Sunday, April 13, 2014

Ed's Beard Review - Monsoon - Brick Lane.

You know, well at least i hope you will, finally coming round to review a place that you visited nearly two weeks ago would normally be considered hard. But not only did it leave a good lasting impression but i had the foresight to actually write a page of notes before i eventually passed out on saturday. So it is with this flimsy introduction i give you my eagerly (doubtful) awaited (probably) review (almost definitely).




Now, ignoring the fact the road itself was hidden in a way only something close to the hipster capital of England, we ran the gauntlet of touts for other establishments and came upon our quarry in good time. Maybe we were a little late for our reservation but that didn't matter as the restaurant was still fairly empty by the time we got there.

Now my first impressions of the place on entry were pretty good, the decor, while festooned with fairy lights, was fairly interesting while not overly distracting. It had a good space to accommodate diners and had multiple floors so i could already tell this was a popular restaurant. We were seated quickly by the friendly waiter who had greeted us with a smile one entry, something which cannot be too overstated when going out to eat. There are times where i have been to places to eat and treated with a benign indifference, not overly enjoyable as you understand but understandable considering the profession. But given my previous experience as a waiter in a bar this may have marred my initial outset, the staffed seemed either genuinely friendly or good enough to fake it effectively.

I've been to a fair few curry restaurants in my time on this planet and they have all had fairly good options for vegetarians, one option for each style of sauce at least, but i was fairly impressed by this menu. Not only did they have the usual vegetarian options i just stated but they had a whole section devoted to vegetarian specials which i was sorely tempted by. While mulling over my choices on this menu we ordered some poppadoms to tide us over and this was to be the start of my good experiences with the food. Now granted you can't really go wrong with the poppadoms themselves, so this wasn't what stood out, it was the accompanying additions that really took my attention. The mango chutney was fairly basic while still having a good taste to it so was bland by comparison to the other offerings. First among the good surprises was the onion salad its flavour both complimented and enhanced by the very noticeable addition of coriander, which enhanced the natural flavour of the onion, while adding its own unique twist on the classic. The mint ratia also was noticeable as i could actually taste an addition of cucumber in it rather than being left with a (relatively to this example of course) bland flavour. Last to point out was the mixed chilli and lime pickle. I have never been disappointed with this accompaniment before but i never had any level of scale to judge it, this has set a bar to hit. The pickles before had always overstated the lime segment of the concoction but this example had it's taste mixing perfectly with the heat of the chilli for a much better overall taste.

I realise the previous gush about the dips that accompany popadoms may have seemed overstated but as those who joined us know, it is a very deserving praise.

I finally settled on a vegetable (obivously) dhansak with vegetable rice and a cheese naan and we all ordered, Sy with his usual vindaloo and others with currys of varying strength. I was quite pleased to see James order the dhansak too (albeit a meat version) as i could compare my tasting notes. The wait for our food was surprisingly short, though in reflection i put that down to the restaurant still being fairly sparse in it's population of diners. With a glee that only comes when your anticipation has been raised by a decent starter i watched the food arrive. The portions laid out before me were good, decent portions of both rice and curry, but a darkness was laid over the bright sun of this meal. Now this darkness was more akin to a light whisp of cloud crossing the sun on a summers day so it didn't really spoil the meal, the sizes of the naan bread. While the plain naan was of a decent size, both my own and the other flavoured naans were measurably smaller. I could have been understanding if they kept the size down to equal the price with the main naan given the extra additions to the bread but these were still more expensive on the menu so there really was no good excuse for it.



I proceeded to empty the rice and curry onto my plate and dug in with an almost cultist like zeal. Dhansak, as people who frequent these places know, is a medium to hot curry sauce and while most places would have made a balls up on the heat front i was definitely enjoying it. The heat was consistent throughout the sauce, a rare thing in my experiences of other restaurants and their options, the taste was superb, absolutely none of it had been sacrificed by the heat of the curry's spices. The rice was a welcome addition too, good content of vegetables and was a very welcome addition to the overall effect of the meal. The curry's vegetable content was also commendable but there was a distinct lack of the lentils that are normally associated with the sauce, they were still detectable in the taste so i can only assume they must have been present in puree form to bolster the taste. Still this was not an unwelcome change and personally it added to the overall experience.



Now all was not well in curry land, for one of us was having difficulty with their food. Leah had found her curry too hot for her to handle after explicitly asking for a mild curry, a problem in our midst as i'm sure you could agree. We called over a waiter to see what we could do about the problem and they were very polite and took both the curry and the rice back so the curry could be altered and the rice added to. This was done without any visable complaint for the staff and they seemed happy to help, another point in their favour as i'm sure you will agree.

Now my review would hardly have been complete without getting reviews from the other diners at our table and the responses were all favourable. James and i had already been discussing the taste of our comparable dishes and the conclusions have been included in my assessment of the curry so i won't dally any more on that dish. Sy was very impressed with his vindaloo as it was exactly the right heat on the curry scale, Ashton was also impressed along with all the others on their culinary delights and we all agreed that our experiences were all very favourable.

This brings us scurring towards our bill. Now this was an overall expensive experience, totaling at £111 for the food with the addition of a 10% service charge bringing it to £122 for 7 people. Drinks we brought in by ourselves so there was no charge for that on the bill, a practice which apparently is quite common down the road and i was enjoying. We were discussing the fine points of the service charge over our hot towels (an industry staple as we all know) when they brought is a round of complimentary tea and coffee. This was another first in my experience so i was happy with the outcome and considering how friendly all of the staff had been, with one having been talking to Sy at length about the finer points of smart phone brands, i would rate the service charge more than worth it and the meal itself was quite cheap in comparison to other places we have visited.

Now bringing the whole experience into view with the addition of time to look back at the whole time we spent there i would say that we were all impressed. I have gone on at length about the food but the whole atmosphere was fantastic. Good food with good friends is always an experience to be enjoyed in my opinion but the whole environment just seemed like it was geared towards having the best time. I would definitely revisit the restaurant without being tempted in by the offers down the street, not only because it is the best choice for vegetarians, but because of the food, the staff, the drinks policy, the dessert menu (which was very impressive to look at but our stomachs really couldn't fit any more in), the complimentary drinks at the end of the meal and the company i kept that night. Definitely a recommendation to pass onto anyone i choose to be worthy of the experience.

Now we come onto the all important rating. I was so tempted to give this place full marks, but it failed on a couple of very small things and if i am going to give a place the full 5 out of 5 beards it must be judged on the harshest of scales.

Given this situation i must give this place a quite impressive; 4 1/2 Beards out of 5, the highest mark i have awarded a restaurant so far.

Well done Monsoon.This is your lord and master signing off for the day, resume your normal lives.