Have you ever had a theatrical meal, then you may want to consider the Purple Poppadom?
One with drama and intrigue, a real performance? I’m not talking food that’s still alive, here – I mean a meal that truly surprised and delighted you with every mouthful, that you wanted to rave review like a Broadway show or an Orson Welles production.
I didn’t start out with such high expectations.
Don’t get me wrong, when I set foot in the Purple Poppadom I was aware of the reputation of multi award-winning Kerala-born chef Anand George.
Creator of nouvelle Indian cuisine, he’d been working to transform the concept of Indian food in Cardiff since his first restaurant, Mint and Mustard. His artistic style of cooking brought new resonance to the idea of Indian food, making it more than merely ‘curry’ and certainly not one to waste on the post-pub crowd.
Nearly two years on from its opening, and the Purple Poppadom has only tightened its hold on the elegant cuisine that George introduced through his previous endeavour, even snapping up the Welsh Curry House of the Year Award 2012.
The problem wasn’t with George, or the Purple Poppadom restaurant and its reputation – but with me, and my tastes.
You see, I’d never been convinced by Indian food.
The idea of ‘curry’ made me think of a variety of amazing ingredients slathered in the same sauce, so that all the freshness and flavour disappeared from vegetables and subsequently the plate had one flavour, merely with varying textures.
I’d been persuaded to give the Purple Poppadom a try because my partner is a convinced Indian food fan – he adores the spices with the passion of someone brought up on the curry houses of the north of England, and seldom a weekend goes by when he isn’t trying to convince me to pop into one of South Wales’ Indian restaurants.
In future, on the strength of this one incredible meal, I might be tempted.
Entering the restaurant, it’s not what you might expect.
Halfway down Cowbridge Road East in Canton, the premises sits atop a ‘man vs food’ steak joint.
But inside, the serene room is a world away, bedecked in the requisite purple and warmly lit.
Our friendly welcome came along with two cool Bangla beers (£3.50 each) and we devoted ourselves to the menu.
Currently running a special ‘Ocean’ menu, the dishes are selected to celebrate seafood. It’s all part of George’s commitment to bringing the flavours of his home state of Kerala in south India to Britain, and the dishes are not what one might expect from an Indian menu, but that is part of the delight of the Purple Poppadom.
To start, I tucked into Kalamari Aur (£6.50), golden crispy spice-battered squid. Plentiful and fragrant, the seafood was lightly fried and served on salad leaves, with a passion fruit and chilli dressing.
The sweetness of the dressing was delicious with the savoury batter, and I tried in vain to make it last and last.
Across the table, my boyfriend tackled the Scallops Chou-Fleur (£7.50), scallops with three cauliflower variations.
The delicate dish was subtly flavoured and light enough for a starter.
The pan-seared scallops were nice and fat, with each cauliflower rendering a pleasant surprise. The puree was sweet and went well with the scallops, the fritters had an unusual texture which added an extra dimension to the dish and the crisped cauliflower shavings gave an extra interesting texture.
As far as first acts go, ours was delicious, and I could scarcely see how the mains could improve on the flavours we had enjoyed.
But improve they did.
For the main, I went for the Tiffin Seabass (£14.95), which was a bit of a cheat.
I’d read that it was Anand George’s signature dish, which sealed him the House of Commons Tiffin Cup, so I knew it would be a real experience, but with the first taste, even I was blown away.
The sea bass was pan seared and served on a bed of curry leaf-infused mashed potato, but the real hit came from the brightly-hued raw mango, ginger and coconut sauce. It was fresh and delicious, with a fruity sweetness that added something really special to the meaty fish.
The whole thing was topped with a bright pink beetroot pachadi like the cherry on top of perfection.
When he saw his main, my partner’s jaw dropped, and it was really something special when it came to the taste test.
The Lamb Shank Raan Akbari (£16.95) sees the meat cooked in classic Mughlai style – marinated with spices and slowly braised – before being finished in the tandoor.
The lamb shank was delicately spiced so that the sweetness of the meat was never overpowered but it was enhanced.
The meat was incredibly tender on the inside thanks to the elongated cooking time, but the final spell in the tandoor gave it a crisp outer coating that was the perfect foil.
Curried butternut squash mash complemented the spices of the lamb, while the fresh mint sorbet was a really exciting take on the tradition of mint sauce with lamb.
When it came to sides, they were as incredible as the main courses.
Hot pink and full of flavour, the beetroot proffer (£4.50) – beetroot cooked with yoghurt and finished with mustard and coconut – was delicious, as was the thoran (£4.50), a traditional Keralan dish of vegetables tempered with mustard and curry leaves. The chilli coriander naan (£2.75) was crispier than any I’d had before, but the freshness of the bread was unquestionable and it was perfectly seasoned.
Purple Poppadom – The desert course
After all that, a dessert was pure indulgence, but how could we say no?
I ordered the, as it turned out, incredibly pretty Bhapa Dohi (£7). Rose-infused steamed yoghurt, served with fresh raspberries and homemade rose petal ice cream, the dish was balanced in presentation, with its components perfectly cool after the spice of the rest of the meal.
Rose petals were scattered on the plate, which gave the whole thing an air of decadence I was thrilled by.
The chocomosa Anand (£7) is the chef’s signature dessert, and I couldn’t hold my boyfriend back from ordering it.
Like a surprise present wrapped beautifully, the cocomosa showcased rich melted Belgian chocolate ganache bound in a light crispy pastry parcel. Sweet but not overpowering, the vanilla ice cream was flavoured perfectly.
As with any performance, I really felt like a round of applause would have been in keeping with our meal, but we settled for sending our compliments to the chef. If you are in any doubt, I urge you to visit the Purple Poppadom, for a meal worthy of a standing ovation.
If you like your restaurants Boutique style then get other ideas from our curry article here.
Purple Poppadom, 185a Cowbridge Road East, Cardiff
Tel: 029 2022 0026