Mother India’s Café
The Mother India brand is a by-word in Glasgow for well-cooked curries in relaxed, modern surroundings. Donald Reid went along to their first Edinburgh venture
Monir Mohammed is the quietly spoken, congenial proprietor of six restaurants in Glasgow operating under the Mother India and Wee Curry Shop banners. In a sector grossly overpopulated with long, samey menus, kitsch decor and blandly ill-defined dishes, the venues have long stood out not just for reliable, respectful cooking but also originality of thought.
He emphasises, in particular, two things. That the food is ‘home-style’ – in other words, the more thoughtful attitudes of domestic cooking prevail over the short-cuts generally employed in restaurants - and secondly, that freshness is key.
However well these have served him in Glasgow, the Edinburgh market presents an entirely new challenge. The capital has its own well-established Indian favourites, and over the years only a small handful of mid-sized local operations (as opposed to national chains) have doubled up in Scotland’s two main cities. What they’re recreating in Edinburgh is the hugely popular Mother India’s Café, which reinvents the curry house as a tapas-style experience, allowing diners to try several different styles of dish, rather than the more formal parent restaurant. The format suits the small, tucked-away premises (formerly Baraka and the Oxygen Bar), and is less risky to introduce. However, it does mean that for some it will seem a surprisingly simple operation. The single sheet menu – supplemented by a handful of daily specials – has around 40 tapas-style dishes with a decent showing of fish and vegetarian options. Prices are almost all between £3 and £5, and the servings aren’t large, though given our tendency at curry houses to over-order, over-eat and waste food, a bit of portion control is no bad thing.
Best value here are the fish dishes: for £4.30 a whole fillet of haddock is gently baked in a foil packet with cumin, black pepper and coriander. The fish remains firm but moist while the spices are gentle enough; it’s no surprise this is a signature dish. A sweet and sour version is cooked in a similar way with bitter-sweet tamarind paste. Many of the dishes have a rich tomato-pepper base from the Punjabi/Pakistan tradition (the predominant cooking style in Glasgow, whereas many of Edinburgh’s Indian restaurants are Bengali/Bangladeshi in style), but it’s the astute inclusion of fresh coriander or spinach which lifts the dishes and gives them a crisper flavour so often missing in conventional British-Indian cooking.
The setting seems to suit the modest, assured approach of the kitchen. Straightforward contemporary style such as undressed wooden tables and bare stone walls blends with a bit of black-and-white flock wallpaper and some attractive original photographs depicting Old Town scenes. Unflashy, likeable, ‘home-style’ and fresh. A good way to set about establishing yourself in foreign parts.
3–5 Infirmary Street, Edinburgh
0131 524 9801, www.motherindia.co.uk
Average price evening meal £14 per person; set lunch £10