Friday night was, once again, curry night this weekend, and this time, the venue of choice, as it was a relatively pleasant evening, was Moksh, one of several Indian restaurants that form part of the formidable array of bars and restaurants at Cardiff Bay.
Moksh is nothing if not eclectic. Although it bills itself as Indian, and certainly fits this genre more closely than any other, its influences come from far and wide. Each dish on the menu comes with a detailed explanation of its history and origins, and just a few of the cuisines mentioned include Thai, Chinese, American and English. There’s a very strong Goan influence in the menu and the chef, Stephen Gomes, takes a pride in developing unusual dishes that bring together traditional Indian with a very contemporary edge.
Moksh is not somewhere to go if you simply want to choose from the usual roll call of traditional curry dishes. You may find a Korma – but it will probably be served with saffron fish, and not the customary choice of chicken, lamb or king prawn! If, however, you are and intrepid diner, in the mood for a curry but eager to try something different, adventurous, and perhaps surprising, then Moksh is definitely the place to go.
After a drink at the bar while we waited for our table, we started with some poppadoms. Even the pickle tray here is a bit different. As well as the usual raita and mango chutney, there is a very unusual third pickle, which has a definite hint of lemongrass, and is a great alternative to the norm.
Whenever I visit Moksh, I struggle to make a choice, as everything sounds so unusual. The menu is a fascinating read and I often have to resort to giving Mr W a shortlist and asking him to choose for me – as I know that whatever I go for, it will be a new experience, and I won’t be disappointed, so really, it doesn’t matter what I end up with! There are a good selection of chicken and lamb dishes, plus a lot of different fish options, including a daily fish special (which on this occasion was sea bass) and, the most intriguing menu item, “Wild Woodland Exotica”. Again, visitors can ask for the daily special, which will be one or more from a selection that includes zebra, kangaroo, crocodile and ostrich. You can choose which sauces or seasoning you want with these, or the chef will cook it in his own style.
This time, we were in the mood for an untraditional take on the more traditional chicken and lamb, so Mr W chose a Chicken Pahadi Tikka, and I opted for a Lamb Badami Passanda. On the side, we had a serving of Pilau Rice and a Sag Bhaji, which I asked to have quite dry, as I like it as a substitute for rice, and on previous visits to Moksh have found it to be more of a spinach puree than spinach as a vegetable. The waiter assured me that it came quite dry anyway, which I wasn’t convinced by, but I was happy to leave my side dish in his capable hands! Finally, Mr W asked for his personal favourite, a Keema Paratha. Nine times out of ten, when asking for this in an Indian restaurant, the waiter assumes that you want a Keema Naan, but generally, on asking the chef, he manages to come up with the goods. We had the usual Naan discussion, but he went off to ask the chef, and, happily, the Keema Paratha was ‘go’.
When the food arrived, initially, there were a couple of disappointments. The Sag Bhaji wasn’t at all dry, and – more concerningly, it quickly came to light that my Lamb Badami Passanda was in fact chicken! Fortunately, the Keema Paratha was one of the best we’ve had, the pilau rice was excellent, and Mr W’s main dish was a complete show stopper with its unusual presentation! I could happily live with the slightly sloppy Sag Bhaji (which would have been fine with a dry main dish such like Mr W’s) and I decided to give the chicken a go, as I’d already tucked in to the sauce and it was absolutely delicious.
Then, as if by magic, without even asking, our waiter appeared with a Lamb Badami Passanda, having realised the error, and left it with us as an additional main dish, on the house. You really can’t say fairer than that! The sauce with both versions of my main was delicious, rich, sweet, nutty and full of flavour, with a sprinkling of almonds and fresh herbs, but it was the lamb that absolutely stole the show – perfectly tender, juicy and slow cooked to the point of falling apart.
My W’s chicken was as well-prepared as it was presented, cooked in the tandoori oven and lightly spiced with flavours of coconut and green chilli. It came with a small salad, which was fresher and far more appetising than is often the case with Indian salad ‘garnish’, and what looked like mango chutney, but was actually more like a very thin curry sauce. When I tried the chicken, I had some raita with it, as I like to tone down anything that I think is going to be too spicy. This, though, was absolutely excellent, and pushed my boundaries of spice acceptance in a very good way! If it’s about the flavour and not the heat, then I can cope with a bit more spice.
Everything was impeccably presented. I happen to find Indian food fairly easy on the eye anyway, but perhaps this is because I know it’s generally going to taste good. To the less enthusiastic Indian diner, it could perhaps look uninspiring, but that certainly isn’t the case at Moksh. In fact, if you have a friend or family member who is sceptical about Indian food and thinks it’s all similar-looking curries in metal dishes, then a visit to Moksh could be just what’s needed to make them think again.
I’ve never seen a dessert menu in Moksh, but a selection of desserts revolves temptingly (or perhaps not!) in a display cabinet near the bar. They do look a bit different from the standard, but I’m still not sure that a slab of cheesecake is quite what is needed after a large and delicious curry!
We had a couple of glasses of house wine each with our meal, and the total bill came to around £65, which we did think was on the high side for what we had, but we think it was probably the large glasses of wine that pushed the price up. The bill came with the old favourite branded chocolate mints, which always make parting with your hard earned cash slightly less painful.
The service is always good and very friendly, although they do seem to struggle at the door, as they have bar orders, new arrivals and people waiting for tables to all contend with at once, and sometimes people get overlooked. We were shown to a small bar table whilst we waited for our table in the restaurant, with the promise that it would be ten minutes and we could have a drink while we waited, but in reality we had to wait nearly that long for someone to take our drinks order. All was forgiven in the restaurant, though, as our waiters looked after us very well, and despite being busy with several large groups, stopped for a chat later in the evening.
The ambience in Moksh is pleasant, but for somewhere that is always so busy and popular, it could actually do with being a bit larger, as it sometimes seems crowded. It’s a long, narrow dining room, with windows all down one side, and couples or small groups tend to be seated along the inside wall, where there is a selection of booth-type tables with bench seating on one side and chairs on the other. This is one big gripe for me, as the height of the chairs doesn’t match the height of the benches, so one diner always towers over the other, which is not a big issue, but always causes comment and slight discomfort for the person on the bench, which is actually just a bit too high! There’s a smallish plasma screen at the far end that plays Bollywood music videos – this always seems a little unnecessary as it’s not big enough to be a feature of the restaurant, and can only really be seen clearly from about two or three seats in the dining area.
All that said, I love going to Moksh, and I loved this visit. I can’t imagine it being somewhere that I ever end up with a favourite dish that I order each time, as it’s too much fun trying something new, and, for this reason, every visit is an adventure. Every time I’ve been, I’ve had something different, and there are so many intriguing and unusual options on the menu that I am sure I can and will continue to do that for many visits to come.
Food: **** Service: **** Ambience: ***
Moksh Cardiff, Ocean Building, Bute Crescent, Cardiff CF10 5AY