Amber Allcock visits Mowgli Street Food – Grand Central’s exciting new culinary hotspot – to discuss the restaurant’s ethos and all it has to offer, with Nick, the company’s business development manager.
Birmingham reigns as ‘curry capital of the UK’. With this in mind, I was interested to see what was unique about Mowgli Street Food, Grand Central’s latest Indian inspired restaurant. It certainly has all the goodness of Indian cuisine, but not as you know it. With a passion for street food, killer flavour combinations, and a huge enthusiasm for delivering excellent hospitality, Mowgli couldn’t possibly disappoint. I met with Nick, the company’s business development manager to discuss the future of Mowgli and street food, and this is what he had to say:
Amber: First of all, could you just give me a bit of background on the Mowgli story and how the business was founded?
Nick: Certainly! Mowgli was founded by Nisha, and I always love to describe her as ‘barrister to spice girl’. She was the first Asian female barrister on Merseyside, which is where our first Mowgli was set up. Despite loving her job, she always had this burning desire to found her own restaurant as she has a huge passion for cooking and loves to rustle up simple yet authentic dishes in her own kitchen. The authenticity of our dishes then comes from the fact that they are inspired by Nisha’s ancestors, and so we love to incorporate ‘home comfort’ style dishes into our menu, which have amazing flavours with accessible ingredients. The name Mowgli was actually chosen by Nisha’s supporters and is inspired by her children. It’s her pet name for her two daughters and it’s so important to her that they are involved in the choices which she makes – they even chose the logo!
Street food is a phenomenon that has really exploded recently. Along with that, and all the Indian restaurants that already exist on the market, there is huge competition. What do you think makes Mowgli stand out from the crowd?
Absolutely, street food really took over post-2010 and people now love the idea of tasting a range of dishes. I guess there is always a little concern that street food may just be a phase, but ultimately Mowgli’s mantra makes us so different. We have multiple sites, but we have a unique charm in the sense that we are the complete opposite to a traditional curry house. What makes us stand out is our passion to connect with our customers and offer a place where people feel like they can just pop in if they’re in the area; that’s what Mowgli is about. Simplicity and comfort is what we strive for, and we want people to feel they can come to us for lunch and then back again for dinner. Our door is always open, and we want to keep that sense of Mowgli becoming a second home for our customers.
As well as that, we are always looking for ways to improve, and constantly welcome feedback on social media. As a young, growing business that is imperative to us, and we see our social media community as a family in that sense.
As well as our community feel, another thing that really sets us apart is of course our fabulous menu. It is comprised of many hearty sharing dishes, and there is plenty of choice for vegans, vegetarians, meat eaters and those who require gluten free alternatives. There’s something for everyone here at Mowgli, and, if you are stuck for choice, I recommend getting the tiffin boxes, which allow you to try a range of dishes (roulette style – so there’s a complete void of any complication!).
With that community feel in mind, I wanted to ask about the charities which Mowgli supports. When I visited there was a £1 discretionary charge to Birmingham Children’s Hospital on our bill. Could you tell me a little bit about the charities you choose and why?
Adding a £1 discretionary charity charge is something that began at our first Mowgli in Liverpool, where we started raising money for a local cancer charity. All our chosen charities are local to the area, and so Birmingham’s is Birmingham Children’s Hospital. We feel that, when you choose to dine with us, you are choosing to be a part of our community. In return, it is important to us that we give something back to that community, and that is why each of our restaurants has a unique charity. We see it as our role to educate and raise awareness amongst our team and beyond, and we really encourage our team to be passionate about our chosen charities in that sense. Since opening, our sites have raised over £100,000 collectively, so it’s something we are hugely proud of here at Mowgli.
I know you mentioned that the tiffin boxes are a great way of trying a range of dishes. If you had to recommend a few of your favourites on the menu though, what would they be?
I absolutely love the Temple Dhal, which is what we describe as ‘the ultimate Indian home comfort food’. It’s a red lentil dish that is simmered with toasted cumin, coriander and lemon, so it has a gorgeous fresh taste. Asides from that I would highly recommend the Yoghurt Chat Bombs. For me, they embody everything that is Mowgli as an explosion of taste and colour. It’s also hard to ignore our Mowgli Chip Butty amongst my favourites though – they are incredible flavour grenades and keep us true to our northern roots.
It’s clear that you have a real passion for delivering excellent customer satisfaction. How did you get your role here at Mowgli and what is it that you look for in your employees to deliver that ‘Mowgli Mantra’?
I’ve always been in the hospitality sector and I think there is an unfair stigma around it that I believe must come to an end. I see it as an absolute pleasure to serve our customers and I have a real passion for delivering excellent customer service – if we’ve done something wrong, I want to hear about it. I started off in a role in my family’s ice cream business, where I learnt so much about this industry. When I heard that Mowgli was opening on Water Street, Liverpool, I applied to be a front of house member and absolutely loved it. I was keen to learn everything there was to know about Mowgli, and my passion for people really showed and that’s why I was approached to take up this role, which I absolutely adore. What we look for in our employees then is intelligence, grace and graft, and those are the qualities that allow us to deliver our ‘Mowgli mantra’. In return, we offer our employees a friendly working culture and the success of our staff is always celebrated, which is why our employees are so keen to help us grow as a business. Some of our members here at Grand Central have relocated for us from Manchester, and that kind of commitment is exceptional and is what gives us such a family feel here at Mowgli.
I saw that Ronnie O’Sullivan recently visited your Grand Central restaurant, have you had any other famous visitors?
Yeah he loved it! We have had a couple of other famous faces who have become regulars in Liverpool especially. Bill Nighy frequently visits Bold Street – he’s a big fan of our Goan Fish Curry – and Wheatus also visits us a lot there too.
In terms of developing Mowgli’s restaurants, what is it that you look for in a location?
When Mowgli was first discussed as a concept the vision was to start up small with a single pop up store in Liverpool One. Funnily enough, we were actually priced out by Krispy Kreme which inspired us to look elsewhere. We now have four Mowgli’s set up, our most recent of course is in Grand Central, and that is set to double in 2018 – so there are huge things ahead for us! 2018 will be monumental, and our new additions will include Oxford, Nottingham, Leeds and a second Mowgli will be added to Manchester. We never rule any city out; the important thing is that Nisha has to feel that the city is somewhere where Mowgli can breathe, grow and develop. She chooses every site and when we came to Birmingham it was just so obvious to us how much the city had to offer. It is such a welcoming, warm and thriving place and it is a really exciting location at the moment, especially since HS2 is well underway.
Meeting with Nick was an absolute pleasure, and what was overwhelmingly clear to me is the passion for Mowgli’s vision which the whole team shared. Mowgli has the refined feel of a chain, but above all its attention to the customer’s experience is what really sets it apart. It is unique, fresh but laid back, charitably conscious, and super friendly. This is definitely my favourite ‘newcomer’ spot in Birmingham, and I will undoubtedly be visiting time and time again. If you want to see what Mowgli has to offer, visit their website.