A few weeks ago, I found myself embroiled in a discussion about the office tea club, rummaging through my bag for an umbrella, and harbouring a deep hankering for a curry. This seemingly innocent combination made me stop mid-rummage in a state of shock; after almost three and a half years of living in London, was I turning just that little bit British? Back in Wellington, I never had lengthy debates about the tea round (we just made our own), umbrellas were destined to be discarded in a bin partway down Lambton Quay, and the only curries I had a stomach for were Malaysian curries… But look how London’s changed me. By about 3pm that day, I was actually looking forward to, craving even, our dinner at Mango Indian because I hadn’t had my dose of curry and roti in quite some time.
The restaurant is at one end of a less than enticing street and round the corner from Borough Market; as a result, we both instinctively pitied it for its seemingly unfortunate location… I honestly couldn’t imagine many people bypassing Borough Market and then finding their way down to this derelict looking lane. But I would be wrong. From our window table, we got a front row view of couples and groups making a beeline for this cosy little curry house… as we sated ourselves on the poppadoms and chutneys, we mused that this was not such an unfortunate location after all, and definitely not the undiscovered gem we had chalked it down as.
We may be much more familiar with Indian food now, but that doesn’t mean that I’m any less overwhelmed by the notoriously lengthy menus at Indian restaurants… I’m still not completely confident that I know the difference between types of tikka, or a vindaloo and a korma. I just know that I like things that are light on the cumin, and can handle it spicy; after that, I leave our fate in the hands of the experts. This tactic has worked for me so far, and continued to be a winner at Mango Indian when our waiter presented us with a taster of the house’s signature starters: aachari paneer, adraki lamb chops, and haryali chicken tikka.
The slight tanginess and pickle in the paneer took me by surprise. Not quite like the other simply spiced and grilled versions we’ve had before, this one was softer, squishier, and felt somewhat more decadent because of it. Things got even better as I moved onto the chicken; tinted green from the marinade of green chilli, coriander, mint, and crushed garlic and ginger, this was a satisfyingly juicy mouthful. I loved the clean flavours and the heat, and had absolutely no complaints about the tenderness of the meat. Same goes for the lamb chops which had us unabashedly gnawing at the bones. We’ve long believed that Tayyabs’ famous lamb chops are far from being the best in town, and these served as another reminder of this stance and it’s time more people realised it!
We were seriously contemplating another round of chops as one of those succulent beauties each was not nearly enough, but we were here to sate my curry cravings, not gnaw on those bones all night! Our waiter helpfully rattled off quite a few recommendations based on our penchant for all things fiery, but the two which caught our attention were a chicken chettinad and a lall mass. Neither of us could recall trying either of them before, which naturally piqued our interest even more. The first thing that struck us about the curries was the colour, the second was the flavour – both delivered sucker punches to the senses even when tempered with pilau rice and a roti. The chicken chettinad gave an intensely peppery flavour in the first mouthful, but what actually caught me off guard was the way the spice continued to build up with every subsequent bite. It was a slow burner, but one which left a welcomed, warming fire in my belly.
The chicken chettinad got my seal of approval, but I still preferred the lall mass, a hot Rajastani curry mess made with crushed red chillies and plenty of aromatic spices. Based on our experience with the starters, we expected the lamb to be tender but the flavour they managed to pack into the meat impressed us too. I think it’s quite common for curry houses to prepare the meat and curry sauce separately and put them together at service, but the equally common pitfall with this method is that the meat can end up very bland and just a waste of space. We both politely agreed that this wasn’t an issue here, whilst aggressively wrestling with our roti pieces for every last drop of curry. I would hate me too if I, like a certain someone, was met with my smug victory grin as a result of finding the last morsel of melt in the mouth lamb.
We were enjoying the convivial atmosphere in Mango Indian so much that we decided to elongate our meal with one of their chocolate and apple samosa desserts to share. Aside from being filled, folded and fried like a samosa, there’s really nothing much Indian about this dessert, and that was completely fine with me. I usually find the spicing and sweetness of Indian desserts too grating on my tastebuds anyway and much preferred this creation which remind me very much of a McDonald’s apple pie – a childhood favourite I haven’t had in years! Once the last samosa was done and devoured, we decided to stop hogging the best seats in the house and let some of the patient punters outside get their dose of curry heaven.
But we will be back… especially now that a certain someone has made the earth-shattering call of naming Mango Indian his favourite curry house… ever… even ahead of our beloved Apollo Banana Leaf?! I thought the fiery spices had made him hallucinate on the night, but in the cold light of day, he still stood by that claim. And quite frankly, I can’t think of a better endorsement than that but if you don’t trust him… maybe trust the British curry-loving masses turning up, queuing when they need to, and leaving very, very happy!
Do you have a favourite curry house that you visit time and time again?
Thanks to Mango Indian for looking after us so well, but as always, all opinions are mine and mine alone!
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