The first thing I notice when I enter Moksh restaurant in Cardiff Bay, is a giant orange buddha sleeping on the ceiling.
This elaborate painting is just one part of the eccentric dining experience at this contemporary Indian restaurant, recently named Best Indian Restaurant in Wales, and second best in the UK, by the Cobra Good Curry Guide, with head chef Stephen Gomes also picking up an award for Best Chef. Moksh is also mentioned in Where Chefs Eat, a newly-published book from Phaidon revealing the favourite dining places of top chefs.
My friend Sian and I are welcomed inside and escorted to a table in a quiet area of the restaurant, set back from the rest of the dining area. As the waiter goes to fetch us some drinks, we take the opportunity to get to know our surroundings and soak up the authentic atmosphere.
Low-hanging straw lampshades hang down from the ceiling in the main dining section, and one wall is painted with a traditional, cobbled pattern, the other a mixture of warm orange and reddish-brown.
The meditative theme is continued by the presence of a fat, jolly buddha sitting cross-legged on the wall adjacent to us, whilst a sculpture of a praying buddha sits on a shelf behind me, with the area around him painted to look as though he is sitting in a hut against a blue sky and green landscape.
When we look up to the ceiling, all we can see is stars.
The waiter returns with our drinks, accompanied by a strawberry, rose and cumin palate cleanser. Sharp yet sweet, Sian and I both agreed that it makes for a refreshingly delicious combination.
A few minutes later another waiter brings us poppadums and a selection of dips, alongside flat, pastry-like bread sticks with a shot-glass full of spicy, fruity chutney sprinkled with sesame seeds. Before heading back to the kitchen, he politely takes the time to explain what each dip consists of – freshly made raita, onion and chilli dip and mango chutney, if I remember rightly!
At this point, Head Chef Stephen Gomes emerges from the kitchen to give us an idea of what we can expect from his cooking. Whilst he is quick to point out that he has not necessarily been inspired by Heston Blumenthal, as recent press releases have stated, he is very keen on using the techniques of molecular gastronomy to experiment with food.According to MolecularRecipes.com, molecular gastronomy or ‘the science of food’ is now generally taken to refer to the possibility for chefs to explore new culinary routes by using scientific equipment and food ingredients hand-in hand, with a view to producing exciting, new combinations for diners.
A glance at our first course tells us that Stephen is about to show us just what molecular gastronomy really means. Our starter consists of three small dishes – Hyderabadi mince cupcake, prawn cocktail with lemon cloud and chocolate and orange chicken tikka.The latter shocks us just as much as it may shock you, but as the waiter says, “If you like Terry’s Chocolate Orange, you’ll love it.” The chocolate and orange flavour is noticeable yet far from overpowering, enabling us to enjoy its taste alongside that of the chicken.
Topped with a subtle chilli beetroot foam, the Hyderabadi mince cupcake is a mixture of lamb mincemeat and peas with spicy mash, like cottage pie with a twist.
The prawn cocktail with lemon cloud is probably the most ‘normal’ of the three dishes in our first course. Several juicy prawns lie engulfed in a creamy sauce topped with a citrus, lemon foam and fresh rocket, giving this traditional dish an interesting makeover.
The second course has a creative concept behind it, and one which I really admire. ‘Salmon on the Bay’ features a large chunk of skewered, cold smoked salmon standing in a glass jar on a bed of edible sand, accompanied by a portion of home-made bacon jam. The jars are closed when the waiter places them on the table and he opens them in front of us, releasing a steady flow of cold smoke which looks very impressive.
The edible sand is made from semolina and, as the waiter informs us, the best way to eat it is to take a spoonful of bacon jam and roll it around in the sand. The sand tastes nothing like the type that finds its way into your sandwiches when you go to the beach. Instead, it has a savoury taste and a surprisingly fine texture. For its metaphorical nature and sheer innovativeness, Salmon on the Bay is my favourite course by far!
Our next dish is also presented to a very high standard, with generous chunks of tender prawn tikka, chicken tikka and sheekh kebab suspended above our plates on a removable skewer. The spiciness of the meat is offset by a side serving of rocket and carrot salad with fresh, whole cranberries.
