The Mint and Mustard has been one of the restaurants I would most like to visit for quite some time now. Since launching in 2007 the Indian restaurant has acquired a string of prestigious awards and is currently listed within the Good Food Guide and The Independent newspaper’s top 50 UK restaurants. To top it off, the Mint and Mustard is the only restaurant in Cardiff to have been awarded Michelin Bib Gourmand status.
Situated on Cardiff’s Whitchurch Road, the Mint and Mustard specialises in high quality, fine Indian dining. The menu is both authentic and contemporary at the same time, featuring traditional favourites like chicken tikka masala and saag gosht, alongside more innovative dishes such as tandoori salmon and chilli and garlic lamb rack.
With the Mint and Mustard hosting their Kerala Food Festival 2 from 10th July to 31st August, it seems like the perfect time to pay them a visit. The second festival of its kind held by the restaurant, Kerala Food Festival offers a tantalising tasting menu that allows diners to experience the fresh, distinctive flavours of Keralan cuisine. Award-winning head chef Santhosh Nair grew up in this region of India and the ingredients of the menu include fresh seafood, coconut and elaborate regional spices, to name just a few.
I arrive at the Mint and Mustard with a work colleague at 6pm on a Wednesday evening. As it is relatively early we are the only guests in the restaurant and we are greeted upon arrival by the manager and escorted to a table. He hands us each a menu and explains that we can order either a set meal from a taster menu or individual starters, mains and sides. We are keen to sample a variety of different dishes and flavours and so we go for the Kerala tasting menu (£37.50 pp., min. 2 people).
As the manager heads off to the bar to fetch us some drinks, we take the opportunity to observe our surroundings and to get a feel for the atmosphere of the restaurant. The walls are painted a pale lime green and are decorated with paintings of exotic Indian scenes, like a tranquil wooden hut sitting upon water. Contemporary Indian music plays in the background and spotlights cast a warm glow over the dining area. The waiting staff are wearing traditional Indian costume to tie in with the theme of the Kerala Food Festival.
A waitress places a basket of poppadums and a selection of dips on our table, before revealing the ingredients of each. The dips consist of mint yoghurt, lemon and pineapple and ginger. Most Indian restaurants serve a mint yoghurt dip with poppadums these days, but I have never known one to serve a lemon, or pineapple and ginger dip, making for an refreshing touch.
Our starters arrive in no more than ten minutes and they almost look too good to eat (almost, but not quite)! A trio of miniature morsels lined up on a rectangular white dish, the starters feature (from left to right): Crab Tikki; golden fried tikki of devon crabmeat and potatoes, Irachi Samosa; a crispy, fried triangle stuffed with spiced minced lamb and Bombay Chaat; a ‘melt in the mouth’ parcel filled with yoghurt, topped with homemade chutneys and gram flour vermicelli.
The manager advises us to eat the Bombay Chaat in one go because it is filled with a variety of delicious ingredients and sauces and upon biting into it, an exquisite concoction of flavours is released. I’m glad we followed his advice as it was simply amazing and I don’t think the effect would be the same if I had cut up the Bombay Chaat prior to eating.
The Irachi Samosa is the best samosa I have ever tasted and I love Indian food, so I have eaten my fair share of samosas. The minced lamb filling is very generous and I don’t think they could have managed to cram any more in if they tried.
I’m not a lover of crab but the Crab Tikki was different to anything I have tried before, in a positive way. The best way I can describe it is as a fish cake flavoured with fresh crab, mixed with fresh herbs and flavoured with traditional spices.
Following our starters a waitress brings our next course to the table – the chef’s signature Pan Seared Sea Bass, Tiffin Cup-winning and served on a bed of curry-leaf infused mashed potato with a creamy sauce.
The sea bass is tender and juicy and the innovative take on mashed potato makes for the perfect companion.It’s never crossed my mind that mashed potato could be a spicy dish but it’s definitely something that I’ll be trying at home myself.
