2 December 2021: Mowgli - No glee
It has been a busy month or so of chowing down the curry with recent trips to Lahore Spices(again), Kennington Tandoori, Kolamba and Gunpowder Soho. This is what happens when I get excited after a quiet spell. Call it a problem, if you will.
However, this particular curry had been a long time coming. Not just the length of an advanced booking wait, but a number of years as I've watched Mowgli's nationwide progress from afar.
Usually London is the epicentre of new franchises, but not with Mowlgi, an Indian street food venue with a reputation emanating from several UK cities before reaching the capital. So, once the opening was announced, I booked a table for six well in advance hoping to enjoy a nice Christmas curry with friends.
Once the day arrived it was a pint or two at the Marquis de Grandby round the corner then off to see if Mowgli would live up to its hype.
Whilst located away from other Indian hotspots, Charlotte Street has a long and lively relationship with restaurants, bars and eateries and so is a great central location for this new
venture. From the street, a racing green awning emblazoned with Mowgli's signature monkey emblem draws the eye, whilst the warmth of lights bleeding out into the darkness welcome you in (especially on frightfully cold winter nights).
Once inside, a decorative tree dominates the centre of the front dining space. This is matched in height by radius window shaped mirrors along the walls that reflect the endless strings of fairy lights all around.
The wooden floor is matched with veneered, faux-wood tables and benches, and Edison bulbs in metallic cage fittings hang low from above. Also hanging are rather unusual but practical drinks menus that drape down the walls with the feel of large medieval scrolls. But most notable are the two window bay tables with swings for seats, much like those found at Balham Social.
The result is a modest and warm vibe, if a little (dare I say it) cheap for a brand with some repute. Nevertheless, it does the job and wins the award for the most lights.
Starters and sides
Yoghurt Chat Bombs
Fenugreek Kissed Fries
Treacle Tamarind Fries
Maa's Lamb Chops & Turmeric Chips
Mowgli Sticky Wings
Mowgli Basmati Rice X 3
The menu here is centred around Indian street food and as such dishes are served in tiffins and other metallic mess tins. It's an enticing menu too, with a variety of meat and veg dishes to share.
To begin with, it was a selection of dishes from the Street Chat and Street Meat menus. No poppadoms here, but yoghurt chat bomb puris instead. Slightly creamier than the usual splash from similar offerings, but they were still a nice, crispy flavour shot to kick things off.
Next came a number of carb-based numbers that were tasty but a bit same-y (perhaps our fault for ordering all three). The fenugreek kissed fries, tamarind fries and turmeric chips were all fried potato cubes with different, spicy toppings, and, as a collective presented in billy cans, had a slight air of school dinner about them. If returning, I would stick (pun intended) to the sugary sweet tamarind fires only. And, whilst the lamb chops were nice and juicy with tender fattiness, I'd rather they came separately without the side of spuds.
The Mowgli sticky wings were pretty similar in style to the tamarind fries, so had a great flavour, but were more of the same. Also, as wings go they weren't among the best (Wingmans, if you're asking).
The puri were very good and recommended, but all in all, none of the other dishes really excited. Other venues like Soho Wala, Booma, and Kricket, all probably do this type of small plate better. Enjoyable but not the best.
Green Ginger & Rhubarb Dahl
Agra Ginger Chicken
House Chicken curry
House Lamb curry
Goan Fish Curry
Aunty Geeta's Prawn Curry
The curries here were a mixed bag. Some, like the agra chicken and prawn curry, were in the Dishoom mold - safe for the less adventurous - while others were a little more exotic and interesting. I always look for the unusual and the green ginger and rhubarb dahl fit this bill. More of the runnier type dahl that I'm not always a fan of, this was almost broth-like, with the rhubarb really singing through to give it a tangy sweet edge. Original and delightful.
Similarly sweet, fragrant and unique was the Goan fish curry. Prosaic in name, but far from it in flavour, this fiery seafood number really had the tastebuds purring with its tamarind, ginger, coriander & dried smokey Kashmiri red chilies.
The house chicken curry was also memorable with a Keralan style coconut, ground almond and curry leave lilt, whilst the lamb house curry was beautifully tender with sweet notes from the anise and plum infused sauce.
The Mowgli paneer was tomato based and a bit middling in flavour but still a little more enjoyable than the middle of the road, masala-style, agra ginger chicken and the similarly plain prawn curry.
So, a good variety of dishes, but also a mix of standards. Sadly the tiffins, whilst practical for serving, didn't hold heat that well to boot. It's therefore just a steady (if generous) 7/10 for Curry.
Once again my ordering abilities came to the fore, being described as 'pretty much spot on', but we're not here to mark my performance. Instead, the waiters here were friendly (especially upon welcome) but casual in demeanor and dress. Not one to care about appearance or mark down people down for doing a solid but unremarkable job it's my favourite score of 7/10 for Service.
Value for money
All the curries look deceptively small but really aren't and you get your fill from all the carbs in the starters too. The bill also took me by surprise as we only paid £30 a head including drinks and tip which is great value for central London. A closer re-inspection of the menu demonstrated why, with no dish priced higher than £8.95. This is quite remarkable and well worth commendation. A discretionary £1 is added to each bill to support The Mowgli Trust which is also a nice touch and one I'm completely in favour of.
In conclusion it's a respectable if not mind-blowing 36/50 for Mowgli, boosted by excellent VFM. I may have been slightly generous with a 7 for Sides and Starters too, but this certainly falls into the safe and sociable top tier of curry houses. With its regional reputation foreshadowing it, I would say it didn't quite live up to my expectations, but is worth a visit. After all, any modern, Indian small plate restaurant in London is welcome in my book.
Address: 5 Charlotte St., London W1T 1RE
Cuisine: Indian Street Food
Alcohol Policy: Licensed
Summary: London branch of popular, UK-wide Indian street food eatery