The lights are shining bright in East Cowes these days. Despite SEEDA‘s numinous arrival in the town – now revealed disappointingly as all light and no heat – the brave entrepreneurs behind Saffron in Cowes have thumbed their noses at the economic downturn and opened a stylish restaurant in the town’s historic Castle Street.
Always up for a nice Ruby Murray, Matt and Cat, loose change and a few bits of folding money in their pockets remaining from pay day, drove to the Island’s northern peninsula. After bimbling about a bit in the cold, they found the new restaurant – the Purple Mango – by heading towards the mesmerising glow emanating from the venue’s picture windows.
Much has been said on this site about the generic refurbishment of the Island’s Indian restaurants; laminate flooring, leather chairs and concealed coloured lighting are ubiquitous. In fact, a ‘traditional’ venue like the Bahar Tandoori stands out from the crowd with its thick patterned carpets and mock Taj Mahal exterior. Would the Purple Mango have its own Unique Selling Point to distinguish it from Monsoon, Cinnamon et al?
Matt and Cat, peering into the restaurant, could see that it was already pretty busy despite it being quite early. Perhaps the punters were drawn to the rather boastful sign outside proclaiming the venue to be ‘The Isle of Wight’s Premier Restaurant’. Not just the best in its category but the Island’s Premier Restaurant. Matt and Cat pushed open the door, eager to experience this self-exulted curryhouse.
A gaggle of waiters stood around the door ready to greet the new arrivals. Led past the bar and the takeaway departure lounge, Matt and Cat were given the choice of a table by the waterfall or one by a vast mirror. As the water feature was a bit noisy, they parked themselves at the latter and handed over their coats, pleased that the the huge Bollywood TV was out of sight round the corner in the bar area.
The table was beautifully presented; clean starched linen topped with a yellow runner, the regulation amount of cutlery, wine glasses and side plates plus a tiny vase of carnations. Menus were proffered and napkins flicked across your reviewers laps. The menu was extensive with a long list of Purple Mango specialities, some old favourites and specials. Having placed their order, Matt and Cat settled down to munch on the extremely fresh poppadoms. The chutneys consisted of the usual yoghurt and mango (which Cat likes to dollop on her poppadom in that order to make a little fried egg lookalike), onion and cucumber, plus an unexpectedly sweet dish of grated coconut with sugar.
All this time the waterfall was tinkling away to itself; its lights changing colour, fading from red to green, purple and orange. This, plus the gentle lighting and the pulsating music gave the restaurant a relaxing yet grotto-like feel.[video:youtube:pCdyy7aua24]
Without much delay, the meals were brought out. Dispensing with tea-light fuelled heaters, the plates were put straight onto the table cloth – innovative for an Indian restaurant but certainly no worse off for this departure in tradition. Cat had rosun chicken, described in the menu as chicken tikka cooked in garlic sauce with mixed peppers and spring onions, garnished with fresh coriander. Matthew had shahi chicken – strips of chicken cooked in a rich medium sauce with green peppers, mushrooms, onion and tomato – proclaimed by the menu as very highly recommended by the chef. This led M and C to wonder why the chef didn’t recommend the other dishes? They figured that if everything was special then nothing would be. Accompanying their curries, Matt and Cat went off-menu and had ordered a mushroom bhagee.
Both main dishes looked surprisingly similar, big chunks of extremely tender chicken covered in spicy, slightly oily sauce with a garnish of coriander on both. Their appearance was were the similarity ended. Cat’s rosun chicken had plenty of noticeable slivers of garlic and tasted very fine; nice and tangy without being too hot for her delicate palate. The meat was particularly good – a generous amount of bird. Hotter than Cat’s dish, Matt’s shahi chicken was nice: rich and tangy, but not exceptional. Nonetheless, he managed to polish it off with gusto, along with Cat’s leftovers. He reflected, not for the first time, that these new style Indian restaurant menus are quite cunning. They describe the most expensive and unusual-sounding dishes in great detail at the beginning of the menu. The ‘old favourites’ are rather dismissively left to the back and get no exhortative rubric alongside their names. However those less exciting-sounding dishes are significantly cheaper, and quite probably just as good as their more exotic brethren. Perhaps further experimentation is called for.
2 x papadums £2.70
Rosun chicken £9.50
Shahi chicken £10.95
Mushroom bhagee £3.95
2 x pillau rice £5.90
Whilst letting their dinners settle, M and C studied their surroundings with pleasure. The place had a certain welcome intimacy that other similar venues do not have. Why, wondered the reviewers, was the Purple Mango a cosier and more comfortable place than other Island curry houses? Unable to really put their fingers on it, they itemised the differences between this and other venues.
- The service was friendly but not intrusive;
- the low lighting was intimate without being gloomy;
- the tables were positioned so as not to allow interference from other diners.
However, all of this analysis did not really define why the Purple Mango was nicer – it just was! And, whilst Matt and Cat twittered amongst themselves about this matter, the bill was delivered with a flourish along with two glasses of iced Baileys and two little chocolates. These complimentary goodies helped sweeten the blow – the meal was nearly £40. Still, it was pay day and Matt and Cat had eaten some tasty food in what is certainly East Cowes’ Premier Indian Restaurant.