Alphonso mangoes are almost indecently delicious and decadent, more than such an outwardly humble-looking fruit has any right to be. Inside, though, is a different story: the fragrant, juicy flesh is the colour of tropical sunsets, and its sweet-tart taste, a slice of heaven.
The fruit is highly celebrated in India, from where it originates. It's grown in the Konkan region of Maharashtra as well as Gujarat in western India; plus some parts of the south. Indians anticipate the Alphonso season — from April to around late June/early July — eagerly.
In India, newspapers give daily updates on prices; and everyone buys them by boxes of twelve. There are mango festivals, mango menus, and even mango-only courier services to deliver to friends and family. The fruit is diced, sliced and pulped; and cooked in pakoras or added to lassis, kulfis and sweetmeats. They're also delicious in cakes and desserts.
Some of this mango mania has reached London in recent years — there’s constant competitive tweeting and Instagramming of Alphonso these days. The fruit was first introduced here for the Queen’s coronation in 1953, and has steadily grown in popularity.
However, it was banned in the UK between May 2014-January 2015, after fruit flies were found in shipments from India to the EU. This led to an outcry, and the ban was eventually lifted after successful campaigning from retailers such as Fruity Fresh in Wembley, with support from various food writers and government ministers.
Other than this little blip, Alphonso mangoes are becoming more and more widely available. You can buy them at many Indian shops and greengrocers such as these. Large supermarkets stock them; as do good online retailers like Natoora.
An increasing number of London restaurants have been introducing limited-edition fresh Alphonso dishes on their menus in the last few years. Yogesh Datta, chef-patron of The Painted Heron and Bangalore Express, explains their appeal:
With a distinct aroma that is different from the rest of the varieties of mango, the Alphonso is usually very sweet, which helps to create that hot-sweet dichotomy in a dish, and creates that wow effect.
So let’s make the most of this incredible golden 'king of fruits during its far-too-short season.
The Painted Heron: Chef Yogesh Datta’s smart Indian in Chelsea has just opened a new al fresco dining area called the Heron Terrace. To coincide with the opening, the restaurant itself has launched a new a la carte menu. You really can make a meal of mangoes here. There’s Alphonso with paneer and chilli poppadum spring rolls for starter; a main of tandoori baby chicken with watercress and Alphonso-sweetcorn salad, and an Alphonso and coconut curry as a side dish. Finish with an Alphonso kulfi accompanied by fresh mangoes.
Chakra on Holland Street: Enjoy Alphonso in all three courses of the a la carte menu of this swish new north Indian in Kensington. Start with crispy lotus root with spring onions, 'tamarind pearls', Alphonso and cress. Then try Alphonso salsa with tandoori Gressingham duck breast for your main; and finish with Alphonso kulfi with diced mango and mango sauce.
Gauthier Soho: Alexis Gauthier's wonderful French restaurant serves two Alphonso desserts. On their spring lunch menu, there's Alphonso with peanut praline sponge, pineapple salad and coconut sorbet; and there’s also a gluten-free rum baba with fresh Alphonso and mango-black pepper sorbet.
Indigo: One Aldwych hotel's restaurant is gluten- and dairy-free for lunch and dinner. On its pre-theatre menu, there's a dessert of Alphonso mango sorbet with passion fruit jelly and coconut.
Gymkhana: Karam Sethi's highly acclaimed and award-winning upscale Indian serves fresh Alphonso and lime falooda with Alphonso kulfi.
Trishna: Gymkhana's older sibling is a firm Marylebone favourite, and serves Alphonso and passion fruit sorbet as part of its trio of sorbets.
Kurobuta: Aussie chef Scott Hallsworth has created uramaki (inside out roll) with Alphonso, crab, cucumber, shiso and mango-layu mayo. (Layu is a type of spicy sesame oil). It's served on the specials menu at all three branches of his contemporary Japanese restaurant.
The Cinnamon Club: Available until at least 1 June, this smart Indian in Westminster is serving Alphonso mango and pistachio kulfi with vermicelli kheer on their set lunch menu.
Brunswick House: Vauxhall’s contemporary British serves a painterly dessert of Alphonso with chilled almond milk rice pudding and black sesame, in equally arty surroundings.
Thali: Kensington's celeb favourite north Indian serves lassi, chutney and kulfi all made from Alphonso.
A Wanted Man: Chelsea's new espresso canteen (with a brow bar and waxing salon attached, natch) is serving Alphonso in a couple of dishes. It's added to their 'reboot me muesli- — a gluten- and dairy-free cereal made from oats soaked in cold-pressed almond milk, topped with fresh apple strands. It also features in their nori roll: brown rice seaweed sushi with Alphonso and avocado.