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Oct 7, 2012 01:36 PM

Moti Mahal, Covent Garden

I had a wonderful meal here last night. I have frequently recommended it as a central London option for people looking for Indian food who don't want to venture east.

It was the first time I'd eaten off the full menu and I was absolutely blown away by some of the dishes. This was cooking of the highest class, better than Benares, Cinnamon Club or any other 'fine' Indian I've eaten in London.

The huge positives
We ate giant prawns from the tandoor with tamarind and and chilli. These were beautifully cooked with a wonderful taste of the tandoor. Superb.
The unassuming star, almost of the whole meal, was the katli. Gently spiced aubergine stuffed with a huge array of vegetables with two excellent chutneys. The sheer depth of flavour brought out of the aubergine was astonishing.
Dahl Makhani was also excellent, with a richness beyond other versions of this dish that I've tried. Went very well with a lovely roti.
The Rabbit cooked with garlic, onions and yoghurt had a taste of saffron and was a fantastic dish.
The only mis-step was in the cooking of the red snapper in the jhol. The spicing was perfect but as is the case so often with this fish it was just ever-so-slightly overcooked.

The downsides
Other than the very slight miss on the snapper there was absolutely nothing to criticise in the cooking. But there are some warning signs here which dissuade me from wholeheartedly recommending Moti Mahal.
1. The drinks pricing. This is pretty bad. It makes a Gordon Ramsay restaurant look like a corkage-free byo. That might be an exaggeration but I've seen a 2001 Langoa Barton for around £40 and it was £140 here. 1998 Chasse spleen was £245. Even a Luigi Bosca Malbec was £40.
Instead we got what I think were 275ml Cobras for £6 each. Just an astonishing ripoff really.
2. A cover charge of £3 was added to our bill. It wasn't mentioned anywhere when booking, on the menu or when the bill came. It was hidden between the starters and mains and when I queried it I was told that it costs £1.50 per person to dine at the restaurant. I didn't make a fuss as I was being treated by my mum but I just think levying a charge like that without ever mentioning it is just quite sneaky. By all means add £1 to each of the five dishes we ordered but it just left a very sour taste and just reeks of them taking advantage of people.

The total bill for two starters, two mains, dahl, roti, one dessert and five beers was £140 with service. Expensive for Indian food but for what we ate it didn't feel bad at all. Had I been paying I'd have asked them to remove the cover charge, or I'd have removed the service charge and I'd recommend anyone else do the same. Our of principle more than anything else.

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  1. Thanks for this, MiT. Your thread is most opportune. Mrs H & I have just been plotting a trip to London for what we call the "office Christmas party". Ledbury is one meal and I was wondering about Moti Mahal for the second night as we both like it. When we were both last there, I took Howler's advice about the range of dishes to order and it was spot on.

    I agree with you about the cover charge - it takes the piss.

    2 Replies
    1. re: Harters

      You're absolutely right Harters, I went back and read your review as it did ring a bell.

      If the bill had been £145 with each dish £1 more I wouldn't have blinked, as it was I came away feeling ripped off.

      The salad with masala spices was quite nice - I wondered whether the cover charge is linked to it but they didn't say that when I asked.

      1. re: ManInTransit

        It's a weird feeling. Feeling ripped off there, I mean. I never feel ripped off in Spain where many places have a cover charge of a couple of euros (sometimes advertised as being for the bread). I suppose it's just because we aren't used to it.

    2. That reminds me of Ishbilia where they leave a salad on the table and newbies eat it thinking it's part of the nice service. It's not free, and I always caution people to tell the waiter to remove it. I don't think I've ever encountered a cover charge, and that is bad form. Boo hiss.

      1. Without wishing to detract from MiT's thread, may I ask for a view of how Moti Mahal's food might compare with Quilon, Cafe Spice Namaste and Indian Zing? These are three places I've only read about and fancy trying for varied reasons, possibly on our festive trip.

