 5AA; 0207 240 9329; closest tube station: Covent Garden