After soaking up the vibrant flavours of our starters and fish course, we are served a refreshing In-House Sorbet of coconut and rosewater to cleanse our palates.
Feeling rejuvenated, we brace ourselves for the main course. We are not waiting long before a waiter appears with a trolley of food destined for our table. The first dish he places on our table is named Tharavu Chuttath, a Kerala hunter’s special preparation of Barbary duck, normally cooked over firewood but cooked here in a Tandoor. Smiling, the waiter reveals that his father used to hunt this duck and cook it in the same way for him when he was younger.
This is my favourite of all the main course dishes. The duck has literally been cooked to perfection and it is so tender, my knife glides through it with ease. I have never tasted duck cooked in this way before, but it really is quite heavenly.
Secondly we have the Kozhikodan Lamb Stew, consisting of Welsh lamb cooked in fresh coconut milk with
whole spices and curry leaves. The lamb is incredibly soft and easy to chew and the flavours of the sauce seem to have soaked right into it, giving each mouthful a delicious taste which goes especially well with the creamy coconut sauce.
Next up is the Pork Varattiyathu, a rustic meal of slow braised pork chunks cooked with a collection of
aromatic herbs and spices. This dish strikes me as perhaps the most authentic of our main course options and I can just imagine it being cooked up over a hot stove in Kerala.
The meat dishes are paired with a vegetarian side of Beetroot Thoran; beetroot stir-fried with coconut and tempered with mustard and curry leaves. I don’t like beetroot enough to order it as a side dish in a restaurant, but it was enjoyable nonetheless. It just goes to show how the addition of some carefully selected herbs and spices can transform a simple ingredient into an exciting, moreish meal.
To accompany our main meals we are served a generous portion of steamed basmati rice, along with a basket full of assorted naan breads.
The portion sizes are excellent. The tasting menu can be served for a minimum of two people and we have plenty of food to go around, with some left over when we have finished eating. We’d love to polish off every morsel of food on our plates, but we need to leave at least some room for our final course – dessert.
Alike the starter course, the desserts are served as a trio on a rectangular plate featuring (from left to right): Rose Brulee; an inventive twist on the classic crème brulee with a subtle rose flavour and sprinkled with rose petals; Chocomosa; crispy samosa filled with warm chocolote ganache and almond flakes and caramelised banana; and Tandoori Pineapple – a hot chunk of fresh pineapple, marinated in honey and grilled.
My favourite dessert by far is the Rose Brulee. I just love how the Mint and Mustard has given this popular pudding a unique touch, which is both contemporary and visually appealing whilst invoking the ingredients used in age-old Keralan cooking.
After finishing our desserts we are feeling comfortably full but all this food has tired us out. Not to worry though, as the Mint and Mustard serve a range of freshly ground coffees and teas and the waiter says the lattes (£2.95 each) are particularly good. He disappears for a few minutes before returning to our table with two of the creamiest lattes I have ever laid eyes upon. Served in a handled glass, the lattes have visible horizontal stripes which start as a light beige colour at the bottom of the glass and merge into a chocolate brown as they near the frothy surface.
I simply cannot recommend Mint and Mustard enough. Our entire dining experience has been completely flawless; the food has been of an excellent quality and the creativity of the menu deserves real praise.
Every member of staff who has served us has not only been extremely courteous and polite, but has had an extensive knowledge of the different dishes on offer.
The menu may be priced somewhat higher than your average Indian restaurant, but as I have tried to convey, the Mint and Mustard is not your average Indian restaurant. Given the unique flavours of the food, the inventiveness of the menu and the generous portion sizes, the Mint and Mustard does represent value for money to me.
Make sure you book before you go because although the Mint and Mustard has a large dining capacity, it tends to get very busy. By the time we leave, the empty restaurant we walked into a couple of hours ago is bustling with diners, young and old, with a table for thirty guests booked for 8.00pm.
Mint and Mustard
134 Whitchurch Road
(029) 2062 0333
I was invited to The Mint & Mustard as a guest and our food and drinks were complimentary.