In 2007, Anand George travelled 5000 miles from Fort Kochi, Kerala to Cardiff. Introducing a new brand vision of regional Indian cuisine, he transcended the expectations of curry-lovers across Wales with great passion and innovation. He struck gold with Mint and Mustard, securing a Michelin Bib Gourmand. At Chai Street he turned his gaze to the street food dishes of Mumbai, and was an early pioneer of the Welsh street food festival scene in his multi-colour Tukka Tuk. From Cardiff to Tenby, Aberaeron and Abergavenny, he’s spread his word far and wide. But it’s at his HQ in Canton – Purple Poppadom – where your taste buds go into hyperdrive.
Since it opened in 2012 – and crowned Welsh Curry House of the Year – Purple Poppadom has flown the flag for Wales in both the Michelin and Good Food guidebooks. Having visited on several occasions, I’ve long since graduated from a tikka masala; I’ve not only savoured the sweet and crisp soft-shell crab but consider the Sea Bass Pollichathu - true perfection. But how about a challenge to further expand my palate of regional Indian dishes? On a cold and rainy ‘Election Eve’, I faced the six course winter tasting menu.
A few words of advice before I share my experience – which was a joy from start to finish. If you’re considering a visit, then start by pacing yourself; prepare for your taste buds to be completely astounded, and do wear elastic-waist trousers. Leading the kitchen on the evening was Chef Siddharta Singh Rathore of Rajasthan, who’s worked with chef-patron Anand George from the very beginning. He began the Winter feast on a note that was both rich and sweet; two pillowy puffs of duck keema naan, with minced duck by Douglas Willis butchers of Cwmbrân.
What followed was a trio of classic Purple Poppadom starters; a gorgeously fluffy pakora, a halloumi-like paneer tikka, and a bliss-filled Bombay chaat. Recently, much has been made of city-centre chain-restaurant Mowgli Street Food’s ‘chast bomb’, but believe me when I tell you it has nothing on the long-perfected PP version; an explosion of sweet tamarind, yoghurt, and pomegranate encased in feather light pastry – just a mouthful to refresh and delight. Onwards, and with a spicy glass of South African Shiraz, I devoured the Keralan prawn porichathu – as light as the aforementioned soft-shell crab, but enlivened with a hit of bell-pepper. It was paired with a heavenly lamb seekh kebab (from north India), perfectly balanced with a creamy mint sauce.
With three dishes to go I was proud of my pacing, but the expressive dance of flavours on my tongue made it impossible not to clear my plate. Thankfully the portions are far from enormous; it’s the flavours that really pack a punch. Each dish inspired a constant refrain between my dining partner and I – ‘this is the best one yet’. But when I really consider the moment my heart skipped a beat, it was when my eyes first met the chilli-garlic chicken with chilli coriander naan. The bread appeared studded with glistening rubies and emeralds, while the Usk Valley meat was crowned with hunks of coconut. A multi-textured taste sensation, and an electrifying introduction to a brand new ‘BFF’ (Best Friend Forever). Forgive my food treason, but in that heart-stopping moment even the divine Tiffin Cup-award winning sea bass could take a running jump.
Thankfully, our charming waiter posed a question I’ve never before heard in a restaurant; ‘Would you care for a break before your next course arrives?’ Yes! Indeed we would. A breather was most welcome, before facing the final curtain; the Keralan pork vindaloo (which derives from the Portugese delicacy ‘carne vinha d’ahlos’) was utterly sublime, with a depth of garlic, warm spices and red wine, and far less fiery than in my wild imagination. A zingy passion-fruit sorbet followed, before a classic trio of PP desserts; one of which – the rose crème brûlée - won my companion’s ‘best dish’ bingo. I must agree, this divine twist on a classic is to die for, but then so is the much-lauded chocolate samosa. And as for the honey and saffron tandoori pineapple, it was as scrumptious as it sounds.
A welcome walk home polished me off for the night, but what an evening of revelations. Yes the Purple Poppadom price-point is higher than your average Welsh curry house, but do consider the seasonal deal of the tasting menu for two for £55 (it’s normally £95.90), valid from January 1st to April 30th. It certainly raised the spirits on a cold December eve, and I can’t imagine a happier new year than one spent at the table of a proud Welsh food ambassador.
Purple Poppadom, Upper Floor, 185a Cowbridge Road East Cardiff CF11 9AJ; tel: 02920 220026