A few weeks ago, in the midst of vac under the typically unpredictable weather, I joined a certain St Peter’s finalist and former president of the PPE society for dinner at Mowgli on the Westgate terrace. Mowgli is an Indian restaurant: it specialises in tiffins: home or canteen-cooked meals and snacks in steel containers. It was quite heartening for me to learn about such a concept since these boxes, also commonly-used by students and labourers in China, rekindled my childhood memories; on the other hand, the structure of the typical Chinese and Indian meals are so different that I was very intrigued to see what was on offer here.
Walking into the restaurant, it was quite clear that it had a unique style. The light inside was neither fully bright nor as dim as those high-class establishments that emphasise on the candlelight. A hint of festivity could be detected with light strings dispersing around the room, and the swings provided a feeling of youth. The decor was certainly not very Indian: it would not feel out of place to serve pizza or steak in there. For me, although I could see the efforts made to make the restaurant stand out, the degree of uncertainty and confusion was a bit too high for me. And this was not helped by the high level of noises during the peak dinner hours.
We sat down and opened the menu. It was definitely impressive, with very creative dish names and a comprehensive cocktail menu as well. While I am not normally a fan of fusion cuisines (whatever is an Indian chip butty), I was more than willing to give it a try.
I decided to go for the butter chicken. According to the menu:
For me, butter chicken is my go-to dish when I am discovering a new Indian restaurant because it encompasses every aspect of the beauty of Indian food: the aroma, the richness and the colliding flavours oscillating around your tongue.
The waiting time for our food passed quickly as Ed and I updated each other with our lives and were overcome with nostalgia about our days in Kosovo. The actual food itself, however, was disappointing. This ‘tiffin’ that is so hyped about is not even close enough to feed a hungry soul, in Delhi or Oxford. My first bite gave me the feeling of a slight blandness, which is really not common for Indian food. Fair enough that it has almost no spices at all-the dish was advertised to be mild in the menu, but I could not really taste any other flavours either. The chicken was kind of dry, and the worst thing about the dish was that it was not even hot. A tiny, lukewarm dish with uninspiring tastes just added to the confusion the restaurant’s decor brought me. The poori I ordered with the butter chicken was normal but nothing special as well.
I chose the rose and cardamom lassi to accompany my meal. I quite liked the inventive combination and it certainly gave me more flavours to appreciate compared to my food. It was also not very sweet which made it more elegant and attractive. Having said this, the lassi was slightly watery and could have been thicker. It might sound harsh, but I have had some lassis that I can drink for the rest of my life and this was not one of them.
And then there came the bill. For two meat tiffins, two portions of pooris, a lassi and a beer, it came to £35, and neither of us was full. It is certainly not the most economical option for students, and pretty expensive even among the more upscale restaurants around the city. To give you an idea, I ate a whole wasabi sushi box just half an hour later. Tiffins cost from £7 to £9, and you probably need two of these and some rice or bread to have a fulfilling meal.
So all in all, I was fairly disappointed with the experience and what Mowgli had to offer. It is definitely not my Indian place of choice in Oxford, and I would not recommend going there unless your purse is full. I would not, however, write off the restaurant completely just yet: the fierier Goan fish curry received better feedback from Ed and the menu has many other exciting items. If you have money and enjoy dining on the rooftop of Westgate, see for yourself.