One of the things I’m enjoying most about food blogging and following fellow food bloggers and food lovers is hearing the buzz about somewhere new long before it would normally filter through the normal network of friends and acquaintances. For the past couple of months, I’ve been aware of lots of mentions of Purple Poppadom, the new vehicle for award-winning Cardiff chef Anand George, formerly of the acclaimed Mint and Mustard. I’d read a few interesting reviews, and as a lover of more contemporary Indian food (as opposed to the more rough and ready curry house standards), decided it was a must visit venue!
Mr W and I booked a table for Saturday night, and practically starved ourselves all day, having set our sights upon the tasting menu, which we knew we would need to be hungry to do justice! The website itself is something of a masterpiece of artistic photos and carefully crafted prose, designed to tempt diners in with a promise of ‘Nouvelle Indian Cuisine’, so we were really looking forward to our evening.
Our visit got off to a fairly inauspicious start – as, unfortunately, would any visit to Purple Poppadom. I try really hard not to judge a book by its cover, but in some cases, including this one, it’s really difficult not to. The restaurant is located in Cowbridge Road East, without its own shop front, situated instead above a ‘Sizzling Steakhouse’ type affair, which looked like my worst nightmare. Had I not read positive reviews of Purple Poppadom, there would have been too many other factors counting against it, and I never would have gone in.
Happily, other diners were either not as pre-judgmental as I am, or had also read/heard good things, because as soon as we started to climb the stairs we could hear the noise of a very busy dining room, and things started to look up.
I’m going to stop talking about my first impressions for a bit, as I’m in danger of sounding as if I’m only going to be negative. Instead, I’ll skip ahead to the food – you’ll hopefully soon understand why!
We’d already made up our minds to go for the tasting menu, and despite a variety of other delicious and intriguing sounding options on offer, we remained resolute. The a la carte menu, however, was a delight even just to read – particularly the starter selection, all of which offer a particular ingredient (for example salmon, crab, cheese, lamb etc.) prepared in three different ways. Most tempting of all, and the dish that came closest to persuading me away from the tasting menu, was the ‘Boeuf a trois’ which included a beef and cobra beer pie – the chef’s first pie creation, and certainly the first time I’ve seen a pie on an Indian menu. Definitely one to try in future.
Pie aside, we stuck to our guns and ordered the tasting menu – and it pleased me to see a smile of delight spread across our waiter’s face when we placed our order. To save me going into lengthy menu descriptions of what we had, you can view the tasting menu here.
Our starter, as with the a la carte options, comprised three distinct pieces: a lamb pattice, tasty and spicy, malai murgh (marinated chicken), which was wonderfully moist and tasty – the highlight of the three for us both, and Bombay chat, which I can best describe as a sort of savoury Indian profiterole, filled with refreshing yogurt (I wish I’d known this and saved it to eat after the lamb pattice, which was a bit spicy for my delicate taste buds!)
Next came the fish course, which I’d been really looking forward to. The salmon roulade wasn’t really a roulade in the traditional sense – more just a piece of smoked salmon rolled up and topped with spices, but it was very pleasant. My favourite item of the three was the whole crispy soft shell crab, which may not appeal to the more squeamish of diners who prefer their food not to resemble what it looked like when it was alive, but they’d be missing out as it was delicious. Mr W’s preference was the kaffir lime marinated tandoori prawn, which was also really, really good – juicy and flavoursome, although I’d have preferred the shell to have been removed.
Next was a small scoop of lemon sorbet, which was probably unnecessary in the grand scheme of things, but was a nice touch and added to the feeling that we were trying something really special.
For our main meal, we enjoyed three meat dishes – and please excuse the lack of photos and the shaky nature of those that I finally remembered to take after being overly eager to dig in! Firstly, a slow cooked lamb rogan josh, which was my personal favourite (due to being the least spicy of the three!) and featured beautifully tender lamb and a thick, tasty sauce. Second choice was a chicken dish, which once again featured beautifully moist chicken and had a lovely fruity flavour to the sauce, reminiscent of a really good, refreshing mango chutney. Sadly for me, but happily for Mr W, it had a very spicy after-kick to it, which I’m assured was a positive thing if you like that sort of thing! The final main was chilli coconut king prawns, which again were excellent. Each of the three dishes was enough to share, but not an excessive portion, which was just as well as there was more to come!
Accompaniments were steamed basmati rice, a Keralan stir fried vegetable dish, which was a huge success with me as it was relatively dry compared with many Indian vegetable dishes, which I often find too wet/oily when paired with an already saucy main dish, and a selection of breads, which were somewhere between a Naan and a paratha, and flavoured with coconut and herbs respectively, and – in keeping with everything we had – not in the slightest bit greasy. All really, really good.
Now it’s rare to experience a dessert in an Indian restaurant that isn’t an orange that’s been languishing in a freezer for far too long, an ice cream Dalek or something very suspect-looking off a menu with photographs on it, but as we’ve already established, Purple Poppadom is no ordinary Indian restaurant. Good things continued to come in threes, and we tried a trio of chef’s desserts, which comprised rosewater crème brulee, a delicious, delicately flavoured little pot that tasted of Turkish Delight, a piece of tandoori pineapple, which was the sweetest, juiciest pineapple I think I’ve ever tasted, the tandoori spices enhancing the flavour perfectly and taking away every hint of sharpness, and finally, the chef’s special dessert, a pastry samosa filled with chocolate ganache, served atop a sliver of banana and a shard of caramel. This was a chocolate lover’s dream, although for me it was probably a little too rich on its own and I actually preferred the other two desserts, but all three were pretty fantastic!
The tasting menu was £39.95 per head, with wine ranging from around £15 right up to the £60 mark (again, not the usual wine list you’d expect from your local curry house!) The food seems expensive by Cardiff curry house standards, but we genuinely felt that the quality was on a par with what you would expect in some of the best contemporary Indian restaurants in London, even those with Michelin stars, so considering the quality of what we had, and the love and care that had gone into producing everything pretty much in triplicate, the price was a steal.
Sadly, anyone expecting the full London style experience would probably be disappointed by the ambience. Despite the place being full and busy all night, and some truly excellent and very personalised service from staff who had all been involved in the venue from the outset and seemed very keen to seek our feedback on our evening, the ambience and decor for me really let the place down. The location is a big drawback, and the decor – despite the website’s promise of ‘Metropolitan in ambience, the restaurant features colourful decor and contemporary art creating a comfortable, modern dining environment for your enjoyment’ – felt basic and as if it had been done on the cheap. There was no music, and it felt echoey and a bit noisy. The room itself was boxy and reminded me of a conference room in a not-very-good hotel – one of the walls was a dead ringer for one of those partitions that’s used to section off large rooms into smaller ones, and this was disappointing, as everything else, food and service wise, made us feel we were somewhere special, but the surroundings really didn’t.
That said, we’ll definitely go back to Purple Poppadom again – there is more on the menu that I want to try, and what we ate really was excellent, earning a rare ‘Love to Dine’ five star rating. I’d love to see Purple Poppadom continue to build its reputation and name, and then hopefully move into better premises that do the food and service the credit they deserve. Their website, and everything we heard from the staff on the night, suggests that the concept is all about the chef, Anand George, and is a vehicle for him to further his reputation in the area, so I am sure it won’t be long before he’s moving on to bigger and better things, hopefully still in Cardiff, and hopefully with his excellent team in tow – but in the meantime, I will just close my eyes and enjoy the food!
Highly recommended, especially if they relocate and redecorate!
Food: ***** Service: **** Ambience: **
Purple Poppadom, 185A Cowbridge Rd East Cardiff CF11 9AJ