An original, independent review by Emma Bottamley:
India is known for its excellence in both cricket and cooking, and Dorset cricketer Raj Naik is currently making the transition from cricket ground to kitchen, with the opening of his first ever Indian restaurant, the Mint Leaf in Bournemouth.
Raj now plays semi- professional cricket for Dorset after captaining the Goan cricket team for some twelve years. So when I find out about his first culinary adventure, I just have to give it a try. I’m a little curious to see how an ex-professional cricketer fares in a whole new ball game.
Visiting the Mint Leaf re-wakened my love for a good curry. The Indian ‘Brasserie’ only came to Bournemouth Triangle last month and it seems that people have still yet to learn it exists as I’m the only diner. I decide to take advantage of the quiet surroundings, and order the Mint Leaf’s lunch time deal: a choice of curries, a portion of rice or Naan and a coffee for £6.95.
There’s a warm reception and I’m soon seated on a table next to a large window. I have to admire the décor of the place with its spacious and modern interior. There are black leather chairs and canvas paintings of mint leaves. Everything is clean and brand new.
The service is exceptional and my attentive host makes me feel at ease at once. I order Poppadoms to start and can’t help myself in choosing good old Chicken Tikka Masala for my main course, although at lunch time, Tikka dishes are an extra £1.
My Poppadoms arrive alongside a selection of tasty dips: mango chutney, mint sauce, onions and something a little more unusual, a sweet tomato dip, that livens up my taste buds straight away.
Not long after I have ravenously scoffed down the Poppadoms my curry arrives served on a piping hot griddle. It’s sweet, creamy and bursting with exquisite flavours.
The Pilau rice is topped with sweet crispy onions and the Paratha an Indian flat bread, is light and crisp. With food this good it won’t be long before word gets around.
Owner, Raj Naik notices my camera and notepad and kindly sits down to talk with me. He runs the restaurant alongside his business partner Jashim Ahmed. Raj now only plays cricket part-time to compensate for the running of his new restaurant. He tells me: “I do miss playing cricket full-time but the restaurant is the main thing in my life now, it means everything to me.”
Unlike Raj, his business partner Josh has gained 20 years of experience working in Indian Restaurants. Raj smiles, “We work as a great team.”
Raj continues: “People say to me ‘he’s a cricketer why is he opening up an Indian restaurant?’ But I’ve had success in cricket and I wanted to set myself a new challenge. ”
The Mint Leaf’s head chef, Suman Khatri, is From Nepal and has gained experience working in restaurants in India and in the Middle-East including the 5 star Taj Hotel restaurant group. It’s not surprising then, that the food tastes so good.