“You have to forget about dieting at Moti Mahal”, a waiter tells me after I admit I’m about to fail my New Year’s resolution of not eating gluten.
The White Alba Truffle and Vintage Cheddar Naan (£24) that he places on our table smells so good… my diet ends before it can properly begin. The bread is delicious and every single calorie is worth it.
How wrong Kate Moss was to say that nothing tastes as good as skinny feels. She obviously hasn’t tried naan with truffles and cheese.
I visited Moti Mahal on Great Queen Street, just next door to the Freemasons’ Hall in Covent Garden, once before and was very impressed with a selection of dishes from the Grand Trunk Road Menu, named after the ancient route that has linked the eastern and western regions of the Indian subcontinent from Bengal to Pakistan and Afghanistan since the 16th century.
I’m happy to report that Moti Mahal (‘pearl palace’ in Urdu) continues to be a great choice for those who crave Northern Indian delicacies in a sophisticated, fine dining atmosphere.
Its elegant interior is adorned with cream colours, white napery and chandeliers. It also has a well-stocked bar with a creative cocktail list and a large selection of Whiskeys.
Moti Mahal’s head-chef, Delhi-born Anirudh Arora, was one of the first to start cooking on a Thatee grill again, which he had to make himself with the help of an 82-year old expert.
That’s because the traditional process of grilling, originally used in rural India, when the meat is sandwiched between two clamps on the grill, has vanished from modern cooking.
Aged 25, chef Ani was already cooking for India’s then Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee. He later worked at the Udaimahal restaurant at Oberoi-owned Udaivilas hotel in Udaipur and Benares on Berkeley Square in Mayfair.
The son of an Indian army officer, Anirudh lived in regions as diverse as Kashmir, Ladakh, Lucknow and Calcutta. A few years ago he revisited the places he had travelled with his father along the Grand Trunk Road, chose the best rural recipes and brought them right to the centre of London.
My guest Ema and I decide to try a variety of dishes from Kolkata-to-Kabul and choose a non-vegetarian tasting menu with matching wine (£83 per person).
Griddled masala chicken liver and homemade pickle with naan bread and a glass of Prosecco come first and kick-start our taste buds to full-time work!
Tandoori grilled salmon marinated in honey, dill and cream cheese is sensational and so are the lamb chops with caraway seeds and Kashmiri chillies.
We are less impressed with chicken marinated with mint and basil, but a glass of Paul Jaboulet Aine, Mule Blanche Crozes Hermitage Blanc 2012 helps to wash it down.
Then come prawns cooked in a sealed pot with basmati rice, curry leaf and pounded spices, served with baby aubergines and chilli peppers stewed in Hyberabadi Salan sauce and Raita (chilled cucumber and mint yogurt).
The dishes at Moti Mahal are filling and a glass of Paul Jaboulet Aine, Thalabert Crozes Hermitage 2007 adds some redness to our cheeks.
For dessert we try delicious stewed plums with cardamom custard foam and shrikhand (sweet Indian yoghurt) cups, a glass of sweet Domaine L’ancienne Cure Monbazillac 2011 and some Indian masala chai with cardamom.
At this point, my mouth is on fire, but my guest and I feel rested, happy, content and warmed up by the atmosphere, food and wine.
But if you are one of those few who might want to stick to their diet longer than just a few days in January, don’t despair! Moti Mahal offers a lunch menu with a detox mocktail for £15.