Friday 14 February 2020

Mowgli, Liverpool

There is very little to dislike about Mowgli, and so the fact I came away from an evening there with little more than a vague sense of disappointment has provoked a certain amount of soul-searching. Could it be that the room was just too busy and loud, the clientele just slightly over-represented by hen-, stag- and office-do's, the service just a dash the wrong side of brusque? Objectively the food was fresh and competent enough, and yet could it have just felt a bit by-the-numbers and flat because of the atmosphere in the room, or was it really missing a bit of heart? I hate situations like this, when I know I'm not happy but can't say exactly why. Makes a bit of a mockery of the business of writing a food blog.

So I'll do my best. As I said, nothing about Mowgli is awful but nothing exactly ran smoothly. We moved table twice in the first five minutes, once at our request because they'd put us right underneath a very powerful and very cold air conditioning unit, and a second time because they needed to rearrange nearby tables to accommodate a large party of walk-ins. It was handled politely enough, but as pretty much the only table that wasn't numbering 6 and above, we did feel a bit squeezed out.

Food arrives when they decide it should arrive, so the meal began with a tray of lamb chops and chips. They were actually very good - not overcooked, nicely charred from the grill, and a decent thickness. I could have done with a slightly more aggressive spice mix, but other than that there was little to complain about other than the fact lamb & chips would have been better as a main than a starter.

Chat 'bombs' were nice enough - quite thick casings which tends to suggest they were designed to be made quite far in advance, but in fact the ingredients were nice and fresh and they went down pretty well.

Then appeared the most un- butter chicken-like butter chicken I think I've ever come across. Either they'd brought us the wrong dish, or Mowgli's take on the classic really is a dark oniony sauce, with little to no sign of yogurt and with a very subdued tomato element indeed. The best butter chicken is light and smoothly tomatoey, kind of like a posh Heinz cream of tomato soup (I hope I haven't offended too many millions of people with that remark, but it really is) studded with huge chunks of tandoor-grilled chicken. This was a generic high-street curry, flat and unremarkable. Perhaps I'd have been kinder if they'd even attempted something approaching the real thing, but I guess we'll never know.

I don't know whether there's any precent for adding rhubarb to dahl, but whether this is a traditional Indian recipe or something dreamt up by the fusion fans at Mowgli, the rhubarb flavour was (probably mercifully) absent, leaving us with a fairly ordinary bowl of green dahl.

"Tea-steeped chickpeas" came as part of the veggie/vegan "Indian School Tiffin" menu and were solid enough, if a bit watery and thin...

...and the same criticism could be levelled at this potato and tomato affair ("Picnic potato curry"), which was eaten, but not enthusiastically. There's increasingly a financial motivation for restaurants to expand their vegan offering these days, and the task should be easier than most for Indian restaurants with the Hindu culture of vegan cuisine, so it's disappointing when the best a kitchen can come up with is, well, a bowl of boiled potato in a thin tomato sauce.

But I should repeat, nothing at Mowgli was awful. Nothing was undercooked, overcooked, underseasoned or clumsily presented. All the food, in the manner of so many proto-chains, was considered, contained and politely done, neither too experimental nor too basic. It clearly has its fans, judging by the raucous crowd on a Monday night in late December, people who are more than willing to pay slightly over the odds for what is only just decent Indian cooking, perhaps because Indian restaurants are not Liverpool's strong point and perhaps because nice colonial-era d├ęcor and smart service are more than what most people need for a nice night out. And good luck to them, why not.

Unfortunately (or should that be fortunately) for me, I have been to Dishoom and Roti Chai and Masala Zone, all living proof that an Indian Subcontinent proto-chain (in fact in the case of Dishoom, actual nationwide chain) is not only not doomed to be inoffensive and blandly crowd-pleasing but every bit as exciting, rewarding and dynamic as the very finest examples of the cuisine can be. I don't mind that Mowgli wants to be a chain - I mind that it really feels like they want to be a chain. And that's not a good look.

Anyway, if you're in Liverpool and you fancy some dahl and puri, I imagine you'll end up here, and you probably won't hate it either. The bill came to £58.40 for 3 with two glasses of wine, which is by no means unreasonable, and even after the relief of escaping that noisy room died down we didn't regret our evening. They are, after all, doing a lot of things right, and these uncertain times a Liverpool food success story, however much it fails to satisfy snobby food bloggers like myself, should be applauded. I just wish I was able to applaud it a bit louder.


Wednesday 5 February 2020

You Decide 2020

Well, with a due sense of resignation and dread it's that time of year again when I open up my next review subject to public vote.

As ever, I'll start you off with a short list of places I actually want to go to, for you to completely ignore and instead add the usual list of ripoff chains, all-you-can-eat buffets and misguided vanity projects. Or will we have another shock result of somewhere not diabolically awful

Rules, as usual:

1. I can't have reviewed the restaurant before (have a quick Google if you're unsure)

2. It has to be either in London or easily accessible from London (I'll get on a train but I'm not flying to Athens)

3. Please check the restaurant you want to vote for hasn't already been added before you add it yourself.

I'll close the voting in 48h, so midday on Friday. That should be long enough for a representative sample.

AND THE WINNER IS... So|La! Thanks to everyone who voted, you guys rock.