MoBay's Natural ‘Mystic’
The curtains may have come down last Monday on the weekly judging sessions at the Spanish Court Hotel for the Jamaica Observer Food Awards judging panel. But when we got word that Rock-born celebrity chef Collin Brown — whose eponymous London-based restaurant is one Rosette away from being a Michelin-starred eatery — was jetting in for a vacation that happily coincides with this Thursday’s Food Awards ceremony, a decisive plan of action took immediate shape: Brown would join the merry band of foodie-loving judges on a road trip to accept a long-standing invite to dine at Mystic India Restaurant in the Second City.
Setting out aboard an Island Car Rentals coaster bus, and guided over mountainous terrain, sharp corners and long stretches of highway by our efficient driver Alderman Marshall, seven made the Kingston-to-St James day out. Six judges — Annaleisa Lindsay, Christopher Reckord, Matthew Hogarth, Odette Dixon Neath, Patrick Smith, and Food Awards chair Novia McDonald-Whyte — welcomed Chef Brown into their fold, trading life stories and the occasional joke as the coaster whizzed past rural roadside homes, hotel resorts and ocean-side vistas, en route to a westerly destination.
It’s early afternoon and our driver has pulled into the parking lot of Whitter Village, the chic shopping complex housing Mystic India. Our hosts Kareena Mahbubani (hubby Arun Mahbubani is unavoidably absent tending to another of the couple’s businesses) and part-owner Rajiv Bhatnagar graciously welcome the party of seven with handshakes and warm smiles. Mahbubani reveals that the eatery will celebrate its first anniversary next month and she’s particularly proud that Mystic has developed a reputation among Montego Bay’s corporate denizens, politicos, hotel general managers and the social crowd as a choice restaurant. And it’s with good reason too; authenticity is the trump card for Mystic India. The hot spot delivers knockout gourmet eats that stay true to cuisine found in North and South India. A veritable feast of dishes (including Indo-Chinese) is prepared for the visiting food critics, and the judges’ feedback is mostly positive. Complaints are few; appetites open to sample fare from the Asian continent prepared by chefs straight from North India — Subhash Chandra, Mukesh Chand, and Kishorie Lal, all with years of experience in the hospitality industry in their homeland under their belt.
Whitter Village’s managing director Angela Whitter graciously accepts the offer to join the multiple-course lunchtime meal. In-between meetings, she joins the table. Lunch begins with appetisers: chilli mushrooms, crispy vegetables and cheese and spinach kebabs. Next up are the malai kebab and chicken tikka — both rich with the flavour of pungent spices.