Katherine MacAlister treid to eat and swing at the same time at Mowgli

I WAS going to write about new vegan/vegetarian cafe Rick’s in St Clements for Vegetarian Week but on arrival, as it was only open from 10am-4pm, went elsewhere.

Instead, I pottered off to Mowgli, which caters for non carnivores at all hours of the day and night, and, with much of India eating a predominantly vegetarian menu, seemed a relevant substitute.

Not that Britain followed suit, until recently, where Indian food was concerned, instead adapting their menus with a meat-heavy offering for decades.

But the tide is changing thanks to an ever-growing market of non-meat eaters and anyone wanting something lighter and fresher than the standard cream, butter and ghee filled plates of Anglicized chicken tikka masala.

Mowgli has stepped in to fill the void at just the right time.

In fact, burst in is a better description, complete with its funky decor, swing seats, novel food and family-friendly atmosphere, as its name would suggest.

The brainchild of former barrister Nisha Katona, who wanted to introduce the kind of good, fresh, clean Indian food she grew up with at home in Liverpool, she opened up her first branch in 2014 in her home city, and now boasts six eateries to her name, Oxford being her first foray further south.

So what to expect? Anyone who frequents Dishoom in London will understand its food influences, but decor-wise, Mowgli is a fantastically fun and impressive venue complete with twinkly lights, trees, lanterns and swings to sit on, like you’d find in a park, scattered throughout.

They looked uncomfortable but the kids loved the swing concept and unless you are prone to travel sickness or horribly hungover, really enjoyable, their scope for distance understandably limited.

It was also great to bring the kids to eat Indian street food and they were as excited as us.

With a kids, gluten free, sharing and vegan menu to opt for we decided to go mainstream and opt for things we’d never tried before.

In fact, the hardest decision was what to eat, because there were so many new options and a vast choice. Advised to choose three to four dishes each and then share the bounty, we decided to be adventurous which is how we came to be faced with a plate of Yoghurt Chat Bombs (pictured below) – crisp bread puffs filled with chickpeas, spiced yoghurt, tamarind & coriander (£4.95). The waiter warned us not to nibble them but to place them whole into the mouth and then bite. But we were trepidatious, which is why, on my first attempt, a mix of spice and yoghurt dribbled down my shirt.

My children fared better, their eyes open wide as the new pungent taste sensation hit.

Then came the Mowgli chip butty (£5.95) a roti wrap bursting with fresh herbs and spices, pickles and relishes and quite delicious.

The Himalayan Cheese Toast with coriander, red onion and green chilli dressing, cheddar and Indian pickle(£4.95) was deceptively spicy and the spiced Omelette Wrap – a masala frittata with coriander herbed cheese in a roti (£5.25)was lovely and soft.

Mr Greedy insisted on trying some of the meat despite our vegetarian stance and promptly ordered the slightly dangerous sounding Gunpowder Chicken – Mowgli’s chicken poppers with ginger, garlic and garam masala fried in a chickpea batter (£6.25), as well as some Angry Bird, in case the Guy Fawkes variety didn’t finish him off (succulent chicken thighs marinated and roasted in tandoor spices, yoghurt, ginger & garlic, served with popped mustard Mowgli Slaw (£6.95).

Throwing caution to the wind he also picked Maa’s lamb chops & turmeric chips – marinated in aromatic spiced yoghurt, ginger and garlic with tomato, by which time our table was literally groaning in food.

Throw in the Mowgli paneer in a really rich vibrant sauce and the rhubarb dahl, which was an interesting take on a usually low-key dish and you can imagine our discomfort.

But then the Bunny Chow arrived to finish us off completely. An awed silence descended, the swings temporarily stopped in their tracks, as we stared at the hollowed out loaf bulging with fresh chicken and potato curry (£8.95), an Asian version of a Cornish pasty used historically by India’s railwaymen to take to work. An entire meal on its own.

Despite a valiant effort we took a lot of doggy bags home. The kids somehow still managed the gulab jamen (£4.50) – syrupped milk dough balls with ice cream - and the rather unIndian sounding Mowgli chocolate brownie. But we remained sitting, swaying slightly in our swings, tongues hanging out, a glazed look in our eyes, our mouths hanging open, like snakes having swallowed a beach ball.

I loved it there. Perhaps it lacked the finesse of Dishoom, and its food could be scattered with some more moderate dishes, everything being so zesty the palate occasionally needed a rest, but Mowgli is as fun, vibrant and colourful as its food.


Westgate Centre Roof Terrace