Musings (more like rambling thoughts) of a Cardiff based lawyer obsessed with food and wine
Tiffin is a throwback to day of the Raj, a light mid – afternoon meal taken by the chaps in pith helmets or (for those of a older generation like me) a “Carry on up the Khyber” euphemism, which has now morphed into one of the most efficient catering/logistical operations ever devised.
This operation is that of the dabbawalas in Mumbai who supply tiffin lunch boxes/pails to the masses of workers (hundreds of thousand are delivered daily) in Mumbai. They do this by way of a logistical marvel that makes the likes of Deliveroo, Just Eats, Uber Eats etc. look like rank amateurs.
So efficient is the dabbawala “tiffin” system that it is estimated that only one in every 6 million orders goes missing!!! You have to be seriously unlucky to miss your lunch on that basis. To put it in a bit of context, that would be the equivalent of delivering lunch to every single person in Cardiff (Pop. 335,000) for 18 straight days and only 1 person not getting their meal on only one of those days. The mind boggles as to how this is achieved, in the absence of numerous super computers. Good old fashion human ingenuity and bloody hard graft it seems.
This brings me (in my usual roundabout way) to the new kid on the block in Cardiff’s city centre in the form of Mowgli Street food, on Church Street, which has tiffin meals (meat and vegan versions) on the menu (albeit at somewhat higher prices than the tiffins in Mumbai).
I ambled by it (as part of one of my infrequent week day efforts to get to 6000 steps a day) one lunchtime last week and saw a 50% off the standard price offer (for their soft opening week). Never one to pass up a bargain, I thought sod the walk and rapidly made my way inside.
Mowgli Street food is a chain, which many may baulk at with the “chain bad, indie good” mantra (if it were but so simple – I like to support indies but I don’t believe all chains are bad and that indies are, without exception, all good), but it is an organically grown one with its roots firmly that of a independent made good.
It is very much a labour of love of an ex barrister (wisely having left the dog eat dog legal profession to set up the first Mowgli Street Food in Liverpool), with lots of these sort of places seeming to be (Bleecker Burger being another) ex. lawyer led. If only I had a decent idea, the cash, the cajones and just a little bit of talent to enable me to do something similar (at 0/4 currently)🤔.
Inside it has a very “individualistic” style, with lots of quirky features – all totally lost on a style philistine like me. All I can say is boy do they serious like lanterns and rope.
The multiple sets of rope swing seats suggests Friday night carnage to me, but maybe I am judging people by my own clumsy standards.
I was shown to my seat (thankfully not a swing one) and water was brought to the table unprompted by the rather bubbly server, who was able to show me around the menu. She had clearly been trained well as to its ins and outs and she seemed genuinely very happy to be there (in stark contrast to my general demeanor when in work).
The main menu is a nice looking mix of small plate dishes (refuse to call them tapas because they aren’t), curries and the aforementioned tiffins.
Veggies seems to be reasonably well catered for on the main menu, but there is also a standalone vegan menu
and a gluten free one.
Seems they have thought of pretty much everyone.
As the intro and post title alludes to, I was intent on ordering one of their tiffins. On this basis, I went for the Office Worker’s Tiffin (normal price £16).
On ordering it I was told it was a mystery package of 4 dishes (3 curries and a carb), with the nature of what you get very much at the whim of the chef. I assume it changes daily, but it could be even more random?
What arrived was a handsome assembly
which was broken down into its component parts and a description of each part provided.
Very decent size portions, I thought, which were easily enough for two to share.
A green ginger and rhubarb dhal had a nice texture, being the right side of sloppy and the lentils retaining just a touch of bite.
On the flavour front it had a pleasing hit of cumin and ginger, but I was unable to identify any evidence of the promised rhubarb. I had assumed the latter would bring a bit of tangy sourness (which I tend to enjoy, as it mirrors my default mood) to the equation but alas it was not really evident (at least to my jaded tastebuds).
A “Mother Butter Chicken” was generously studded with chunks of tender chicken. The sauce itself had a nice level of spicing to it, but the chicken was a touch on the bland side (had it been added to the sauce pre-cooked, I wondered).
This was pleasant, but just lacked a bit of a spice punch for my tastes. It needed just a little of something else to lift it (particularly the chunks of chicken) from decent enough to rather good I thought.
The last of my three curries was, to my mind, the best in the form of their house keema.
Rich in spice, with cumin, clove and cardamom to the fore, there was also a nice bit of lip tingering chilli heat. Studded in the kemma were yielding chickpeas (I was expecting garden peas), which absorbed nicely the spicy liquor. My only slight quibble was with the lamb mince itself, which I found a little mealy in texture.
The final component of the tiffin was a very good portion of basmati rice
Cooked (steamed) on point with light fluffy grains and nice spicing (cumin and cardamon), it was just the job from soaking up the various sauce heavy curries.
I did my manful best to eat it all, but was defeated at the last (felt in dire need of an afternoon kip after that lot)
On the basis of near Mr. Creosote levels of fullness I passed on dessert.
I did rather like the sound of the pink Himalayan salted caramel ice cream cone. Next time was my though, as I resisted the temptation.
On a second visit (again during the soft opening week – so still 50% off), a work friend and I shared a few dishes between us.
