|Mother India's fare (courtesy of their website).|
I adore Asian food, and I think my growing up in a city where a substantial proportion of the population can trace its heritage to India, Pakistan and Bangladesh has much to do with this. I went to school in a part of Birmingham that was blessed with a plethora of Asian-run shops and eateries. I still have vivid memories of walking past these, taking in the sights of the (then) weird, yet wonderful-looking, fruit and vegetables displayed outside grocers’ shops and the amazing smells of cooking spices as they emanated from restaurants.
Last weekend, with my parents visiting from Birmingham, I was keen to show them that great Indian cooking isn’t only the preserve of the city of my birth. And in Edinburgh there is no finer place to demonstrate this than Mother India’s Café. Located just off “The Bridges” on Infirmary Street (EH1 1LT) this has been an incredibly popular restaurant since its opening five years ago. Even at 6.30pm on a Friday the main dining area was packed, so we were shown to our table in the restaurant’s basement, which was thankfully was not dark and dingy as some subterranean eateries can be. No clichéd flock wallpaper or piped sitar music to be found here though, oh no - just modern, minimalist furniture complementing the white-washed walls, which are adorned with arty photos portraying life across the Indian sub-continent.
Equally refreshing is the restaurant’s menu. Mother India’s Café serves an Indian take on tapas – sometimes also referred to as tiffin. Their a la carte menu features a staggering 42 dishes, as well as daily specials and accompaniments such as various forms of bread and rice. Non-meat eaters are very well served, as nearly half the dishes available are either vegetarian or vegan. As recommended by the restaurant, we decided to order five or six dishes between us, accompanied by a couple of portions of naan bread and basmati rice. The very courteous waiting staff obviously know the menu inside out, as they were immediately able to suggest something suitable for my Mother, who doesn’t have a particular soft spot for dishes heavy on chilli.
Whilst our mains were being cooked, we were served the ubiquitous poppadums accompanied by some very tasty (and I suspect home-made) pickles and chutneys, variously washed down with warm, cinnamon-infused chai and cool Kingfisher larger. Our curry “tapas” duly arrived in short order, together with substantial naans and steaming fluffy rice. All dishes looked vibrant, being presented in their miniature balti dishes and casserole pots.
The lamb saag was rich, the succulent meat being bathed in an earthy, spinach-laden sauce with a hint of methi. Two of our chicken-based dishes – chilli garlic chicken, and ginger chicken and spinach leaf – superficially looked quite similar, with tender pieces of breast and thigh surrounded by a deep (but not artificial) red sauce. Tasting revealed them to be quite different, with the chilli garlic chicken having a real kick – as might be expected – and the ginger-based dish having more subtle, fruity warmth.
The chicken makhni (which means butter) consisted of delicate meat accompanied by a substantial, creamy gravy, though whilst not in the least bit hot to taste still had a spicy depth. The spiced haddock – a bit of an unfamiliar wildcard amongst our order – was quite a revelation, consisting of a substantial fillet of fish marinaded in a Punjabi spice blend and then perfectly baked en papilliote. And last, but not least, the lamb karahi matched the fruitiness from the tomato-based sauce with an intensity of flavour provided by chilli and masala.
All of the dishes we consumed had a real zesty freshness to them, which hinted that they were cooked to order. They also exhibited none of the cloying oiliness that can sometimes be present in Indian takeaway fare. And whilst the portions served at Mother India’s Café are purposely quite small, five or six of these shared between four people makes for a substantial meal.
When my Father – who also loves Asian food – comments that “it was one of the best Indian meals I have had in a long time”, it’s a sure sign that Edinburgh has a venue that can certainly give the best curry houses in the land a run for their money.
Food - 8.5/10
Atmosphere – 7.5/10
Service - 8/10
Value - 8/10
Ambience - Expect a busy, modern Indian restaurant.