A few years ago, Nick and I were having drinks with friends in Soho. As the evening wore on, our bellies started rumbling and we decided that we needed to find somewhere to eat. One of our friends suggested an excellent Indian restaurant that he had been to and called Directory Enquiries to get their number. Listening to one side of the animated conversation was very amusing. “Hello? Yes, I need a phone number for the Green Leaf restaurant in central London. Green as in the colour and Leaf as in part of a tree… Really? No listing? Maybe check again. It’s G-R-E-E-N… Yes, I’m sure it is in London. No it hasn’t closed, I was only there last week. Please check again. Yes, definitely Central London… Of course I have the name right! What? On which street? Oh, yes that sounds like the place… Curry? What do you mean it’s Curry. Oh – you mean The Curry Leaf? Oh. Well, fancy that. My mistake!”.
As I approached Mint Leaf, an inconspicuous doorway near the southern end of the Haymarket, I could not help but grin at the memory. Luckily, this time I hadn’t got my leaves mixed up and I was at the right place! Despite the fact that I had never noticed it before, Mint Leaf has been open since 2003. Step out of the maelstrom of tourists and theatregoers on the Haymarket and down into the chic and surprisingly large basement room. The space is divided into the bar area, the restaurant area, and a private dining venue. The lighting is low with dark wood and accent spotlights, and sexy and the vibe is chic. While we looked at the menu, we enjoyed some of the restaurant’s signature cocktails – in particular the Pornstar Martini which the waiter told me is one of the things that keeps bringing the punters back. 5 minutes later I could see why. It’s a cocktail of three parts: half a fresh passion fruit; a tart, alcoholic and blindingly good martini; and a shot of Champagne. What’s not to like, really? My dinner companion Michelle chose a Tikky Takka, served in a fun mug looking like an Easter Island statue: a blend of spiced rum, Frangelico, banana liqueur, lime juice, chilli syrup and pineapple juice. The menu is described as modern Indian so if you are looking for a vindaloo and a chicken tikka masala with coconut raita, you are probably in the wrong place. Head chef Rajinder Pandey was part of the original opening team for Mint Leaf and has now returned to the kitchens after travelling through India and gaining experience in several fine-dining restaurants.
We started with a selection from the starter menu: bhel puri chat (puffed rice, wheat crisp and spiced chickpea tossed with shallot, pomegranate and sweet tamarind – £7.50); kurkure asparagus (tempura asparagus spiked with fennel, cumin and coriander, tomato garlic chutney – £9.50); and chilli calamari (tempura squid tossed with pepper and sweet chilli drizzle – £10.00). The Bhel puri chat, classic street food were a fun mixture of contrasting flavours and crispy textures and definitely messy to eat in a fun way. The chilli calamari was a huge portion, easily enough to share, and was beautifully tender, sticky and spicy. But the runaway star of the starters was the asparagus with its featherlight batter sparkling with the flavour of Indian spices – a simple and inspired dish.
For my main course I chose Mains: meen moiley, a Keralan kingfish and coconut stew (£19.00) while Michelle went for adraki jheenga, a tiger prawn stew flavoured with ginger, onion, tomato and fresh coriander (£22.00). The meen moiley was fabulous – chunks of the meaty, delicious fish in a sauce that was perfectly balanced between spicy and coconutty sweetness. Michelle enjoyed her generously-sized prawns too, although the sauce was a bit spicier. Our side dishes were also unexpected hits. Dal makhani (slow-cooked black lentils with tomato and butter – £7.00) is a deceptively simple dish on paper, but it needs long, slow cooking for all the flavours to meld and attain a depth such as the example we had at Mint Leaf. A supremely comforting and deliciously filling dish which is also perfect as a vegetarian main course. My favourite side, though, was the tandoori broccoli (£7.00). This consisted of a whole head of broccoli that had been seasoned with ginger, chilli spices and soft cheese, before being roasted in the tandoor over. The result is broccoli quite unlike any you have had before – still perfectly al dente and infused with the heady flavour of both the cooking spices and the smokiness of the tandoor. I could easily have demolished this all by myself!
By the time that dessert was brought out, we were both pretty full so we ordered a dessert selection platter to share. I had forgotten that I may have mentioned the fact that it was Michelle’s birthday at the time of booking… but the staff had not and she was duly surprised by a platter decorated in honour of her birthday – a nice unsolicited touch. The plate comprised a selection of their best-selling desserts, including berry kulfi, a saffron-poached pear and a mango crème brulee. Standouts here were the poached pear and the excellent crème brulee. And as if that were not enough, we also enjoyed a plate of excellent chocolate petit fours with our coffee.
Service was very good throughout the meal – friendly, knowledgeable and professional. The location is also outstanding, conveniently halfway between Trafalgar Square and Piccadilly Circus. Despite the fact that I never knew the restaurant is there, it seems others are better informed than me – by the time we left there was not an empty table to be seen. Mint Leaf is an excellent choice if you are in the West End for a show but do not feel like dining in a chain restaurant by default, and although the prices are not dirt cheap they are well within the average for London’s West End. Both the chic ambience and the food is a million miles from the stereotypical Brick Lane Indian restaurant – no cookie-cutter menu of chicken tikka masala, vindaloo and korma here! I also loved that the vegetarian choices were easily as good as or even better than the meat-eater options, and I can’t wait to go back for more of that tandoori broccoli!
For another review of Mint Leaf, have a look at how my friend Rosana enjoyed her dinner there. And you enjoyed this restaurant review, you might also want to have a look at my other restaurant reviews.
DISCLOSURE: I enjoyed this meal as a guest of Mint Leaf but received no further remuneration to write this post. I was not expected to write a positive review – all views are my own and I retain full editorial control.
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Mint Leaf Piccadilly
Closest Tube: Piccadilly Circus or Charing Cross
Tel. +44 207 930 9020