When I was little, I went through a phase when I thought I couldn’t read. I had no problem with books at school but, when I went to bed, the words on my pillowcase totally foxed me. Night after night I traced the letters with my fingers, no closer to figuring out their meaning. I can still see myself, lying on my tummy with a furrowed brow.
It was only years later that I realised the pillowcase (and duvet cover presumably, although that detail escapes me) pictured two characters from The Jungle Book: Mowgli and Bagheera. No bloody wonder I couldn’t read it! Thanks mum, thanks a lot.
So it was with a degree of trepidation that I visited one of Manchester’s newest restaurants. Mowgli is among a slew of eateries in the revamped, refurbished and much improved Corn Exchange in Manchester city centre. Prior to its rebirth as a so called ‘destination restaurant hub’, the Corn Exchange was an anonymous glass entity, stripped of its original Edwardian features to make way for high-end shops seen on every high street. Thanks to a sympathetic £30 million renovation of the Grade II-listed building, the 16 or so restaurants and cafés within its walls sit rather nicely, with open plan spaces inside to eat and mingle and terraces outside for the more adventurous diner (well, in this weather anyway).
With two outlets in Liverpool, the Corn Exchange is Mowgli‘s first foray beyond Merseyside. And thank god they’ve made the journey. Billed as Indian street food which, according to its website, is ‘about the smash and grab zing of healthy, light, virtuosic herbs and spices’, Mowgli is an extremely welcome addition to the fast-growing Manchester foodie scene. And no wonder. In what may be the best title for a cookbook ever, founder Nisha Katona published Pimp My Rice last year. And I’m assuming that its logo – a balletic monkey – is a nod to The Jungle Book.
In an effort to draw in more families, Mowgli is offering a new kids’ menu. So along I tripped with my four-year-old niece Scout, a girl who has eaten out more times in her young life than I had by the age of 21, and her dad, Chef Tony. Scout is something of a food connoisseur – with a chef for a dad and her own list of favourite places to eat (Falshaw’s in Bury is number one), she has a discerning palate.
From a menu offering five mains for children, she plumped for the House Chicken Curry, followed by Handmade Ice Cones for dessert. As for the grown-ups, the choices were much harder to make due to the dazzling array of intriguing options. Mowgli offers Indian-style tapas: dishes are smaller than mains (although I found the portions pleasingly sizeable, and could have easily made do with just a couple) and are served when they’re ready. It’s a brilliant approach to casual dining, particularly at lunch time.
After much deliberation over a libation or two, Chef Tony and I ordered Yoghurt Chat Bombs (which have to be eaten to be believed), The Bombay Chip Butty (an inspired concoction comprising Roti wrap, fenugreek kissed turmeric fries, chilli pickle, coriander, Mowgli tomato relish and about five other things), Treacle Tamarind Fries (so wrong, they’re right), Mowgli Sticky Wings (a mammoth portion, even Chef Tony who always leaves a clean plate had trouble finishing), Mowgli Paneer (lip smackingly good and, unlike many recipes, not remotely swamped with spinach), and House Lamb Curry (Chef Tony’s conclusion: “Oh yes.”).
All said, Mowgli is a first-rate restaurant with affordable prices, generous portions and food that won’t be forgotten in a hurry. One grievance though: in our section of the restaurant, the seat backs were substituted for rope – great fun for a toddler but not so comfortable for an adult.
And what of the kids’ menu? Northern Soul‘s pint-sized reviewer had only good things to say, apart from the chicken curry which was “a tiny bit spicy”. Given Scout’s loathing of even the merest hint of spice, I suspect that other children would be fine with it, and Chef Tony pronounced top marks after he hoovered it up. But the rice was “really yummy” and, when asked about the various ice creams, she said “I think all of them are my favourites”.
As we roll out of Mowgli, replete and thankful for elasticated pants, I say: “So, Scout, what was your favourite thing about lunch?”. She pauses, and cocks her head in reflection.
To read Northern Soul’s article about the rebirth of Manchester Corn Exchange, click here.