New Indians: Mantra
by Jess Carter
30 April 2019
A new Indian restaurant has come to town, making use of some of the best views in the city
The site that Mantra is now housed in – 5 Bladud Buildings on Bath’s The Paragon – has had several names above the door over the last handful of years. Cowshed – which has had a restaurant in Bristol for a decade – opened here in the autumn of 2014, two years after getting the keys to the premises and bestowing some serious TLC on the place. Fast-forward two more years to the autumn of 2016 and The Clifton Sausage was moving in to give its 14-year-old Bristol location a new sibling. Then, in late 2018, a new independent curry house took up residence – named Mantra.
The building itself is really quite handsome. Grade II listed, it’s Georgian with add-ons and, inside, sports plenty of bare Bath stone. There’s casual seating towards the windowed front of the restaurant, with a deep, tufted bench in one of the alcoves (which would be perfect for curling up on, post-feed, we thought) as well as tall tables with bar stools.
Through the back is an extension to the original building, which has to be the venue’s biggest sell. The former exterior walls of the restaurant have been left natural while the far end of the room is floor-to-ceiling glass, so you can see through to the outdoor terrace that drops off to reveal an impressive display of Bath’s bordering countryside. The kind of view you really don’t see every day – especially from a city centre joint. This is where I’ve sat in all of the restaurant’s previous incarnations, and it’s where we sat when we visited Mantra for the first time. (There is more seating in the basement, including some in the form of a U-shaped chef’s table facing the kitchen pass.)
Pops of colour have been injected into the otherwise neutral colour palette by way of bright cushions scattered on the banquette seating and hand-painted artwork.
Watching the early evening sun turn golden as it lit up the honey-coloured houses dotted amongst that lush green backdrop, we got the drinks in – an obligatory Cobra for M, and a glass of dry white pour moi (there’s a decent wine list here that’s been curated especially to go with the food).
And so to the menu. Expect Southern Indian-style dosas as well as the likes of slow-cooked spiced lamb shank and fish of the day in Hyderabadi-style salan, as well as some of the usual suspects like chicken tikka masala et al.
It was the four-course set menu (£25) that we ate from. It began – of course – with poppadoms, served broken into shards in a large bowl with fresh-tasting dips. Dosas were next, the thin rice pancakes wrapped around a filling of chicken tikka and served with samba (a spiced sauce made with vegetables and lentils) and an almost fluorescent-yellow coconut chutney. On the side was a really good onion bhaji – crisp but not overdone, it was evenly cooked, golden and sat in a dollop of tangy tamarind chutney.
Mains on this set menu are Hyderabadi chilli chicken and Kashmiri lamb rogan josh, which come with tadka dal, plain naan and pilau rice. The meat in both mains was great – no fatty or gristly bits to speak of and they’d been cooked to their strengths (the lamb slowly, so that the soft hunks broke into flakes, and the chicken so that it stayed juicy and tender). The Hyderabadi-style sauce was the fierier of the two, but with a dry heat that still allowed you to appreciate the blend of spices, while the dark coloured rogan josh was more mild and aromatic.
We were told the way to go about eating these was with the naan – only when that’s all gone should we tuck into the rice. It makes sense, in practice – you can grab the hunks of meat with the bread, while the rice is great for absorbing all that sauce. That said, I’m merely passing on the message – please do eat your Indian food in whichever order you see fit. Go crazy. You maverick, you.
For pud, gulab jamun (a doughy ball made from milk solids and served steeped in syrup) was plated up with a scoop of silky ice cream and chunks of pistachio. Not too heavy after that feed, or overly sweet.
Mantra is partly familiar and partly novel, so you can use it as your regular curry house or neighbourhood dinnertime hangout. Or both. Just keep your fingers crossed it makes it past the tricky two-year mark here.
Mantra, 5 Bladud Buildings, Bath BA1 5LS; 01225 446332
Main image: Leon Day