Monday, March 12, 2012
Review: The Mint Room
This weekend I really decided I wanted to treat my family and my boyfriend, because they are all so lovely to me, but mainly because I have come into a bit of money recently so can afford it (lol) ! I decided to take them to The Mint Room, which is this new-ish gourmet Indian restaurant that they all love. My boyfriend has been there a few times actually, as he even went to the opening night and raved about the food there (he got his food free of course on the opening night, the cheeky mare!), my family have been there a couple of times before, and I went for a birthday meal there back in November. It isn’t somewhere we all go often though, because when it comes to curry-houses, this place is very upmarket- much more expensive than our usual haunts (The Bengal Brassiere and The Shaad, both of which are lovely). I tried booking the table for 8 o clock, but the guy over the phone said it would be better to make it 8:30pm, due to the fact they were doing “sittings”. I thought, eh, all right then, we usually don’t eat that late but I didn’t mind too much.
When we all got there, we could see it was very busy, but also noticed that there seemed to be many people at different stages of their meal (starters/ mains/ puddings/ getting ready to leave). I thought this was rather confusing, because if they really had done “sittings” then everyone would generally be at the point of leaving by now. So basically I reckon they either lied over the phone to make it easier for them, or perhaps they had late or annoying customers, I dunno. When we got in, we were asked to sit down and wait 5 minutes for our table. We ended up waiting 20 minutes for our table, whilst steadily getting a bit annoyed and thinking of going to another place.
So eventually they sat us at our table, and gave us the drinks menus. I say “us”, for some reason they only gave us 2 drinks menus (and there were 5 of us), which I thought was a bit weird. We then waited another 20 minutes before someone came over to take our drinks order, but then we were left at our table for ages without even having looked at the food menu yet! We managed to grab one of the passing waiters to ask for some menus, who tried giving us the same 2 drinks menus again! I just thought how ridiculous this was, because I had read in a local magazine recently that the manager of this place said they wanted to aim for a Michelin star. My only response to that is ‘ARE YOU ACTUALLY TAKING THE PISS??’They obviously do not know anything about The Michelin industry otherwise they would not have said anything this stupid. Not even the Royal Crescent, or The Priory (anymore, it lost its star a couple of years ago) in Bath is Michelin. With service like this, they wouldn’t even get close to a rosette.
Anyway, we finally got the food menus and got served little mini poppadums (well, actually, they were obviously just broken up normal sized ones) with two homemade chutneys. We got through them really quickly, as they were only little, so we asked the waiter whether we could order some normal sized ones. He said this was impossible. I think the mini poppadum thing is a mistake- I mean, they are trying to be gourmet and everything, which I understand, but big poppadums with all the relishes and accompaniments are part of the Indian meal culture in this country- either you go completely against the norm and DON’T serve poppadums, or you serve them properly I think. As I mentioned earlier, I had visited The Mint Room once before. Strangely enough last time we hadn’t had any problems with the service, but I had a fair few issues with the food (despite everyone else at the table LOVING it). First of all, my starter last time I felt was quite bland- the Aloo Tikki (which was fried spiced mash potato cakes stuffed with brie), and then my main course, both the Murgh Palak Paneer (Chicken breast stuffed with spinach and Paneer, served with an Indian tomato sauce) and the vegetable curry side dish were waaay too spicy for me. I wanted to like it, because I knew it was flavourful, and the meat was very tender, but it was just blown away with chilli. I know I’m quite sensitive to chilli, but basically last time I was at this restaurant I ended up disappointed by how spicy the food was. This time however, I ordered some really nice dishes, and was very happy with what I chose. Often, I will give certain restaurants a second chance, because I am aware that sometimes it is not the food there that was bad, it’s just that I happened to have ordered something off the menu that unluckily I didn’t really like. Theres a difference between having bad food at a restaurant, and knowing that you should have chosen something else off the menu. Definitely.
I ordered the “Paneer Pepper Fry” for starter, a Chicken Rogan Josh for main (The Mint Room does “normal” or “classic” style curries, as well as their “signature dishes” which are a bit more alternative) and a peshwari naan and an aloo Gobi on the side. Whilst we ordered our food, we got this waiter that basically scowled at us the whole time we were ordering, which was slightly disconcerting, and then once we’d all ordered (in traditional Booth, and I now realise, Steel style, we had ordered quite a lot) he then repeated all of our choices back to us REALLY SLOWLY, and in broken English, which if I’m quite honest, was PAINFUL! Honestly, you don’t get that in restaurants!! The only place I ever have that is when I order a Chinese delivery on the phone, which I can kinda understand because if they screw up a delivery order it’s much harder to fix. But yeah, honestly, that guy did not have to repeat this, it was just really annoying, time consuming, and awkward.