Three courses in and Sian and I are beginning to feel rather full, with our main course yet to come! The waiter brings us a small bowl of pink grapefruit sorbet which has an intense, zesty taste, without being too bitter. Another palate cleanser, the sorbet actually seems to revive us somewhat in preparation for the feast that lay before us.
When our main course is brought to the table, it is not the food that we are drawn to first but the red glass jar which is making a loud bubbling sound as a cloud of white smoke appears to erupt from it and flow over the edge, like lava from a volcano. The waiter tells us that the effect is caused by the use of liquid nitrogen, and that this is “part of the dining experience at Moksh” – it certainly wowed us!
Our main course is served in a bento box, each dish served in its own separate compartment. With so much choice it’s difficult to decide what to try first, so I start with the dish closest to me. Ratnagiri mango lamb includes “a spherification of mangoes” cooked in coconut milk, mango pulp, chilli and spices. The lamb is so tender that it seems to fall apart in my mouth, whilst the sweet jellied mango pieces are a good companion for the spicy curry sauce.
Moving clockwise around my plate I take a mouthful of chicken szechwan, which has “an Indian Chinese twist” and consists of chunky morsels of chicken enveloped in a hot sauce with green peppers. Although it is rather spicy to the taste, the range of flavours in the sauce encourage me to keep eating mouthfuls until before long, I’ve devoured this dish.
With my mouth beginning to heat up, I decide it’s probably a good time to give the tikka massala ice cream a go. I have been looking forward to this, but I struggle to taste the tikka massala flavouring and actually find it quite bland.
You may be wondering what the small section in the centre of the plate contains – we certainly are! It turns out to be a quails egg in a yoghurt-like sauce, accompanied by small pink and yellow balls which burst and release essences of tikka massala when you bite into them. Feeling apprehensive I give this a go, but it’s not really for me.
The final curry served with our main dish is prawn Bollywood, a thick tomato and fenugreek curry which Stephen has been known to serve for several celebrities, including Bollywood stars. I would rate this dish fairly high on the temperature scale too, but it was extremely flavoursome and had a pleasant, salty kick to it.
Our main course dishes were served with a portion of aromatic pilau rice and an assortment of naan breads. I have been intrigued about the chilli chocolate and honey naan since I saw it on the menu before coming here, and having tasted it for myself, I am a huge fan. Sticky to the touch, this naan bread is almost like a flat crumpet smothered
in Nutella, but it’s chewier and tastes much better.
More chocolate was in store for us in our final course, a selection of desserts aptly-named, ‘Death by Chocolate’. We began with a chocolate liqueur covered in a layer of wispy chocolate mousse. I find it quite runny and strong to the taste, although I have never really been one for chocolate liqueur.
The next dessert in our selection is a rectangular slab of thick saffron mousse with layers of biscuit, garnished with hand-made cinnamon welsh cake.
Then, we have a crispy deep-fried samosa filled with hot chocolate sauce, which I would definitely opt for again.
Last but certainly not least (my favourite of the desserts, in fact) is none other than ‘a smoking cigar’! Another thoughtful creation from Stephen’s kitchen, this consists of a foil-wrapped chocolate cigar sitting in a shot glass with a stream of cold, white smoke billowing out of it. For me this is the perfect finishing touch to what has been a fantastic meal, and the level of imagination that Stephen puts into creating his food becomes evidently clear, if it
has not been already.
Having been lucky enough to enjoy a five-course meal at Moksh, I feel as though I now have some understanding of what it might feel like to dine like royalty. Our three-hour long dining experience has been like a feast fit for a king, due not only to the food, which at times had us lost for words, but also to the vibrant atmosphere and flawless service of the whole team at Moksh.
When it comes to value for money I’d say that you certainly get what you pay for, but as the overall dining experience is generally better than the majority of other restaurants of this genre, naturally you can expect to pay more! Visit the Moksh website at the below address to view the full menu, with prices.
If you enjoy spicy food and are open to trying new things, I seriously recommend paying a visit to Moksh. However, if you’re looking for a traditional Indian restaurant serving familiar favourites like jalfrezi, korma or madras, look elsewhere.
(02920) 498 120
I was invited to Moksh as a guest and our food and drinks were complimentary.