Yoghurt chat bombs (normal price £4.50) had a nice crisp, yet melt in the mouth, exterior
and a tangy yoghurt interior. I did think it odd that there were 5 – too many for one and an odd number to share.
The house chicken curry (normal price £6.95), was a Keralan, coconut milk based, one.
Plenty of chicken in it and a decent depth of flavour. I preferred this to the butter chicken I had on my first visit.
We had (bought in rather than inhouse made) rotis (normal price £2.90 for 2) with the curry, which were nicely flaky and fulfilled their role of mopping up the chicken curry admirably.
Gunpowder chicken (normal price £6.50) had a touch of heat to it both in the coating and the garnish (but not to the extent that would seemingly justify its incendiary moniker).
The gram flour coating was lacking a bit of crunch, but I enjoyed this dish nonetheless.
The final dish was an intriguing riff on good old cheese on toast, called Himalayan cheese toast (normally £5.15).
Very much a hybrid (Britdian/Indtain) dish, the combative lime pickle was the star of the show.
On the booze front they have the mandatory cocktails (it appears to now be illegal for restaurants and bars not to offer them), but as ever I was more interested in the wines. Tricky to pair wines, with the rather varied and spice driven menu, was my initial thoughts before I looked at the list.
On the whites, I think all three of the chenin blanc, the viognier and the albariño would probably work ok with the spice orientated menu (first two probably better than the last one). I do think there are potentially better options out there such as a riesling or a grüner veltliner, with both excellent foils for spice. They is, of course, always sherry (you just knew I was going to say that didn’t you😁) which also works very well with this sort of food (but sadly is rarely seen on lists at these sorts of places despite its excellent pairing potential).
On the reds, tannins (the stuff that can makes you pull your lips back) tend to clash with spicy food, as does too much oak. I would worry about the tannins with the Nero d’Avola on the list (no vintages given, but I assume it is quite a young wine). The Malbec or the Pinot Noir would probably be better bets, but I am a bit suspicious as to the quality of a pinot noir (a thin skinned grape that can be hard work to cultivate and make into wine) which is on a UK restaurant list at £18 (perhaps it is very good value, but ….) and I suspect it might be a touch fragile, in any event, to cope with the dishes here.
I would have liked to have seem a Chilean carmenere wine or a tempranillo (joven or crianza as oppose to reserva or gran reserva – too much oak in the latter two styles) on the list, as these reds tend (in my experience) to work well with spice.
On balance the rosé on the list here may well be the best option.
On the mark up front, the Albariño cost about £12 retail so the on the list price of £28 is not too bad. All the other wines seem to operate on less than a 3 times mark up (sometimes a fair bit less), which I can live with.
As it was a work day lunch, I was off the booze and therefore defaulted to the soft drink part of the list.
Some nice options here, to tempt me away from my usual default option of a mango lassi or chai (oddly the latter is missing from the drinks list, which was a bit disappointing as it is one of my favourite pairings with Indian food, unless that is the “Proper Ginger Tea”?).
In the seeming absence of chai and wanting something different from a mango lassi, I decided on the pineapple, lime and chilli lassi.
This was a very refreshing mix of sweet and sour with a nice backnote of chilli heat. It worked rather well with the food I ordered.
On my second visit I defaulted to the mango lassi and very nice it was too.
Whilst both my meals were not without fault (I rarely have no issues, being a hard to please irascible old git), I enjoyed my tiffin box (which was a nice mix up of decent curries on my first visit) and the street snacks and a curry (on my second visit).
Both my visits were during their soft opening week,
so the price I paid was at a 50% discount making it very good value indeed.
For the portion size, the full price of £16 seems fair for the office worker’s tiffin. My main issue with it was for lunch it is a bit pricey and a bit too big for one person. Ideally I would share it, but I often eat solo at lunch times and a sort of “demi” tiffin would be ideal for me. Have a lunch time option of one half the size (or even just a house curry and a rice/bread) at say £8 and I think that would hit the lunch time sweet spot.
On the second visit, it was quite busy and our order was a bit delayed. They offered, due to the delay which we hadn’t raised as an issue, to “comp” the whole bill.
This was a very kind offer, which I refused. Many may think me mad (my work friend was giving me a death stare and kicking me under the table as I was talking to the manager) for doing that, but I think to have accepted would have been unfair and somewhat disingenuous.
The food was nice enough and bar from the lateness regarding our order (which, if truth be told, we hardly noticed) the service was good. As such I said there was no need to “comp” it, with any issues more than adequately covered by the 50% off “soft opening” price.
To me during a soft opening period you shouldn’t expect perfection when the price is discounted. The purpose of soft openings is to iron things out and get processes nailed down. The quid pro quo is you get it at a discounted price.
I was more than happy to pay the bill on that basis. Very nice of them to offer to comp. the lot though and the mere offer shows a real commitment to customer service.
Would I go back? Yes, a nice addition to the Cardiff food scene. Church Street, with this place and others to open soon, is looking up.
It will be interesting to compare it with the revamped and soon to reopen 3Bs Cafe, which I have always rather liked.
Address: Unit C, 5-10 Church Street, Cardiff, CF10 1BG
Tel: 02921 166 0206
Website: click here
Opening times: Sun – Weds: 12.00 – 21.30, Thurs – Sat: 12.00 – 22.30