There are few cuisines I look forward to eating more than Indian.
The significant tyre around my midriff is a testament to the copious amounts of biryanis that I’ve consumed over the years, mostly in my student days.
There’s something so seductive about the British takeaway curry. Far more moreish than its Chinese competitor, we’ve created our own versions of Indian staples that have now become emblematic of the cuisine for millions across the country. Just the names of these dishes cause my mouth to salivate: Chicken Korma, Lamb Biryani, Tikka Masala.
Of course these adaptations rarely hold a candle, gastronomically speaking, to their inspirations. Packed full of coconut cream, salt, sugar and dubious cuts of meat – these ultra-westernised representations are a far cry from their vibrant healthy source material. Wonderful comfort food, for sure, but hardly an option for the health conscious millennial or ethically minded vegan. We all know now, that where there’s a niche, there’s an opportunity.
Ex-Barrister, Nisha Katona saw that niche and has exploited it to the max in the Northern powerhouses. I passed her Manchester location on my previous trip up North, whilst drunkenly stumbling through the city’s exclusive Corn Exchange. Somehow my mental note survived the night’s drinking and so I found myself, a week later, back on a train exiting London – this time heading to Liverpool.
Liverpool is a town that is just beginning to get into its stride as a metropolitan centre. Its thriving population of over 450,000 is as big as its ever been and new money has now begun to flow in, bringing with it fresh business ideas and, more importantly, new restaurants. The first location of Mowgli opened its doors in 2014 to a warm reception. Within a year, a second location has opened in Manchester
Walking into their recently opened Castle Street restaurant, I was struck by the uniformity of the Mowgli brand. Although all locations are different in size, the owners have been intent on making them feel as if they were cut from the same cloth. Rough-worn driftwood benches, bare planks and exposed light-bulbs hang from delicate chains. The latter is usually enough alone to set alarm bells ringing in my head; the menu was enough to placate these doubts.
The menu is in two minds as to what it wants to be.
There is a great deference to traditional Indian curries, you can order a ‘tiffin box’ containing a selection of their vegetarian or meat curries – a nod to the millions of Indians who eat in this style every day. But, the first item on the menu is the rather odd ‘Yoghurt Chat Bombs’, a crisp bread puff filled with yoghurt, chickpeas and a blend of spices. Pleasant enough, but something tells me that the average Indian working man would be a little perplexed by this addition to his lunch box. He’d probably be similarly confused by the middle of the road selection of contemporary Pop music that is piped through the speakers, completely incongruous with the elegant decor and otherwise authentic menu.
I am, of course, nitpicking. The food here is excellent. The vibrant curries are served in gorgeous metal trays and tins, scattered with fresh chilli and garlic. Super sticky chicken wings are glazed in sweet marinades and I’m genuinely floored by their Treacle Tamarind Fries.