Restaurant Review: Chez Mumtaj, St Albans
Food and drink editor Richard Cawthorne catches up with a new style of haute cuisine over lunch with Chad Rahman at Chez Mumtaj
MOST of what you need to know about Chad Rahman you can find from his menu. It is a work of art, deliberately so in keeping with the ambience of his new restaurant, Chez Mumtaj in St Albans. Thus his first choice for a lunch dish, taken from the all-day a la carte, is labelled simply 'black cod' and the second 'lamb shank'. Read on, and the Chez Mumtaj style, what Chad has dubbed modern French-Asian cuisine, becomes apparent. The black cod is wild catch Alaskan black cod in Colombo curry emulsion served with freshly grated coconut rice and spinach. The lamb shank is Kashmiri-style Welsh lamb shank, slow cooked in beetroot juice with spinach herbed rice, potato rosti, barrelled French beans, baby carrots and rogan josh sauce.The environment for these treats is as lavish as the food. Chez Mumtaj occupies a large double-fronted building refurbished to provide what Chad describes as 'elegant and intimate dining in a classy and club-like setting', and promising customers 'meticulous attention to detail'. As if to prove the point, he acts as his own location manager during the Hertfordshire Life photo-shoot, rearranging food on the plate, wiping away excess sauce, even replacing one dish of lamb for another he feels is more representative of what the kitchen produces.Chad makes little secret that he is living a dream with his restaurant. The idea for the cuisine was nurtured over a long period, beginning with formal training at the Conrad Hilton hotel school in Houston, Texas, and refined through his work at a series of prestigious hotels and restaurants during which he was exposed to various ethnic influences, mainly French, Indian, Malaysian, Thai and Mexican.Despite that, he says he hates the word fusion. 'I have taken the best flavours from the East and the West but it's not fusion - that suggests you are mixing everything up, which is not what we do,' he says. 'What we do is food based on the Asian philosophy of natural seasonal flavours enhanced by classic techniques of European cuisine.' He doesn't make a big thing about it, but helping him along is a string of international and national awards that not only attest to his skill but gave him the confidence to go ahead with the Chez Mumtaj project. Another factor was the success of his first restaurant, Mumtaj Tandoori, one of St Albans' original and highly-regarded curry houses, still going strong after 25 years just down the road from the new venture.The a la carte at Chez Mumtaj is kept deliberately small - 12 starters and 12 mains - to enable the team to focus on quality and regular changes according to availability of fresh supplies and popularity of dishes, although Chad says the last point remains largely untested after the six months of the new restaurant's existence because they all continue to sell well.Other options at lunch include a set menu on weekdays at �14.95 for two courses and �16.95 for three courses, both with coffee and with a choice of five starters and six mains. Starters include salt and pepper squid salad, while popular among the mains is confit of Barbary duck leg on ratatouille of puy lentils in red wine jus. Completing the Chez Mumtaj offer is the Saffron Lounge, where customers can gather for pre-luncheon and dinner drinks and sample Asian tapas. Like the main restaurant, it features mahogany panelled walls, luxurious leather banquette seating and antique mirror-panelled walls.Above all, Chad says his philosophy, which is also enshrined on his website, is to be 'innovative, progressive, persistent and passionate with our cuisine and service'. Plenty of satisfied customers believe he is succeeding.
Chez MumtajCenturian House136-142 London RoadSt Albans AL1 1PQ01727 800033www.chezmumtaj.com