I don’t really like to leave the house on a Monday evening. Anything after 6pm on a Monday is my sacred time – it’s for catching up on the work I didn’t do over the weekend, the crap TV I not-so-secretly love, and the washing that has piled up on top of the basket for the last week. Only in very special circumstances will I sacrifice this sanity-restoring little ritual.
Enter: Moksh Restaurant in Cardiff Bay to shake things up. When they emailed me with an invite to their extra-special pop up (featuring not one, but two, outrageously talented chefs), I knew that my Monday rule was going definitely going to have to be broken for one week only…
Creative Chef Sudha Shankar Saha was teaming up with Moksh’s very own Chef Stephen Gomes to present “an exclusive four-course menu, fusing local and seasonal produce with global influences” – how could I resist?
Chef Saha is the Director of the Saffron Restaurant in Birmingham, Flames World Buffet in Worcester and The Swan gastro-pub in Warwickshire. With an impressive culinary career, he continues to support and judge the Blue Arrow National Chef of the Year competition, and has previously been the main judge on Brit Asia’s TV Culinary King show and CBBC’s Disaster Chef.
Meanwhile, Stephen Gomes has held the title of ‘Best UK Indian Chef’ with the prestigious Cobra Good Curry Guide for a large part of the last decade, was named Goldstar English Curry Chef of the Year (2013) and crowned Goldstar Welsh Curry Chef of the Year (2014). In 2015, he was awarded an AA Rosette for Moksh; the first Indian restaurant in Wales to achieve this prestigious accolade. He was also named Ethnic Chef of the Year at the Craft Guild of Chef’s Awards 2015, and in August 2015, Stephen was chosen to represent Wales on BBC2’s Great British Menu.
Taking all of the above in to consideration, I decided it was my food blogger’s official duty to see what the night had in store – Monday night or not!
Upon arrival, our first surprise on taking our seats was that the already substantial menu for the evening had grown, thanks to some last-minute additions by our two chefs. The evening’s offerings now included an extra course, and a very interesting-sounding palate cleanser (more on that, later). I was starting to wish I had worn stretchier jeans, and once you get to the bottom of this list, you’ll see why…
The feast (all 7 courses):
1. First of all, we were served with an Amuse Bouche to whet our appetites – curried chickpeas topped with crispy puffed rice and a sort of spicy, bombay mix. I happily scoffed this in two seconds flat as I had eaten nothing but salad all day, in preparation for the evening’s indulgence.
2. Next, our starters arrived. A huge Indian-spiced scotch egg, served with al-dente seared asparagus, a yellow lentil fool and drizzled with a balsamic glaze. The batter on the scotch egg was so perfectly crispy, and the deep yellow yolk of the egg so lush and runny, that even though this really was a massive portion for a starter and I knew I had a long way to go… I scoffed the lot.
3. Next up was the fish course. Spice-scented, pan-fried sea bass, served with garlic-wilted baby spinach, tomato achar (pickle) and moilee sauce. This was b-e-a-u-tiful. I loved the char on the skin of the bass, against the warmth of the lovely, coconutty ‘moilee’ sauce – it reminded me a little of a Malaysian Laksa, but with the addition of the tomato pickles and wilted spinach, it was much more refreshing and complex. Definitely one of my favourite curried fish dishes to date.
4. Next up: the ambiguously-named Jack Frost, a dish which arrived with a flourish – a pour-over of liquid nitrogen to keep the meringue super-cool on top of the hot ingredients beneath. These were: a chicken akoori, wheel bread, and ketchup; served with a ‘gunpowder jus’, black sesame ‘soil’ and a blob of chewy peshwari naan meringue. The contrast of rich, hot and spicy against the sickly sweetness of the cold, chewy meringue worked perfectly, though to me, every mouthful of this dish was a bit of a mystery – a tasty one nonetheless!
5. By this point, we were stuffed. but we soldiered on – this time tucking in to a palate cleanser of pink-grapefruit cotton candy, and a sweet and salty pickled chorizo and maple macaroon (along with a rather random, bright blue lollipop worthy of Willy Wonka’s factory). This was the only dish which missed the mark for me as I hate macaroons, but Pete was quick to hoover up both of ours, much to his delight.
6. Finally, six dishes in, the main courses arrived. A bright-orange, tandoor cooked cotswold chicken, served with truffle oil-infused wild vegetable kedgeree, pickled organic vegetables, and a butter-based, tomato ‘makhni’ sauce. This was so rich I could only manage a few bites, but the pickled vegetables were a welcome, sour lift adding a great contract against the creamy sauce. Luckily Pete happily finished off the rest for me again!
Meanwhile, I was tucking into an Indian-style Shepherds Pie, topped with cheddar and green coriander crumble, and served with al-dente root vegetables, edible flowers, curry sauce and a fresh, hot and salty naan bread. Somehow, I found the room to finish almost all of this off, and now I’m eager to try adding a spicy, curry twist to my next Shepherd’s Pie as I have always found the traditional version just a little boring.
7. After feasting for almost two and a half hours, our desserts arrived: a generous portion of chilled Mango Creme Brulee, served with a disc of fresh Cardamom Shortbread. The brulee was lit at the table, which was a nice touch, but I was so utterly stuffed by this point, I couldn’t manage more than a few token bites. Luckily, Pete was on hand to help, yet again! That man’s definitely got hollow legs.
All in all, we were blown away by the standard of the food and the level of creativity shown by the two chefs at Moksh. Little, unexpected touches and contemporary twists (like the Peshwari macaroon and the Indian Shepherds pie), made for such an enjoyable evening, and a real point of discussion as every course arrived. It was also lovely to briefly meet both of the chefs and thank them in person, and to see how genuinely passionate they were about creating a truly memorable experience.
I’ll admit that I had never eaten at Moksh before, and Pete hadn’t for a good few years, but I’ve already had a couple of messages on social media telling me that our evening wasn’t a one-off and that the food is always great, even when there isn’t a pop up event or special menu in place.
I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to manage 7 courses of curry on a Monday night again, especially not if my skinny jeans are anything to do with it – but I’m super keen to head back to Moksh for a normal-sized meal very soon to see what else they’ve got up their very accomplished sleeves.