Photograph: Kake Pugh
I'd read good things about Moti Mahal, the oopmarket Indian restaurant of gourmet persuasion in Covent Garden, and was looking foward to our visit. We tried to get in without a booking just before Christmas, and of course, the restaurant was packed out; but the front of house staff were charming and said they would be delighted to see us again; so I booked a table last Tuesday, only to find the restaurant fairly empty.
Before I go anywhere, I would like to officially put on record just how expensive Moti Mahal was. Jaw droppingly, go and jump off a skyscraper, expensive. Now, I'm not some mean, Scrooge-like, god-fearing, flint-like penny pincher, take my word for it, and I never mind splashing out when the occasion demands (as indeed it did on Tuesday night, when The Girl in her wisdom agreed to marry me), but I do like to get something back for my hard earned coppers; and with hindsight the Moti Mahal makes that glamorous old thing, Le Caprice, seem rather good value.
And, with restaurants, value is not just about the food, it also includes the atmosphere, and obviously the service. The decor at Moti Mahal disappoints: you're lured inside by an interesting array of blue glass bottles in the window, but the interior, frankly, was bland and uninspiring: pale walls, a few tables dotted about, and a bar in the Los Angeles airport style (yawn). I can't even remember if there were any interesting pictures on the wall? It reminded me a bit of one of those local restaurants you find in places like Fulham or Chiswick (nothing intrinsically wrong with them, but lost in a sea of magnolia and ghastly good taste); and made me think longingly of that lovely conservatory at Chutney Mary, or indeed the kitsch trompe l'oeil and palm trees at Khan's in Westbourne Grove.
The food was good. Typically, I went for the rabbit kebab spiked with cinnamon crack pepper, and served on an asparagus n' chestnut roesti (Gilafi Khargosh ki Seekh), half expecting Neanderthal-like hunks of pink rabbit flesh stuck on a barbeque stick, but instead, getting two juicy and delicately spiced rolls of meat, which to look at reminded me of those hot, steamy towels you're given to wipe your sweaty face with after coffee and a mint chocolate, and reminded The Girl of something else.
Lamb Biryiani 'scented ' with green cardamom (Matkey ki Gosht Biriyani) came in a small earthenware pot, again delicious, but considering it was supposed to be the main course, mean. The Girl skipped her first course and went for the wild bream with garlic, baked Devon Crab, and bean cakes with quails' eggs (Surkh Lasooni Macchi), and pronounced it all finger lickin' good, with the fish perfectly cooked, and the bean cake with quail's egg fabulous.The wine list was suitable for all the spice floating around, so I went for a Reisling, rather than a pricier Gerwuztraminer.
So, mixed feelings. Would we go again? Yes, if I conveniently happened to leave my wallet behind, and some kind soul was paying the bill. For my money, I'd rather have spent an evening at J. Sheekey's or Le Caprice- and with hindsight either of those two places would have been more suitable for that particular night of wit and romance, but- hey! "if you can't fail, you can't do anything", as I believe the late Eric Thompson (of Magic Roundabout fame) once said.