But a few months ago, Mughli suddenly burst onto my radar, and then, lo and behold, while I was watching Nigel Slater on the telly, even he suddenly appeared at seeking advice on spice at Mughli.
The sudden burst of recommendations on twitter tended not to mention curries, but other more interesting sounding dishes. Looking at the menu online, my attention was particularly drawn by the words "charcoal pit" and the mention of lots of street food, snacky type things. Talking with the owner (one of the owners?), he even suggested he'd prefer if people stuck to the street food and charcoal grilled stuff, rather than the normal curries.
You certainly can't miss Mughli on Manchester's Curry Mile: the facade is about as subtle as Jay Rayner going undercover to play D'Artagnan in a Bollywood version of the Three Musketeers. Inside, it's a bit more discreet. It looks dark and a bit canteen-like at first, but it isn't. There is an open kitchen area which contains the charcoal pit (actually just a charcoal grill rather than anything especially pit-like, I think), with another kitchen with the stoves and ovens beyond.
There seemed little point messing about, as it was the street food that we'd really come for, so we just ordered the lot. It amused me that, rather than writing our order down, the waiter just stuck the menu in the kitchen's tab grabber.
|The charcoal pit|
|The chef looking very smart in his whites and toque|
In general, I thought it was terrific, with a judicious, skilled use of the various spices employed.
Onion & spinach bhajis were one of the weakest of their streetfood selection we thought: a bit heavy and lacking the sophistication of some of the other dishes. Still better than some though.
|Onion and spinach bhajis|
Chicken pataka - "firework" chicken supposedly (according to the menu) tossed with sesame seeds, though I can't say we particularly detected them. But it was good & tasty, although might be improved with slightly larger pieces of chicken.
Tamarind masala-battered fish was terrific: pieces of very good haddock deep fried in a masala batter and served with a chilli, tamarind and lime dressing. A nice light, beautifully spiced batter. This worked really well, and it's worth saying that the size of the pieces of fish were just right so you got the perfect balance of fresh clean fish and crisp, spiced batter.
|Tamarind masala fish|
I loved the pani puri: little crisp hemispherical puris, filled with chickpea and potato chaat and served with sev, yoghurt and pomegranate seeds, and a sort of tamarind(?) water dressing to spoon over. Such fresh, bright flavours. Why would anyone have poppadums when you can have these?
Halloumi Menander - slices of halloumi, in a spiced batter - were one of real highlights of the street food menu for me. Admittedly a very similar (if indeed not the same) batter as the haddock, and really just as good. The halloumi was firmer than the haddock, so it didn't feel like the same dish. The halloumi also avoided any trace of squeakiness.
Samosa chaat is weird but very moreish. A vegetable samosa topped with chickpea & potato chaat, tamarind, sweet yoghurt and crisp sev so that the samosa goes soggy. The idea of piling stuff on top of a crisp samosa until it goes soggy seems very strange to my eyes, but the flavours are great, and the soggy samosa itself is curiously moreish too.
Gunpowder chips are sweet potato fries with chilli salt & lemon. Crisp on the outside but almost marshmallowy inside. Stunning and very, very addictive. I had to slap myself to stop myself ordering an extra portion on the way out to eat in the car on the way home.
Obviously I couldn't avoid the charcoal pit. Meat+charcoal=lust. So there came some excellent charcoal-grilled lamb chops (easily the equal of the possibly unjustifiably famous Tayaabs in London) and charcoal-grilled huge king prawns, looking liked small children's fists that have been skewered and marinated. Two separate dishes, I should add. The lamb chops were amazingly good. But I thought the king prawns had just been a little over-basted with the marinade, which meant it ended up masking the flavour of the prawns.
|Lamb chops from the charcoal pit|
|Giant king prawn from the charcoal pit|
Chilli okra fries: in Mumbai batter apparently. This was the poorest dish. It had decent flavours but the okra were dried out, rubbery and very chewy. This was the only thing we couldn't finish. We pointed out they were a bit rubbish, but on reflection we should simply have sent them back.
|Chilli okra fries|
Chicken kati roll was a roomali roll filled with good tandoori chicken pieces, fresh spinach and red onions. Good, but a poor relation of the tava roll that came next. This kati roll was almost too packed with chicken, making it a bit monotonous to eat. Reasonably tasty, but it really needed some chutney or yoghurt within the roll to add moisture: the dressing provided on the side, didn't quite do that.
The tava roll didn't need anything else though: excellent juicy, spicy lamb kofte wrapped in a butter basted roti strip.
|inside of the tava roll|
|Kulfi on a stick (chai flavoured kulfi, I think)|