However, this is the point where all the negatives end, and where all of the positives begin. I find it very hard to fault their food. Our starters were delicious- mum and dad had the shared vegetarian platter, my brother had the chicken pakora (which is a starter he has in pretty much every Indian restaurant we go to- and he said these were very good) and me and Nick had to “Paneer Pepper Fry”. It was like a tasty paneer and pepper dry curry that had been shaped into a circle, garnished with a raw salad of beetroot, carrot and mooli, and served with a mild yoghurt mint dip on the side. This was very tasty, and just the right portion size for a starter. Then the main courses came and my god they were so flavourful! Everything tasted really fresh, without losing the signature Indian depth of spices and curried flavours- my Rogan josh was great, with very tender chicken, my peshwari naan was fluffy and had plenty of coconut filling, and my aloo gobi was the nicest aloo gobi I’ve ever had actually (I reckon because they had used fresh cauliflower instead of frozen like a lot of restaurants do). Me and Nick shared a pilau rice too- and it wasn’t all fake coloured like you get from takeaways, it was fluffy, and garnished with crispy fried onions. I also had a taste of my mum’s vegetable bhuna, and I can vouch from tasting this that their vegetarian options certainly weren’t lacking flavour either. Was absolutely stuffed from the main course, I ate much more than I normally would in other Indian restaurants. Although don’t worry about the posh-ness of the place- if you can’t finish your dinner, it’s completely fine to ask them to give you a doggy bag, because they also run as a takeaway (although I’m really not sure who would get a takeaway from this place with those prices!).
Normally I would have ordered dessert, but just down to my personal preferences I just didn’t really like anything on the dessert menu. They had about 6 options on the menu, including some sort of halva cake thing, gulab jamun, poached spiced pear, mango or lime sorbet- but I didn’t really fancy any of it. I would have ordered- and I really reckon they should put something like this on the menu, as it’s their sort of style- some Kheer, or “Indian rice pudding”. It’s definitely one of the nicest Indian desserts- that and proper kulfi. They could go for a bit more effort on the puddings to better their menu I think.
So I had some jasmine tea instead, and we got the bill sorted, and it all came to £142. I gave them £150 (I certainly wasn’t going to tip above 10% with the service we had had tonight) and thought actually, this wasn’t too expensive, compared to the price of a lot of meals out I have. I mean, often when we go to a Chinese restaurant with my buddies, the bill usually ends up at £25, although I realised the difference here was that we hadn’t really drank much at The Mint Room. Usually when I go out with my friends, we have at least 3 beers each, but only Nick and my dad had had two beers each, and mum had one vodka and coke, and me and mike stuck to soft drinks. I figure that actually, considering how much food we got, £30 each is a very reasonable price. I mean, honestly (I have the receipt in front of me to check, lol) altogether we had: 4 starters, 4 mains, 5 alcoholic drinks, 3 non-alcoholic drinks, 11 side dishes (!), 2 desserts and one pot of tea. That’s not frickin bad for thirty ey?
It was at the end of the meal where they started improving their service, strangely enough. I remember there was one guy, who seems to be the manager perhaps (although he’s very young with an east London accent, lol?) that was really nice the last time we were there, and again was really really nice this time as well- apologising for the wait, and making sure our main course came out fast after all the previous mistakes. He then got talking to us all after the meal, shaking hands, asking names, asking whether me and Michael were at University etc. He also offered to do Nick’s canapés for free on his Comedy Festival Opening Night as well (because the restaurant wants to get involved in local events, for publicity, which is a good proactive thing to do as a restaurant I think)! Gawd, Nick goes out for a free meal and then gets another amazing thing free- he’s so jammy! Overall, despite the niceness of the main manager guy, I still can’t help but rate this place’s service preeety badly. If you’re going on a night out, for a big celebration, and you know you will be paying more than normal for something, you expect good service- and we just didn’t get that last night. I will rate the service a 5/10 (and this would be 3 if it wasn’t for previous experience and the nice manager too!) but the food, which is outstanding, a 9/10- giving a score of 7/10. I hope this place does well for itself, which it seems to be doing considering how busy it was yesterday, but it’s got a hell of a long way if it’s reaching for the stars (The Michelin ones anyway, Haha!!)