When the opportunity arose to try some Mauritian food, I jumped at the chance. Then the next thing I did (and I'm sure I'm not alone here) was google the place, because to be perfectly honest I had no idea where in the world it was. I just knew it was some far-flung exotic island with infinite amounts of sunshine and spices - a world away from chilly, grey London town.
In fact, Mauritius is off the South-East coast of Africa next to the French department of Réunion and not too far from Madagascar. Another useful trivia fact to remember (in case it comes up in a pub quiz), is that Mauritius was once the home of the famously extinct Dodo and the island was under British rule until 1968. The food is a mix of mostly European, Asian, Creole and Chinese cuisines. Think classic with a twist - but not in the exasperatingly over-used masterchef sense of the word. They've taken the greatest hits of each cuisine and thrown in their own blend of tropical spices. Oh, and did I mention the rum? Mauritians love their rum.
So where to get Mauritian food in London? Despite the fact that there are around 50,000 people of Mauritian descent currently living in London, Mauritian cuisine hasn't made it onto the list of trending foods (yet). There's La Chamarel, a restaurant on Turnpike Lane and a couple of pop ups / supper clubs on the scene such as Yummy Choo Eats. The biggest boost for Mauritian food was probably in 2012 when Mauritian chef, Shelina Permalloo, won Masterchef and was crowned the 'Mango Queen' because it featured in so many of her dishes.
I was lucky enough to attend a Mauritian lunch cooked by Selina Periampillai (YummyChoo Eats) at a lovely restaurant called Bedford and Strand just round the corner from Covent Garden. The menu showcased all the different flavours of Mauritian food starting with a Chinese street food style starter of Gateaux Piment Chilli Balls, Aubergine Fritters and Green Papaya with Fresh Coriander, Satini and Tomato Chutney. This was pretty spicy opener but the papaya provided some welcome respite from the burning inferno that was the chilli balls.
The next dish also had an Asian influence - Boulette Poisson and Chou Chou Spiced Soup. Big balls of fish meat in a bowl of spicy consommé to you and me. The fish balls were tasty and had a texture which resembled meat more than fish. They were full of flavour and went together beautifully with the spicy stock-rich soup. This was followed by a Mauritian Goat Cari Roti Wrap with Zasar (a sort of spicy piccalilli) which arrived wrapped up in tinfoil.
The main course consisted of two dishes - a tomato-based stew called Chicken Daube which was bright pink and full of hot spicy flavours, and a brown-coloured Fish Vindaye which is a typical kind of Mauritian curry.
And finally onto my favourite course - a dessert of Pink Pigeon Rum Bananas, Brioche, Coconut Creme and Crumble. The sweet, crunchy brioche together with soft bananas in a rich, sweet rum sauce was just divine.
The food was paired with two cocktails made with Pink Pigeon Rum - a Mauritian rum blended with hand-picked Madagascan vanilla and nutmeg. It is produced in the oldest distillery on the Island and named after a rare native bird (which unlike the poor Dodo has managed to evade extinction). First up we tried a punch made with watermelon and ginger and then a daiquiri with lime, gomme syrup and orange bitters. Exactly the sort of drinks you can imagine sipping on a tropical island...and there wasn't a tacky cocktail umbrella in sight.
It's a charming cuisine - bright colours and rich aromas inviting you into a tropical world of sun-drenched beaches. There's also something reassuringly familiar about these dishes which at the same time carry their own distinctly Mauritian flavours. Unfortunately there simply isn't enough of it around to spark a full-on trend, but thanks to the burgeoning number of supper clubs being held in London, you don't have to go much further afield than Croydon to find some.
Don't just take my word for it though, I also did a radio interview with Selina Periampillai about Mauritian cuisine which you can listen to here: