Master Of All He Surveys

Posted on Back of House Oct 2008 - by Tandoori Magazine
Master Of All He Surveys

Ajay Chopra, executive chef of the two Mint Leaf restaurants tells Tandoori how he oversees both sites.

If the original site in Haymarket has given Mint Leaf the reputation of one of the finest and modern of London’s Indian restaurants, then its new site in the City, Mint Leaf Lounge is likely to further enhance it.

Sitting in the shadow of the Bank of England, the site was itself a bank, but given a stunning makeover with lots of use of natural stone and wood. A 40 foot long bar, which sits behind two huge pillars is beautifully back lit, while the main restaurant seating area and lounge – with its own chef’s table - have an art deco feel to it, overlooked by a mezzanine champagne bar.

The cooking speaks for itself and is even more upscale than its central London counterpart focusing on contemporary and healthy Indian dishes interspersed with classics.

“With the menu I have composed,” says the Oberoi trained Ajay Chopra, executive chef of Mint Leaf restaurants, “I had to take into consideration that the clientele we will get will be lots of local office types and the fact that the lunch trade will be roaring with many customers wanting to come in and leave within the space of 45 minutes.  So I knew I had to not only refine the cooking, but to also make it lighter.”

At the moment, Chopra is splitting his time between overseeing the lunchtime service at the City branch and then dinner at the larger Haymarket one, where the restaurant can host anywhere between 150 to 200 covers per night. When he’s not present at either site, Chopra’s sous chefs take charge.

“When you have more than one site to look after,” he adds, “you have to have rigorous systems in place to ensure that everything runs smoothly. There is no kind of an ‘I can make this, but you can’t make this’ between the chefs. If there is a recipe and everyone is following the exact procedure then the dish comes out the same every single time.

Signature dishes at Mint Leaf Lounge include lobster tails seared with Goan spice and char-grilled, duck shammi kebabs, jumbo prawns marinated with roast garlic and chili yogurt, baby rack of lamb marinated with saffron and vetivier root and Alleppey prawn curry. There are also platters to share and well-made desserts such as Assam tea and orange delice with Seville orange sorbet and ice creams flavours such as mix berry and also tomato and basil.

Reflecting on why the owners decided to open a site in the City, Chopra notes that it was a well-thought out decision that has worked very well.

“Everyone has put in a tremendous amount of research,” he states, “about where the next site should have been after Haymarket and the City seemed the most feasible. It was of course a big risk like any new site, but the project has been executed to the highest quality. London West End has become saturated with upmarket Indian restaurants so you have to look away. As it was, the City didn’t have an Indian restaurant of the caliber of Mint Leaf so it makes perfect sense for us to be here.”

With Chopra’s cooking becoming ever better and the Mint Leaf Lounge proving a perfect showcase for it, the talented chef makes no bones about reaching for Michelin level status.

“Indian food has evolved so much that if you offer refined dishes, with quality ingredients, restrained spicing and an eye to presentation then there is no reason why people won’t flock to it,” he says. “So anyone who wants to offer modern Indian food must understand that the cooking needs to be elevated to that level and have certain lightness. I for one certainly hope that with Mint Leaf being such good restaurants and the kitchen team churning out very fine Indian cooking, we will get a look in from the Michelin inspectors at some point.”

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