        (howler - where are you when I need you? :-0 )

        8 Replies
        1. re: Harters

          i'm here as always.

          they're very different. quilon is keralan and the veg thali for lunch is a very good deal. dinner is excellent too.

          cafe spice namaste has parsi dishes intermingled with goan ones (plus a few of the usual suspects to not frighten away the usual punter). parsi cuisine is notorious for being heavily meat based (they treat vegetables the same way pakistani punjabis do - bludgeon them). the big thing with parsi cuisine is to marvel at its evolution in india from its origins in iran. it still retains the sweet sour balance; for fun, compare dhansaak with khoresh gheymeh.

          indiuan zing has a maharastrian chef (the state which bombay is the capital of) and it has some wonderful mainly vegetarian options not found anywhere else. sadly, the menu isn't as adventurous as it could be - but if you eat with a maharastrian, the kitchen is usually very accommodating.

          moti mahal is of course robust punjabi cooking (with some cheffy twists).

          1. re: howler

            Howler (or anyone else) have you been to Trisna? It's been getting some acclaim recently and also just got a star as well.

            1. re: ManInTransit

              trishna is a very well known mangalorean (mainly sea food restaurant) in mumbai - but its been a tourist trap for quite some time. of course that can change, so i'd recommend trying the london branch out. after all, where else are you going to score mangalorean food in london?

            2. re: howler

              Many thanks, H. You may be selling Cafe Spice Namaste to me. I saw the restaurant on Masterchef recently and was quite taken by it. Now you add in the opportunity to compare the khoresh (which I'm familiar with) with dhansaak and I think that may be a winner.

              1. re: howler

                Keralan is my fave Indian regional cuisine in the whole wide world!! I ate Keralan when I'm in Tamil Nadu (, I ate Keralan when I'm in Karnataka (, ... I'm so going to Quilon the next time I'm in London!

                1. re: howler


                  I assume that khoresh gheymeh is very similar to . Khoresh-e-Ghemieh Baadenjan.
                  I had this at a Persian place in Paddington (Cheminee) last week and struck firstly the similarity to dhansaak but also was thinking that this particular rendition (good sourness from dried lime but the lamb was both fatty and too dry. Also not enough split peas.) didn't seem particularly good.
                  I guess in the right hands this is a great dish , do you know anywhere in London that does a good version of the dish?

                  1. re: Paprikaboy

                    I believe it'll be the same dish, PaprikeB. As often with "foreign" dishes, spellings end up being different as they are interpreted for the British audience.

                    1. re: Paprikaboy

                      fwiw, imho mohsen's (warwick road) version rocks.

                2. Thanks for an interesting review. An Indian lady (from India) recommended Moti Mahal to me, although like all the people from India I've met in the UK she finds British Indian food somewhat bland (Indians have a different taste spectrum to Brits, being primarily attuned to spicy; but they'll never appreciate the glory of a simple, undressed Jersey Royal).

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: Lord Brazing

                    "but they'll never appreciate the glory of a simple, undressed Jersey Royal"

                    on the contrary. MOST indian food is but lightly spiced, simple and delicious. there are about a zillion different vegetables eaten in india, and they are absolutely top notch in quality. most vegetable recipes in most indian cuisines work subtly with the underlying flavours; its our meat thats substandard and requires work. which is why i tell anyone really interested in our cuisines to try out the vegetable dishes mainly - after all thats how we eat back home and thats how we judge a good chef. of course, there are some cuisines which bludgeon vegetables - for example, the parsis. but i'm speaking generally here.

                    "she finds British Indian food somewhat bland"
                    thats indian politeness. if you are referring to the gloopy indian curry fare, she probably finds it bad. it really has nothing to do with indian food anyway.

                    1. re: howler

                      I love good vegetable cuisines. Are you talking about any particular part of India Howler? I think the Indian lady (like others before her) was indeed talking about the food in Britain generally, not the archetypal gloopy Brit-Indian curry house fare. Regarding the potatoes, I had in mind a recent article by that AA Gill bloke, who, on a recent visit to India, was assailed by his hosts for the bland food in the UK - indeed one of them described a visit of his own to Britain where he was served simple undressed boiled potatoes, to his horror. "My mother would have died of shame to serve a dish like that" Gill quoted him as saying. Perhaps we're talking about regional differences?