29 August 2009

Mooli aesthetics: "I always listen to what I can leave out"

On a recent extended visit to London, S&M invited me into their daily lives and it was, I can confirm, what we all feared: that yes, all our professional pursuits are unlikely to compare to the exhilarating life of an entrepreneur almost moments away from seeing their ideas being realised. From Mr Yau's love of the beef to the long meeting and discussions on design, I enjoyed it all. The design and its evolution was very interesting, not least because, guided by S&M, I was able to see, feel, eat and capture what the current competition and the fast food market is about. How much should we speak? Should we plaster pictures everywhere? Is our design too simple? Is tab really sexy? To what extent should we sacrifice our design/aesthetic ideal for commercial reasons, if at all? These are difficult questions, because the impulse is to shout and scream about all the wonderful things in the store and so many brands seem to achieve success by constantly speaking to their consumers.

It struck me that against this strong impulse, which will pull again and again pre and post mooli's launch, it is important to have a counter-impulse, one which increasingly seems to represent the S&M vision: there is no need to scream or place pictures everywhere. We will let the customers do the screaming; our story will be there if they wish to look - it will be conveyed but not in a jarring way.

Perhaps the best description of this kind of impulse is be found in the words uttered by Miles Davis, which pithily also sums up his greatness: "I always listen to what I can leave out". Taking the conventional fast-food concept as a base, this is what S&M are doing.

27 August 2009

fuck monday is a bank holiday!

... that's what popped into my head today. its all happening and we are so excited we just want to get on with things. staying on top of everything is a challenge but good fun too. google calendar/tasks/docs. muji notebooks (i'm on number 6). reminding each other. and soon the iphone.

i know what TAB is saying (with sarcasm dripping like chutney) to himself when he reads this post. 'yeah sam that's really interesting'.

24 August 2009

22 August 2009

We are probably going to have to change our name

..... if we ever go to the US or Italy.

20 August 2009

18 August 2009

Salads @ the Upmarket

Our salads were really well received. One of our customers described them as - "delicious salads, with a real zing". We couldnt have described them better (we had tried all morning).

And they were pretty.

We sold out quite early, so I caught sunset and a few quiet moments on the Heath afterwards. Just me and my bike.

but the beef is my favourite

For some reason, tonight I feel like writing in normal case. It is 12.47 and I am listening to Sigur Ros again. TAB is staying the night here - we experimented with dinner today (a gazpacho with an apple & coriander sorbet and an Italian pan seared tuna being the highlights) which was fun.

I almost wrote this post at about 3.30 on Saturday night after cooking 5 kgs of beef in our newly acquired Presto pressure cooker (more on that later) but for a change better sense prevailed and I caught 5 hours of sleep before we sold salads at Sunday Upmarket.

On Friday, Jonny kindly organised a tasting with Alan Yau. We made all 5 mooli's with our proper fresh bread (made beautifully by Raju - soon they will be made by moolita - she is on her way from San Antonio, Texas). It was a big day for us and as Mathew said, a day we are likely to remember. The order was - potato & asparagus with tamarind chutney, keralan beef mooli with our fresh salsa, paneer with Raju's secret tomato chutney, chicken and peppers with our coriander & apple chutney and finally Mathew's seriously fiery Goan pork with pickled cucumbers. Alan genuinely seemed to enjoy the food. At one stage (I think after he had either the paneer or chicken), he said 'the chutney with the potato was amazing... but the beef is my favourite'. He then went on to talk about the beef and while he was talking I was telling myself remember this Sam but of course I forgot the exact words. It was something along the lines of... the attention to detail is incredible and the flavours are delicately balanced, the salsa goes really well with the beef (that was Mathew's idea). After tasting the pork which he also liked he asked us how we get the meat so tender. Slow cooking. And here's how we do it:

Our brand new 23 litre Presto Pressure Cooker which my dad carried from California! It even has a proper dial and all. Dodie Miller and her head chef at Taqueria (best Mexican food in town) know how to slow cook meats and they've tried all the pressure cookers out there (including Hawkins!) and are convinced that Presto make the best ones. We simulate around 7 hours of slow cooking. A few months ago I wrote a post titled 'Being Heston Blumenthal'. We've come a long way since then and the attention to detail has become a religion. The red chilies are always dry roasted - and we know the exact number (from a particular brand) which we use for different quantities. The ginger is weighed. It's what my friend James calls 'spreadsheet cooking'. Under the influence of a neuroscientist girlfriend and the demands of a fast-casual restaurant, I've reined in the cooking by andaz style. Watching Heston Blumenthal on the telly showed me that coming up with the detail still needs passion and creativity. And that science can be good.

Today, at a tasting at Linklaters, Mathew said it's kind of nice that most people have their own favourite mooli - it is a sign they really like it. I oscillate between the pork and the beef though suddenly the potato & asparagus with tamarind chutney is in the running too. For some weird reason, I wonder which one Usain Bolt would pick. He clearly likes nuggets. Check out this nice interview on Top Gear.

16 August 2009

Our first Ad!

We are very lucky to have secured the services of one of our favourite indian composers, Mukesh Kanapathapillairajni III.  

