Class. There’s no other word for Mother India’s Café. One night we were in Edinburgh eating delicious food and the next night we were in Glasgow eating delicious food. The main difference is that there is a special view from the Glasgow restaurant on to the splendid Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum.
Mother India’s Cafés are Scottish institutions. The Glasgow one has smartened up a bit since I first ate here a few years ago but that sense of no-frills table settings, simple presentation and superb food remains. The cafés have a real vibe, and there’s a constant buzz of energy around the tables, without it impinging on the enjoyment of the diners. Some places get it wrong with the staff taking centre stage in that awful attempt to create a “restaurant theatre”. Here, there is life, but the food is centre stage and the only theatre is on the plate.
Mother India was first given its breath of life in the 1980s by owner Mohammed Monir, a born and bred Glasweigan of Punjabi roots, and it was reinvigorated in 1993 after the first venture had to close. But spice diners all over are thankful he bounced back.
Monir was hooked with the restaurant industry when he started working at his brother’s restaurant at weekends while still at school. A couple of failed attempts with his own venues – the first at just 18 – honed his business skills. And cooking for his parents in Pakistan honed his cooking skills and gave him an insight into how to create a winning menu. This is a man who grew up enjoying chips, deep-fried pizza and jam butties as much as his mum’s curries so it’s no wonder he doesn’t just churn out old-school favourites.
Both cafés use a tapas style menu – smaller dishes in the Spanish style so you can enjoy a nice range of tastes on the table. With prices for each dish about £4-6, this is the place to tuck in.
So in Edinburgh’s it’s a rich Methi Keema Mutter (£5.55), a super tangy Chicken Achari (£5.45), a classic and creamy Sag Paneer (£4.45), fried rice (£2.25), chapati (95p) and mixed pickle (95p), while in Glasgow it’s an on-the-bone chicken Staff Curry (£5.95), an amazing and unusual Smoked Chicken with Peas (£5.80), another Sag Paneer (£4.60), a garlic nan (£1.85), boiled rice (£1.85) and some mixed picked (95p). It all sounds pretty straightforward but these are two of the best curries I have ever had. The mix of tastes, the joy of a shared experience with a friend as you swap thoughts on the merits of each dish (the Smoked Chicken was declared king of the tables) and the constant background buzz of happy curry diners adds up to great meals.
This tapas approach has to be the way forward for other restaurants (the above, even with a couple of Kingfishers, came to only £27.45 and £29 respectively) as curry houses battle to find their niché among today’s diners.
Mother India’s Cafe, 3-5 Infirmary Street, Edinburgh, EH1 1LT. Tel: 0131 524 9801. Open: Sun to Thurs noon–10pm, Fri to Sat noon–10.30pm.
Mother India’s Cafe, 3-5 Infirmary Street, Edinburgh, EH1 1LT. Tel: 0131 524 9801. Open: Mon to Weds noon–2pm and 5pm to 10.30pm (last orders), Thurs noon–10.30pm (last orders), Fri to Sat noon–11pm (last orders), Sun noon–10pm (last orders).
Scores on the tandoors Food 9.5 Service 8.5 Decor 8 Vibe 9.5 (Friday night and Saturday night) Value 10
Smoked Aubergine and Fenugreek Pie or Beetroot and Egg Salad