VIDEO: Spice of Life
Two years have elapsed since our last visit to Mystic India. Too long, we reckon, to be away from the Montego Bay restaurant whose sign succinctly declares it home to "authentic Indian cuisine". It's truth in advertising, to be sure, as there are cherished memories of chilli mushroom and pahadi fish tikka, and sweet sips of mango lassis to whet our appetite for a return engagement.
With a standing invitation from owners Arun and Kareena Mahububani, a Sunday brunch date at the restaurateurs' Whitter Village hot spot was added to last weekend's to-do list. Taking the road trip from the capital to the Second City, our group of five Food Awards judges are joined by guests, Devon Barrett, general manager of Victoria Mutual Wealth Management; Janice Allen, special advisor to Tourism and Entertainment Minister Wykeham McNeil; and bon vivant Karen Neita, for some to reacquaint their appetites, and others to be properly introduced to authentic Indian fare.
The 12:15 pm arrival time was near-perfect timing: a dry exit from the Island Car Rental Coaster bus, minutes ahead of a torrential afternoon downpour.
In their customary role as charming hosts, the Mahububanis welcome us into their fold with cheerful warmth and chilled mango lassis. We're advised that brunch will be a 17-course menu, prepared to exacting standards by North Indian-imported tandoor and gravy chefs. But before the cycle of exotic dishes begins, the couple entertain queries and share stories with surprising candour — of starting a now three-year-old business, and meeting and marrying 12 years earlier. Kareena admits that of short-listed suitors, Arun was by far the best-looking ("didn't care much for his shoes, though," she quips; a matter she now monitors by making his retail therapy her marital purview).
"I remember asking her what she wanted when we married," reminisced Arun, seated at the table with his guests, as the judges' ears prick to immediate attention.
His wife's wish? Opening a restaurant.
Nine years later, the businessman fulfilled his beloved's desire. The two had Mystic India up and running, with Kareena obviously the more hands-on, in its day-to-day operation, while skilfully juggling her duties to their three offspring.
Aromatic scents signal brunch's arrival and talk turns to cuisine. First up at the table is a cream of almond soup, followed by aloo nazakat — potatoes stuffed with cottage cheese, vegetables and spices. Then comes the well-received chilli mushroom (batter-fried mushrooms tossed with onions, sweet peppers and a special sauce). This is followed by a quick succession of delicious, spicy Indian-flavoured appetisers: basil malai chicken kebab, pahadi fish tikka, shrimp pakoda and tandoori lamb chops, with the latter a subject of rave reviews.
The table is alive with chatter, especially about the main courses. Exceeding expectations, the brunch menu's second half serves up kashmiri korma (potatoes stuffed with cheese, green peas and dried fruit and simmered in a Maughlai gravy), peshawari chicken (boneless chicken cooked in a rich cashew nut gravy infused with saffron), shrimp tikka masala (oven-baked shrimp simmered in a tomato and cream gravy), mutton biryani (basmati rice with choice cuts of mutton cooked in spices) — all providing a fantastic sensory experience.
Paired with assorted bread baskets of butter naan, garlic naan, Mystic naan, and tandoori and roomali rotis, the mouth-watering offerings induce many a 'foodgasm'.
Our savoury repast is tidily wrapped up with a dessert duo: a double fudge brownie topped with vanilla ice cream served on a hot plate, and gajjar ka halwa (carrots simmered in saffron-infused milk, slow-cooked with almonds and raisins).
A definitive decision is made by the table — another two-year gap between visits to Mystic India would be akin to sacrilege.
Editor's Note: Mystic India will have a live station at the Jamaica Observer Table Talk Food Awards next Thursday, May 29, which will feature Tandoori Chicken, Roomali Rotis and Samosas.