Thursday, 7 October 2021

Manthan, Mayfair

Having followed chef Rohit Ghai's trajectory through London's very finest high-end Indian restaurants with intense interest, from Jamavar to Bombay Bustle to Kutir, it's fair to say that when I received an invite to his latest venture Manthan in Mayfair, I replied so quickly the PR in charge probably thought it was an out of office. In his time in charge of the aforementioned places he has probably done more than any other individual to introduce me (and many others) to the bewildering variety and sheer potential of top ingredients treated to intelligent Indian techniques.

A slightly tricky side effect to all this invention and artisinal detail, for this food blogger at least, is that figuring out what's going on in some of his extraordinary complex dishes, and subsequently writing about them, becomes an impossible task. Take these, for example, something called "Ram Laddoo". I know from reading the menu they are little bitesize spheres of fried lentils, and I can tell you they were lovely and moist and moreish, topped with pickled raddish and surrounded by a fantastic coriander chutney, but if you want any more detail, well, I'm afraid you're going to have to look elsewhere.

Buttermilk chicken skins, though, was slightly more familiar territory. Of course I couldn't tell you what into the spice mix other than pink peppercorn, curry leaf and ginger (thank you Mr. Menu) but I can tell you that they were so ridiculously addictive, greaseless and crunchy on the outside and soft within, they all disappeared in a matter of seconds.

Ghai has a particular skill with fish and "Sekwa" was three fillets of whitefish, each with a lovely crisp skin, in a spicy tomato sauce studded with sharp purple pickled onions. Anywhere else this would be a standout dish, but here it was merely another thing to coo and gurgle over before the next wonderful thing arrived.

...which were these jackfruit tacos. Now, you can believe me or not, but we didn't see a menu until halfway through the dinner (Ghai had offered on arrival to send out his favourite dishes as a kind of blind tasting, and who was I to argue with that) and I swear that when we were eating these we assumed they were pulled pork or lamb, so completely meat-like were the fatty, richly flavoured fillings. To later discover they were in fact spiced jackfruit did set off a certain amount of panicked soul-searching. If vegetarian food can taste so convincingly meaty, what's the future of actual meat? I should add, though, that although available in vegan form I believe the taco "shells" themselves involved dairy of some kind, so... phew. To be quite honest.

Fortunately, shami kebab was very definitely real meat - goat, in fact, in a thick, dark sauce of beguiling complexity and served with - hooray! - a portion of roast bone marrow. Together with a soft and flaky bundle of roti it was another completely unassailable match of flavour and technique, the soft pieces of goat melting in the mouth, loosened by the marrow.

Finally, "Osso bucco" bookended the mains, another fabulously dark and rich sauce containing slow-stewed lamb on the bone, served with a bowl of "risotto" - spicy wet rice flavoured with who knows what (curry leaf, Jaffna spices - menu). Both the lamb and the rice were of course great, but somehow even more interesting were little pancake things (I know, I know) which had an extraordinary flavour, smooth and buttery and meaty.

To describe this dessert, I am having to enlist the help of Google. That sphere on top of is the "gulab jamun", a kind of syrup-soaked spongecake (look I'm sorry if that's wrong, but I'm doing my best) and it sat on top of "srikhand", sweet strained yoghurt. Underneath that was more laddoo, here providing a protein-rich base for the dessert rather than a savoury starter. Look the point is it was all very nice, that's all you need to know.

And finally, without wanting us to leave without being completely discombobulated, we were presented with kheer ("a sweet dish and a type of wet pudding popular in the Indian subcontinent, usually made by boiling milk, sugar or jaggery, and rice") spiced with garlic, slightly although not completely as weird as it sounds, and in a very pretty little pastry casing. And I don't know about you but I'd rather be challenged than mollycoddled when it comes to rice-based desserts.

I really do apologise for my embarrassing lack of Indian food knowledge, I only hope that, as in certain other areas of my life, what I lack on detail I more than make up for in enthusiasm. The fact is, though I completely fail to do justice to the amount of effort and culinary knowledge that clearly goes into it, the results at Manthan speak for themselves - this is genuinely spectacular Indian cooking by a kitchen at the top of its game, and though I wasn't paying on this occasion, given the glittering Mayfair location the prices are pretty fair. No one dish is over £20, and you could expect to leave with a bill of around £70 a head with a couple of glasses of wine and/or a custard-based digestif.

And while Manthan is the latest and most attention-grabbing restaurant in his empire, I should remind you that Jamavar, Bombay Bustle and Kutir in Chelsea still exist and are all still brilliant. In fact next week Kutir are launching a game menu and if you're like me and will order anything with feathers that's been shot out of the sky, that's more than a reason to revisit. But mainly, just rejoice that you can eat food as good as this anywhere, and more to the point in these strange times, you can eat anywhere at all. If you want to celebrate a return to normality with some of the best Indian food in the capital, you can do hardly any better than a meal at Manthan.


I was invited to Manthan and didn't see a bill.

1 comment:

Bhairav said...

So garlic kheer is a new one - haven't seen that around in India either!
Looks good though!