Saturday, 8 October 2011

Mint & Mustard, Whitchurch Road, Cardiff Review, Food blog

With the departure of head chef Anand George from Mint & Mustard (he’s as close as it comes to a celeb chef in the ‘diff), you could understand if the restaurant had taken a bit of a downward turn. In fact, the complete opposite seems to have happened. Awarded a Bib Gourmand this week in the 2012 Michelin Guide (one of only 3 restaurants in Wales, another being Chai Street their sister restaurant next door) and scoring well in the 2012 Good Food Guide, it’s clear Mint & Mustard don’t miss their former skipper.

Amazingly, Mrs G and I hadn't yet visited since being in Cardiff for over 2 years. In light of the recent flurry of awards, we decided we couldn't wait any longer and made the trip on Friday evening. 

For a restaurant touted as fine dining, the interior of Mint & Mustard feels a little all over the shop. Blue and pink spotlights, modern chrome fittings and traditional paintings all feel at odds with each other. I think they could take a leaf out of the uber-trendy Chai Street's book. Whilst the interior feels mismatched, the serving staff bring an air of class to proceedings; impeccably dressed in Nehru collared jackets they exude professionalism and friendliness.

Perusing the menu, we nibbled on some rather dainty mini popadums with delicious homemade chutneys (£3.50). A sweet date chutney tasted like curried jam, a mint chutney was delightfully fresh on the palette, whilst the astringency of the lemon chutney made my mouth pucker with every mouthful.

The relatively brief menu by Indian restaurant standards (I’m used to seeing over a hundred permutations of meat and sauce combinations) reads remarkably well. The focus is on South Indian dishes using fragrant spice combinations, fresh fish & vegetables. However to keep the punters happy (that includes me), there’s plenty of curry house staples available- samosas, naans and even chicken tikka massala all make an appearance. For those looking for something a little more extravagant there’s even an epic mealtime tasting menu, priced for a special occasion at £39.95 a head.

Having heard from friends that the portion sizes are nouvelle cuisine-esque and the prices veer towards the extravagant; I was pleased to be proved wrong on both accounts. Portions were as generous as any curry house I’ve been to and although the food is a few quid more than the run of the mill, you definitely get your money’s worth in quality of cooking.

To start I went for Nandu (£8.50) - crispy soft shell crab in a fragrant batter of curry leaf & garlic. Perfectly delicate batter gave way to soft crab meat. An accompanying tamarind sauce provided a welcome sweetness to the dish. However, there were  elements I wasn’t quite sold on-  an unnecessary mint chutney squiggle gave the impression that fancy presentation was taking priority over taste,  an avocado and bell pepper salad was overwhelmed by red onion  and a French dressed salad garnish felt out of place (surely a more appropriate dressing could have been used).

Mrs G opted for Paneer Tikka (£5.20) – A generous portion of soft, creamy, cardamom infused cottage cheese with a lightly charred exterior. Delicious.

For main I ordered the Chef’s platter (£16.95) – a gigantic plate of tandoori salmon, king prawns, chicken tikka, seekh kebab and lamb chops. Every element was cooked to perfection; the salmon was moist and sweet whilst the incredible lamb chop was pink on the inside and melted in the mouth. Once again the one size fits all use of chutney stripes and French dressed salad felt a little amiss. A little bit of curry sauce perhaps would have been more appropriate.

The flavour of Mrs G’s powerfully meaty lamb coconut fry (£11.50) was a knockout; the mix of lambiness, coconut, shallots and curry leaf was divine. Unfortunately, the dish was let down by the cooking of the meat which was on the dry side- particularly disappointing when it looked as though it was going to melt in the mouth.

My favourite dish of the evening was a vegetable side of Bhindi Masala (£4.25). Tender okra nestled in a lightly spiced, creamy tomato sauce- Indian comfort food at its finest. A side dish of raita (£3.00), delicately spiced with a little cumin and chilli was described as the best ever by Mrs G. Even the sides were on the nail. A generous bowl of steamed basmati rice (£3.50) flavoured with clove and a crisp and fluffy naan (£2.50) were cooked perfectly.

I took a brief glance at the dessert menu but quickly realised this would have been a step from gluttony into crapulence (word of the week – sickness caused by excessive eating- brilliant).

Mint and Mustard clearly has a very bright future ahead in the capable hands of Chef Sid Rathore. I just wish they’d hold back on their unnecessarily frivolous chutney squiggles and salad garnishes. Why not let the truly stunning flavours of the dishes speak for themselves.

The details: 
Mint and Mustard, 134 Whitchurch Rd, Cardiff, CF14 3LZ
02920 620 333

Check out my review of Chai Street next door too:

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