It is now over a decade since Mint Leaf opened in 2003 at the bottom of Haymarket. Its cavernous basement dining room and bar can seat up to 220 people, though the room is split into smaller sections by walnut panelling, so avoiding the impression of an aircraft hanger than such a large space could easily give. The décor is reminiscent of Hakkasan, the lighting low but with enough illumination on the tables.
The head chef is Rajinder Pandey, who was part of the original opening team for Mint Leaf in Haymarket in 2003. He has now returned as head chef after travelling through India and gaining experience working in several fine-dining restaurants. Starters were priced at £7 to £13, main courses £16 to £22, side dishes £6.50 to £8.50 and breads £3 to £3.50.
The wine list had just over 100 bottles, ranging in price from £22 to £795, with a median price of £42. Mark-ups averaged a hefty 3.4 times retail price, with some wines absurdly over-priced. Grüner Veltliner, Höpler 2013 was £34 for a wine that costs £11 in the high street, 2011 Château Haut Pezat Grand Cru, Saint Emilion was a relative bargain at £52 compared to a shop price of £26, and 2012 Grenache Shiraz, ‘Johann’s Garden’ Henschke was £86 for a wine that retails at £29. There were some traps for the unwary though, such as Château d’Issan 3eme Cru Classé Margaux 2008 at a ridiculous £225 for a wine that will set you back just £40 in a shop. Lassi was a ludicrous £7, for what after all is a glass of yoghurt, sugar and water.
Tandoori monkfish (£10.50) was flavoured with garlic and kaffir lime, served with a salsa of aubergine and shiitake mushroom. The fish was quite tender, which is not trivial to achieve in the case of monkfish, but the salsa didn’t seem to match it very well (13/20). Guinea fowl tandoori (£9.50) was spiced with fenugreek and chilli and served with brown lentils and mint chutney. This was excellent, the meat nicely yielding and having absorbed the spices, the lentils adding an extra texture (14/20).
Venison (£20) was marinated with clove and black cardamom, served with spinach puree and crispy okra. The meat had quite good flavour, the cloves perhaps a touch strong, but the spinach puree was nicely made and the fried okra was good, though there perhaps more batter than okra in places (13/20).
Sea bass (£18) wrapped in banana leaf is a parsi dish, the fish marinated with ginger, coriander and coconut. This was excellent, the fish having absorbed the marinade well, carefully cooked inside its protective banana leaf, the steaming process delicate and allowing the flavour of the fish to come through (14/20).
Adrakhi gobi matter (£7) with ginger and cumin had cauliflower that was a touch softer than ideal, though the peas were good and the spicing competent (13/20). Dal makhani (£6.50) was for me the dish of the night, the black lentils almost creamy in texture but still with a touch of bite, with a lovely smoky hint; this was up there with the best versions of dal makhani that I have eaten (15/20 may be too mean a score). Naan bread (£3) was serviceable, though less supple than I would have liked (12/20). A cucumber raita (£3.50) was very good, a simple dish for sure, but well balanced.
Service was, not to put too fine a point on it, poor. It was very difficult to get attention to order additional drinks, and the waiter did not know who had ordered what starter. There was then a long delay in clearing plates and getting the bill. At the very end the manager was apologetic and (unprompted) adjusted the bill, but I was surprised at the issues given the high price point of the restaurant and that the place, on a Tuesday in August, was only half full, so it was not as if staff were stretched. The adjusted bill was £50 a head, though a more realistic bill for three courses with modest drinks would be around £65 a head all in. This is not cheap, but the setting is smart, the menu interesting and cooking genuinely good.
Further reviews: 01st Mar 2008