Michelin-starred chef Manjunath Mural brings modern Indian cuisine ‘with a light French kiss’ to Auckland’s épicer. MiNDFOOD catches up with the award-winning chef to discuss the new flavour he brings to the city of sails and his advice for making the perfect home-style curry.
Why is now the time for a new style of Indian dining in Auckland?
“I think diners have also had a huge shift in both wanting to know where their food comes from, and they want to feel good about the choices they make: at épicer we’re coupling ethically-sourced proteins with a commitment to organic produce where possible, and we’ve shunned plastic straws in favour of sustainable wheat straws,” says Manjunath Mural, head chef. “Where curry house culture has traditionally offered the option of chicken and beef with your tikka masala, the public is looking to quality of cut, and wants to know there’s been a real consideration of protein selection. With market-fresh lobster, tiger prawns and lamb shank on the menu, we made a choice to meet the wants and needs of a well-educated diner.”
“The expectations of restaurant-goers in terms of a drinks offering and service has also changed,” says Aditya Sudan, owner. “Where once, calls for Kingfisher and a BYO bottle of wine were the norm, guests are looking to cocktails, a considered wine list that compliments the food, and craft beer. Behind our bar we have some of New Zealand’s best mixologists serving up highly Instagrammable cocktails, a sommelier-trained GM, and an extensive list of craft beer and wine that pair beautifully with our menu.”
“They say ‘we eat with our eyes’ as well as our tastebuds, and today’s diner eats with their phone camera, too,” says Manjunath. “Indian cuisine is colourful and vibrant, and with careful considering as to plating and dish construction we’ve created unforgettable visual experiences that surprise and delight diners (and their followers).”
Tell me about your inspiration and influence when it comes to Indian cuisine?
“Travel has been a huge inspiration: it has significantly impacted the way I plate food,” says Manjunath. “I draw from a myriad different cuisines and techniques when I think about how great chefs excite their diners. Creating theatre on a plate and in service creates an experience for our guests that goes beyond flavour. An example: our slow-cooked lamb chop Kashmiri arrives to the table alight, flambeed in India’s famous Old Monk dark Rum, rich in vanilla.
What can diners expect when they come to épicer? What does ‘with a light French kiss’ mean?
We hope diners enjoy discovering how the echoes of Indian spices they know and love can be reinvented with a different approach. Diners should expect a considered wine and beer list that brings out the flavour of their meal, with staff on-hand to make recommendations.
‘A light French kiss’ is an expression used to explain the French influence on the plating, techniques and ingredients we adopt at épicer. A few examples: our crispy pork belly vindaloo, espuma yoghurt, mushroom and truffle naans, and oatmeal roti.
Do you have tips/ advice for making delicious, flavoursome curries at home?
Here are 5 tips to making delicious, flavoursome curries at home: they’re similar to what you’d expect when cooking any recipe;
- Use fresh produce and meat: talk to your butcher about the best cuts.
- Use fresh spices (go to your local market), and be generous with them.
- Don’t be shy with the use of Ghee (a much required ingredient in authentic Indian cooking).
- Add the fresh green herbs at the end for full and added flavour in the curry – cooking at high temperature can kill the flavour of fresh herbs.
- Last but not the least, slow cooking a curry will always result in a better flavour and a full body as well as meat tenderisation.
How does one get the balance between flavour and heat/spice just right?
Taste as you go. Put a tasting spoon up by the cooker and keep coming back to the dish. Don’t be afraid to add more heat, than use coconut milk to cool it down if you need to.