I’ve been following the career of Nisha Katona with interest for some time now. The ‘barrister to “curry evangelist”, broadcaster and restaurateur’ path isn’t an especially well-worn trajectory and Mowgli Water Street is the second instalment of her rapidly expanding vision. Manchester followed soon after, Birmingham is imminent. Others are planned: she is clearly a woman on a mission.
This building, a former bank, is an impressive refurb: a bright, airy space overlooked by a mezzanine, period fixtures picked out winningly. It’s an immediately attractive marriage of the old and the new.
It’s a savvy menu with more than one eye on current needs and trends. There’s a generous selection for vegetarians, plenty of scope for vegans and a whole page of gluten-free options. Rotis, naans and the like are found in a ‘Carbs’ section, making them easy to avoid for those depriving themselves of the good stuff. In short, this is Indian street food brought bang up to date.
My friend Mark, a regular at the Bold St branch, tips me off about Himalayan cheese on toast (£4.75). It’s not something I’d have gone for, usually, but it’s good advice: a bold cheddar further bolstered by coriander and chilli and sour lime pickle elevates this from your quick snack staple to a real treat, something to kickstart the taste buds. It is at once something comfortingly familiar yet spikily new. It spoils you for anything else, and makes your typical example look a little drab and dog-eared by comparison.
This kind of menu stands or falls by its zip. Leave it hanging around and it is, inevitably, diminished. But even when Mowgli is at capacity this lunchtime, the dishes emerge quickly, punchy with freshness.
Gunpowder chicken (£5.95) doesn’t bring the explosion of sheer heat the name might suggest.
It’s far more layered than that, battered bite-size pieces of meat laced with chilli and tamarind for a rich sweet-tart treat which is the kind of thing my NHS will prescribe when I assume power.
Children aren’t patronished with bland guff here, either. My three year old daughter’s dish is a scaled-down pot of their curry and rice, a Keralan-influenced concoction of mustard seed, curry leaf and coconut milk.
Maa’s Lamb Chops (£7.95) serves up giner and garlic-scented meat- they hit that sweet spot of balancing charred fat and tender meat, too- on top of crisp turmeric potatoes. If they weren’t Tayyabs-beaters, they are at least reminiscent of the standard-setters.
A red cabbage coleslaw (£1.95) is zingy and light, cut through with red chilli heat and tempered mustard seeds. It’s a lovely thing, the sort of thing you could eat by the spadeful.
Chickpeas (£4.95) are along the same moreish lines, just right for mopping up with the excellent roti which arrives soft and scorched by the bars of a grill.
Agra Chicken (£6.50) is all about sweetness and subtle heat, the bright bite of ginger rather than the warmth of chillies coming through most tellingly.
It all makes for a remarkably satisfying, but surprisingly light, lunch.
Nisha Katona has developed a winning formula with Mowgli. And if she ever reads this, can I suggest something along these lines?
M62, M6, M5, M50, A449, M4. That should see you right to Cardiff.
Mowgli Street Food
3 Water St
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This blog is a very simple thing.
I won’t try to sell you any hand lotion, exercise programmes, coffee syrups or Patagonian nose flutes. You won’t find tips on dating, ‘wellness’ or yoga mats.
I write because I love it (and food, as indicated by my increasing girth). Greed happens to be my Deadly Sin of choice, but at least it is never shy of providing me with subject matter.
A simple thing, then: all you get is me wittering on semi-coherently about places I’ve eaten at; hence a ‘restaurant blog’ rather than a ‘food blog’, although there are a few recipes scattered throughout.
From mezze to Michelin ‘fine dining’ and all points in between.