There are many contestants for the title of Cardiff’s best Indian restaurant, but in my opinion the Purple Poppadom has few peers. There is something about its sophisticated, refined take on Indian cuisine that always lures me back whenever I’m visiting the Welsh capital. The cooking, the service, the wine list – it’s all pitched at a level I’m very happy with.
Of course, in a city bursting with good – and admittedly cheaper – Indian restaurants, my eulogy to the Purple Poppadom requires a hefty weight of evidence. So, let’s start with Anand George, the head chef and proprietor. George has probably done more for the perception and quality of Indian cooking in Cardiff than any other chef. His mission was simple: to banish curry house cliches of flock wallpaper, vindaloo, and lager on tap, instead proving to Cardiff’s citizens that Indian cuisine can lean towards experimentation, innovation and regionalism without veering into pretentious, or ludicrously expensive, territory.
George has also helped to dispel the myth that just because Indian food has traditionally been sold very cheaply in the UK that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth more than that. If French, Italian and Japanese cooking can be expensive, then so can food from the Indian subcontinent – as long as the quality justifies the cost. Indeed, some would criticize the Purple Poppadom for its pricing; starters are around £7, with mains in the teens. But to do so is to miss the point because the rewards far outstrip the investment.
For example: a crab starter brings a perfectly fried soft-shell crab with a batter that is carefully hinged between salt and spice. Even better was a crisp crab croquette, offset by a gentle level of spice that dances across your palate. This is why I’m so fond of this restaurant – it delivers faultless classics and innovative takes on traditional dishes, kicked up a couple of levels of creativity and refined for special-occasion dining. Prawn Porichathu is another exemplary lesson in balanced spicing. Meanwhile, Seekh Kebab is a show-stopping classic of sublime, deep, umami flavours nicely rounded off with a softening hint of raita.
Indeed, George prides himself on balancing subtlety with power. Tiffin Sea Bass, one of the restaurant’s signature dishes, is firm, fresh and not overly spiced, served on a bed of curry leaf infused mashed potato; the mango, ginger and coconut sauce with beetroot pachadi is almost flavour overkill. It creates the perfect marriage between classical seafood flavours and the fire and brimstone of Indian cooking. The very epitome of classy fusion cooking.
Service is another strength – gracious, attentive and charming to a fault. But perhaps the strongest indictment of this ode to Purple Poppadom comes from my friends in London, who always insist that if they need a taste of superlative Indian cooking – while in Cardiff – then the Purple Poppadom is their first choice. Is there a downside? Well, as many critics have previously noted, the location is far from salubrious, but the Purple Poppadom soon makes you forgot about all that.
185a Cowbridge Road East,
Cardiff CF11 9AJ
James Lawrence @jameswinelover