Is your London based curry experience one of being conscripted with the offer of free beer and poppadoms, only to be faced with some sloppy, indeterminable "meat" masked in overly (or under-ly) heated and suspiciously pigmented sauce, served with a naan bread you could more easily sleep under than digest, and naff music which says in your ears longer than the ensuing indigestion stays in your stomach? Well leave these misconceptions at the very elegant door to Covent Garden's Moti Mahal, and prepare to learn a little about the cuisine, its history and the possibilities it possesses. It's impossible to look at a lamb kebab the same way again, and there's not a Bollywood video or illuminated waterfall in sight.
Once a month, their bijou yet amazingly calm kitchens are open to the public to learn the science of spice blending, guided by Head Chef Anirudh Arora. Those lucky enough to get a place as part of the small monthly intake will learn techniques for marinades and pastes to create five dishes over a two-hour session in the kitchen, to ensure that your home cooking becomes the thing of legend.
Chef Ani has an awe inspiring background - from India's renowned Oberoi hotels via the Michelin starred Benares in Green Park - which he has used to temper the traditional rural Indian dishes he experienced on his travels along the Grand Trunk Road from West Bengal to north India and Afghanistan. Yet this is more than simply a cookery lesson, as it takes in the subtleties of regional Indian cuisine, the influences of geography and topography, the history of the dishes, menu planning, the running of a commercial kitchen, a little butchery and extensive introduction to the many expensive gadgets at his disposal. All the while, a small army of seemingly psychic staff ensure that the level of attention to detail and air of calm in the kitchen is precisely akin to that in the dining room, which is no mean feat amidst the hubbub of preparation for Saturday's dinner service.
The small group size enables each participant to experience for themselves not only how but why certain processes are undertaken in the creation of each dish, as Chef Ani rattles through an encyclopedic collection of herbs and spices many will not have even heard of, detailing the specific nuances and effects on taste of each until every participant nods comprehendingly.
Mentally exhausted (and sometimes physically so from all the chopping, stirring and mincing) the final stop for the group is in the luxuriously chic surroundings of the bar, where Chef Ani once again dazzles with a dexterous display of opening lemonade bottles for the creation of a spiced cocktail - a Gin Shikanji - to pique the taste buds before a seemingly never ending array of starters, main courses and puddings - including those created by the group - are lain down before the ravenous students, who leave that afternoon satiated (for which read "greedily over-stuffed") and armed with a beautifully presented spice blending starter kit.
Even for £75, this is an absolute bargain - especially for that annoying friend or relative you can never find a present for. Courses run one Saturday of every month throughout the year, from 10.30am (it's worth dragging yourself out of bed, honest) until 3pm.