25 June 2010

Letter IV

Dear Aristu-Jah,

My son I hope you have been enlightened by my first three letters to you. Rather than burden you with another chapter in my life and (by now) my not so implicit messages for the one you will lead as you enter your nineteenth year, I thought in this fourth letter I would focus on a small but niggling disappointment.

You have probably heard of Mooli's, the hugely popular Indian eatery. What you may not know is that I knew the owners well and witnessed first hand its establishment from a stall to its first branch in Soho, which I believe is no longer there (you may not believe it, but Soho was a trendy place at the time; the action switched to the other side of Oxford street). At the time Mooli's had a focus on just 5 mooli rolls with various tasty fillings (my favourite used to be Paneer until your mother's vegetarian ways (not to mention her all round poor cooking) put me off paneer forever).

One of my early suggestions was for a breakfast mooli to be introduced. I just thought this would be a great idea, and was sure that a soft spicy egg filling in a warm fresh chappati roll would be a winner. And importantly it did not have to be sold in the morning - it was a strength that it could be sold late in the day. At the time there were very few offerings like this. But the idea was never adopted despite its attraction. I even shared a story of my childhood about the love of egg rolls to evoke similar stories in others, even though ultimately the story featured a man who had touched me with more than his cooking skills.

The idea was politely rejected. However, egg did feature in a mooli the founders introduced for the world cup in 2010 (which England surprisingly won). It was placed in a filling with keema - nice but why do that and not have a breakfast mooli?

You may think that the above hardly merits the tag of a disappointment and given the success of Mooli's (now about 10 rolls) not worth being concerned about. Yes, but that disappointment was to reverberate in my life in ways I could not imagine my dear son.

I know that when you were young, just entering your first year at Westminster, you asked me why I always slept in the study with the maid and not with your mother or why everyone would say that Kenny (your latin tutor's son) looked just like you. Well my son, I can reveal the answer now. It is linked to the failed breakfast mooli. When your mother and I initially met (I will talk about that more in letter VI) at the Chiswick reading group I was an occasional member of at the time, sparks flew. Never before had I seen a woman who was so at ease and knowledgeable about eighteenth century women writers of fiction , beat poetry and JayZ's early B sides before he became famous. She was formidable and, please don't cringe, in possession of the most wonderful hips I have ever seen. We courted and were married quickly. But there was a nagging doubt about whether she would appreciate my creative side and passion, however small and insignificant it may be.

It all came to a head one day when, already having annoyed me by belittling my breakfast mooli idea, your mother served me a concoction of the keema from the night before with some scrambled egg mixed in (yes it was a faux kind of bobotie, the very thing that the mooli founders preferred to my breakfast mooli idea). I am sure you will agree my son that this was the kind of personal affront no person should suffer. It was the very last straw and drove me into the arms of our then maid (that turned out not be a success but for different reasons which I shall explain in letter XI). What made me finally realise the impossibility of a life with your mother was when your latin tutor burst into tears half way through what had become her regular recitation of a Catullus poem. She said it was because she felt my pain. Why could your mother not do the same?

So you see my son, from a small disappointment came something much larger. But I do sometimes wonder what would have happened if the breakfast mooli was launched.

Always there,

Your father.

18 June 2010


We were hoping to ride the wave of World Cup euphoria by launching a World Cup special mooli. It is ready. But it feels odd to launch it tonight, with England putting in one of the most dismal performances I've ever seen. Anyway, the show must go on. Ironically, Anna has just started playing Massive Attack....

So we have it. The bobotie mooli. The original bobotie is a slightly wierd dish created by the Cape Malay community of South Africa. A kind of spicy shepherds pie. With chopped apricots, sultanas, and Mrs Balls peach chutney. Or if you hail from the sub-continent, think about it as baked kheema with anda, raisins and a Gujarati mango chutney.

Wierd but wonderful.

Our bobotie mooli is filled with lean lamb mince slow cooked in a heady spice blend until that peculiar lamb smell disappears into the fire of the spices. Seriously, it is pretty hot. We've gone light on the fruity stuff, although the mango chutney and egg (both optional) takes a little of the edge off. Just a little. And its got our famous zingy salsa of tomatoes, red onions and coriander marinated in lime juice. My brown cheeks are still flush from my first spicy bobotie mooli. Rooney & Co looked like they could have done with a bobotie mooli before the game.

credits: Rohit Chugh, Jan Smit, Mrs Balls, Rob Levy, Joanna Simon, Cape Town Fish Market, James Murrell, Manisha, Paul Tosio, Keith Posh, Herman Vanderwalt....

05 June 2010

What do you look like?

A number of readers have written to me asking the perfectly relevant (some would say overdue) question, "Are you as beautifully crafted and delicious as the prose you write?". Here is a video of me from circa 1986: