Would it shock you if we told you that Britain’s most popular dish is the Tikka Masala? Probably not, we all love digging into a curry every now and then.
What you don’t know is that the Indian food that has been fuelling many a great weekend is an anglicised version. In a world where the emerging most valuable commodity is not oil but authenticity, Nisha Katona, curry evangelist extraordinaire, is on a voyage of bringing a little bit of India to Liverpool with her restaurant called Mowgli. One chat bomb at a time. With the news of a new Water Street venue we had to sit down and catch up with the woman behind one of Liverpool’s most popular eateries.
On August 1st a couple years ago, Nisha’s lease was confirmed and it was from then she knew there was no going back. She was taking street food off the walks of India and placing them sweetly into the middle of Bold Street without any idea of the reception. There was no financial assistance in the lead up to the opening, everything she had saved, inherited or earned was as cemented into the building as the very bricks in the wall. Nisha has been a barrister for the past 20 years and enjoyed quite a successful YouTube career where she recreates her favourite dishes from home for you to make them in yours. She’s also publishing a book next year with all her recipes from home so she’s no stranger to the world of food but never like this before. We wonder how she finds time to sleep but she loves every single second of it. For someone who has never had any restaurant experience, has no restaurant blood in the family or in her social circles, opening a restaurant was definitely a risk but Nisha said she couldn’t sleep at night sometimes because something or someone was telling her to do it.
You might know the word “Mowgli” from the Jungle Book, it is basically an affectionate word for a wild child and a term she uses to refer to her own children. She wanted her eatery to be as personal as possible and that is why everything in the shop tells a story. From the menu to the decor, it is a part of Nisha’s life that she carried on and is proud to showcase. The inspiration for the interior is from her Grandmother’s house in Varansi where there was an abandoned temple behind the house. It was a Narnia-like world full of eclectic mysteries and abandoned treasures by a forest. It was a woodland world away from the city and it was that natural and organic nakedness that Nisha fell in love with. The colour is Norwegian green, an unintentional nod to our Nordic ancestors and there is actual ship rope to separate booths which ties in nicely with the port theme. She wanted the antithesis of the hot jewel greens of the lush east, she wanted it to strip away people’s expectations of Indian cuisine and it does exactly that. It is like Scandinavia meets Asia inside, you’ll find no pictures of the Taj Mahal or any Punjabi music blasting from the stereo. She’s putting her food where her mouth is and trying to educate the world that there is more to Indian cuisine than an onion bhaji. Baskets and cages hang from the ceilings where eggs and chickens would usually be stored in the India street markets but the poultry has been swapped for exposed lightbulbs and it illuminates the whole eatery.
There is a big focus on sharing, family and community in the Indian culture and Nisha wanted that to echo through the food. Chances are you’ll be planning on what you’re eating on your next visit whilst ordering for the first time. There is a certain tapas feel to the menu, there are so many appealing dishes that are the unknown for most of us and it as equally as endearing as it is refreshing. The menu is an almost Slumdog Millionaire-esque style, ask a question about a dish and she’ll be reliving memories in her head about it. The ‘chat’ section alone was the whole inspiration for having a restaurant. The chat bombs are an incredible bite sized bonanza and insight into hundreds of years of Indian street food. This is the kind of food that fuels India on a daily basis, it is the food that people eat on the way into work, what Mum’s eat on the way to picking up kids from school and what Nans are up at the crack of dawn making for their day with the grandchildren. Nisha declares that there is always a gap in her heart to eat this kind of food a few days a week as food is more than just what you put in your body in India, it is every waking thought and as you are eating your lunch, you’re planning your tea. Mowgli also do something called “tiffin boxes”, basically a platter sized mix of meat, veg and rice but you leave it up to the chef to cook whatever is seasonal that time or what is good that day. A quite daunting affair for the most of us but Nisha wanted to create that school lunchbox feel where every day and every box is a surprise.
When we asked Nisha want Mowgli is to her, she responded with this:
“Mowgli is not me, it is bigger than me. The recipes are older than me and they will go further than me. I am just a trustee with these dishes. This way of cooking is dying in this country, immigration is shutting down and authentic chefs are forced to stay in the homeland. There is a profound passion fuelling this fire as if I don’t show the world this food, the formulas and philosophies pass away with me and my family. Mowgli is a shrine and monument to the food world in India and a homage to my heritage and a thank you to my Mum.”
Nisha is a woman to be admired, the humble side of her wonders if it is all just folly but her passion is infectious. Everything she has ever earned is in within the square footage of this building and for what? To just to be able to give the locals a taste of her home. We need more people like Nisha, risking everything she has so that these recipes stay alive with her. Make sure the next time you’re on Bold Street you call in, it is the start of something special.
69 Bold Street, L1 4EZ.