14 August 2009

I wanna be like you

We've written before about a restaurateur that we are BIG fans of. In 2 hours and 15 minutes we are doing a tasting for him and are also hoping to learn the secret of this man's red fire.

How exciting ! Wish us luck.


13 August 2009

We're Back

We're back this Sunday (16 August) @ the Sunday Upmarket - the market 'for fashion and flavouristas'.

We're in Ely's Yard which is the outdoor section of the market - opposite the Rootmaster Bus, at the corner of the yard close to the Big Chill bar.

We're selling the Keralan Beef salad and the Paneer salad. The lovely flavours of the beef and paneer are enhanced by the freshly tossed endives, vine tomatoes, cucumber, pomergranate seeds, grated carrot and pine nuts (with a squeeze of fresh lime). They will be delicious, Ottolenghi-esque we hope.

11 August 2009

बे गुड

We’ve reached a stage where most major hurdles have been crossed and opening our doors sometime in October has started to look very real‍. Sam and I keep saying to ourselves that we’ve been extremely fortunate to get to this position given the current economic climate. Luck aside, Mooli’s has had an incredible amount of selfless help from well wishers and we have been especially touched by some incredible acts of kindness from virtual strangers. I feel compelled to thank at least some of them.

I met Springbok Jon Shaw for the first time over a delicious lamb tagine at Cat’s place. He had already heard about Mooli’s through Jan, a common friend of his and Sam’s. He unwittingly offered to help us out, and we unashamedly took him up on the offer. We peppered him on a daily basis with questions about tax reliefs under the EIS scheme (which has been an incredible help in raising external equity), many of which required time out from his busy City schedule to make calls to HMRC and research cases. Last night he filed our application for clearance under the EIS scheme - a letter with a copious number of annexures, something even our accountant was loathe to undertake. For nothing.

I have a special affinity for other things South African. Its been five years since I rolled around with Whitey, since Tiger poo'ed & pee'd on my shoulder, since I swam with Jessica. Five years since I tasted that divine Bunny Chow in Durban and chicken with pap in Jo’burg. Since I heard the infectious beats of Mafikizolo.

Google is now very big, but they have stuck to their original philosophy – be good। Barring some silly privacy concerns, they have been very good to most of us। Yes we all know that they raised the bar several notches for internet search, email, maps etc – but they have also made life easier and cheaper for bootstrapping startups like Mooli’s. This blog is hosted for free by them. As is our mooli’s email. We use google calendars, google tasks, google docs, picasa. Follow this link for a street view of 50 Frith Street , courtesy of google. It feels odd to thank a juggernaut like them, but it is hard to imagine a world without google.

Dodie is a lovely woman. Of Cool Chile Company and Taqueria fame. Sam has eulogised before about her excellent corn tortillas and harbanero sauce. Having heard about and empathized with our frustrating quest for real bread, she invited us over to try to make rotis on El Monstro. She had balls of chappati dough ready and waiting (we were, as usual an hour late, but that is about to change soon) and ran an entire production line for us. For nothing. As she only supplies gluten free corn tortillas, commercially supplying us with wheat chappatis on El Monstro is not an option for her. And she then gave us a free run to poke around her kitchens at Taqueria, quiz her chefs and sample some delicious tacos. Her thumbs up to our Goan Goat and Punjabi Paneer was a great endorsement for us.

I could go on – Bing Bong who stayed up nights and weekends drafting our shareholders agreements (but at least he had the misfortune of knowing us for many years); TAB who writes outrageously funny stuff and understands the Mooli's brand better than us (but at least these might help to make him famous or find a mate. And of course he is also no stranger); Edair who runs my local Oz Café and who taught me to make coffee and gives me a few hours of experience behind his counter every week (his words of advice have been simple but invaluable – "....always always clean, always always good food, always always take girl who speak good English, then always always people come"). There are many more.

Starting Mooli’s has been as exciting and challenging as I expected and wanted it to be – and we are truly grateful for the help that we have got from these Good Samaritans. I compare you to a kiss from a rose on the grey.

Does my poo look big in this?

Ladies and gentlemen, as we approach the big launch date, there is a question which hovers above us and has yet to be fully addressed. After eating a mooli, is your experience in the toilet heaven or hell? Has the passage of your excrement been smooth  (even if a little bumpy) or stingy and uncomfortable followed by slightly more stingy and uncomfortable.

Perhaps it is embarrassing to ask such questions in feedback sessions or perhaps it is simply bad manners to ask after a person's poo (let us stick to this word rather than its harder alternative of shit, excrement etc). The reality is you will not know until after the event anyway. 

It is an important question. The richness of Indian food is such that it is almost inevitable that the stomach will rumble somewhat. This is an accepted risk for most consumers of Indian food. There is also a real risk that it would go beyond rumbling to downright bubbling uncomfortability. If that happens then very quickly a place can get a bad reputation. So what effect does the mooli have on you? Are questions about poo redundant because there is nothing one can do about it?

That second question is interesting. I have no answers, but it seems to me the spices one uses and the time of preparation must be linked to the poo question. Purely on an observational basis (which is far from scientific), it seems that home cooked Indian food is less likely to induce the bad pooh than some restaurant food. Why is that? This is a question for the mooli chefs and their expert advisors. But before they can investigate this they need the big poo question answered. So don't be shy, go ahead and reply.