Keep it Simple and Flavoursome

Posted on Back of House May 2012 - by Tandoori Magazine
Keep it Simple and Flavoursome

Mint Leaf, in London's Haymarket, has a talented new chef and a new menu. Here, Vishal Rane talks to Tandoori about his cooking

As Indian restaurants have changed and modernised, one of the surefire signs of a refined menu is where dishes are kept simple, unpretentious and flavoursome. Add to that a few punchy spices, quality ingredients and a talented chef who knows more than a thing or two about good cooking, and you have something akin to Mint Leaf under new head chef Vishal Rane.

"It was an intense and quite a long and drawn out process to decide on the definitive version of this new menu," admits Rane. "So what we've done differently is to go back to a more conventional breakdown of the menu, with appetisers, grills, mains, sides and then the raitas, rice and breads – and then of course desserts. What I've tried to do in terms of regional influences is to bring in flavours from across India, particularly the west."

Should Rane's term "conventional" be deemed appropriate, then it's being used rather freely because the menu is anything but conventional. It is, quite possibly, the most well-executed menu that Mint Leaf has ever devised, with well-chosen ingredients, perfectly pitched partnerships and bold and exciting flavours. Just to give a taste of what’s on offer, new starters include green mango and puffed rice salad with tamarind dressing, crisp coriander and green pea cakes with date chutney along with crab and mackerel cakes with masala mayonnaise.

Amongst the new grills section are achari guinea fowl tikka with pineapple raita and a superbly rendered star anise marinated duck kebab with chilli jam.

New on the mains side are lamb achari, tandoori chicken served with dal makhani and sautéed broccoli, along with baked wild African prawns with spices, tomato chutney and cabbage poriyal. Impressive new desserts include date and carrot pudding with cardamom ice cream along with chocolate praline and hazelnut mocha fudge with vanilla ice cream.

Born and brought up in Mumbai, Rane had initially wanted to join the Indian armed forces, but then, as he puts it, by “default” he fell into studying hotel management and aimed high to become a chef. His career progression led him to join the Oberoi hotel group and their various properties in India until he ended up with JW Marriott, in Mumbai, for five years.

“I thoroughly enjoyed what I was doing right from the very beginning,” says Rane of his work as a chef. “It was always never less than interesting, yet challenging at the same time. Ultimately, I always had ambitions to have an international career so being recruited by Mint Leaf, in London, where I had never been to before, seemed like the right thing to do.”

At first, when Rane arrived, some of the “Brit-Asian” inventions such as “madras” or even “Bombay aloo” were lost on him, but eventually he got used to the ways of Britain’s love of Indian food.

“Mint Leaf is a very upmarket establishment,” he states, “so on the one hand we remain authentic and true to the Indian food spirit and on the other, we like to give our clientele, who are very cosmopolitan, something quite unique and different. But the key thing for me remains simplicity. To give customers what the dish stipulates on the menu, with no nasty surprises like flavours which the dish description doesn’t encompass. I want them to enjoy themselves. Having a fun time and tasty food rather than fancy food.”

 

Sample Menu

Starters

Pan-seared Scottish scallops

Bombay spiced vegetables

Crab and mackerel cakes

Grills

Date-stuffed paneer tikka

Roasted garlic and thyme marinated chicken tikka

Rabbit seekh kebab

Mains

Paneer butter masala

Venison pepper fry

Steamed sea bass

Desserts

Gulab jamun and mango brulée

Saffron shrikhand panna cotta

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