When I strap on my trainers and run around Stonehaven, I am frequently delighted by the animals I can spot – a red squirrel scampering up a tree, a deer darting away through the woods, an elephant shooting flames from its trunk.
Actually, I’ve only ever seen the elephant do that the once, but it’s always there, standing guard in the garden of Carron To Mumbai, the town’s Art Deco Indian restaurant.
The eye-catching sculpture is on the last leg of my on-off training scampers. Every time I pass it I think “I should go eat there sometime”.
After all, this running malarkey is purely to justify my real hobby – eating curry and drinking beer.
So, finally about a year after it opened its doors – complete with that never-repeated whoosh of flame from the elephant – my wife and I decided to venture in.
The entrance on Evan Street has caught my eye as I pass as often as the fiery pachyderm. It’s a chic 30s cocktail bar, complete with plush leather sofas and booths for diners to ease themselves into a night of opulence.
We, however, had our sights firmly fixed on eating, so headed down the corridor towards the main dining room.
When I say “corridor” I mean train carriage straight out the Orient Express, with elegant tables and “windows” looking out on views to landmarks and countryside around Mumbai. It’s designed to give you the idea of being on a journey. It works.
Your destination is the Carron’s sumptuous dining room. Now, this is a space that should be declared a national treasure. When opened as the Carron Tea Room it was an Art Deco delight, tricked out like an ocean liner restaurant, complete with a Picasso-inspired mirror. It spent years languishing as a supermarket storeroom before being refurbished and brought back to life as a place to eat and enjoy.
Its current incarnation has seen it transformed again but without changing the essentials or character of the room. It has a beautiful blue ceiling and upper walls, the colour of the evening sky moments before the first star appears.
That gives way to 30s-style geometric wooden panels, with the massive bay window and glass doors facing the riverside garden imbuing the place with light, almost bringing the outdoors inside.
Truly, you do stop in your tracks to take it all in…usually with a grin at how, well, sumptuous it is.
There is, however, only so much gawping at an interior you can do. Food was the agenda here, hopefully of a calibre to match the surrounds.
Now, I am no stranger to curries and the various forms of the cuisine. But the Carron’s menu held things of wonder and mystery, dishes I’ve never seen before that had an exotic ring to them. I mean, what is Haven Harbour Kekada? The best way to find out was to simply take the plunge and order.
Which was an easy job in itself, given the warm welcome we received and the prompt, friendly and attentive service.
We settled in with drinks in hand – a nice cold lager for me and a refreshing gin for my missus (who was extremely impressed with the gin range, by the way).
Then it was time just to chat and to notice the wee details – like the original zodiac signs on the wall, picked out in white, or the potted plants dotted around, including a flame-leafed shrub.
And how busy it was, as more and more people made their journey down the train carriage. We were glad we booked.
Our starters arrived and that theme of looking in wonder continued… the artistry of the restaurant’s design clearly carried on to the plate.
When my wife chose the da’ali shobzi batata we expected the description of chopped vegetables, lentils, spices and gram flour – deep fried – to be posh pakora. It turned out to be four towers of inviting looking patties, topped with a creamy sauce. Biting in, it was a sticky lush melange of broccoli, carrot, potato and green beans that offered up a gentle slap of chilli to keep your tastebuds on their toes.
The only downside was the way it was both filling and more-ish. You wanted to stop eating to leave room for the mains, but you couldn’t. Well, I couldn’t.
Which was surprising because I had already hoovered up my own choice of starter, the aforementioned harbour kekada thing. It was presented in a small bowl, with a layer of diced potato over the top, drizzled with cream. My first forkful brought a moue of disappointment from me. It was lukewarm.
Digging in, though, I got to the heart of the dish and what had attracted me to it. Locally caught crab, spiced and dressed with olive oil. Unlike the top layer, this was hot. It was also lush, almost beyond words. The subtle flavour of the crabmeat was front and centre, but at the back came bright spices and a lovely hit of chilli. It was the perfect balance of flavours and had me looking across the table just going “mmmmm!” while quietly being thankful my other half doesn’t like crab. This was mine, all mine.
Starters were now out of the way – an overenthusiastic waiter whisked away the shobzi before I had finished the last mouthful, but to be honest I was grateful he did. There was the small matter of main dishes still coming our way. Oh, and more lager and gin.
My other half had kept up the trying new things theme with a ginger roshni bata with chicken.
I was on more familiar ground with a Moghul special. After all, if this was good enough for “Maharajas at the time of the Moghul Empire” as the menu declared, then it was good enough for me.
To mop all of this up, we decided to share a lemon rice and a garlic naan. We didn’t have too long to wait for the next round of feasting to begin.
The roshni bata was an elegant dish, a rich red colour with perfectly cooked chicken slathered in a rich and chunky sauce. The first bite gave a tang of tomato with the ultra-freshness of coriander leaves, then a pleasing crunch of onion. And then the chilli turned up and very welcome it was too.
On my first bite of the lamb Moghul special I thought the Maharajas had been short-changed. It was a bit “meh”. But on the second bite the ginger announced its presence, then the onion kicked in and just to make sure I knew the taste party had started, the chilli burst in. The beauty of this dish was the way it was multi-layered. You could make out the individual tastes but they all came together to create far more than the sum of their parts. And with the tender, melting lamb, we had a winner.
It’s worth noting the small touches that made this a special meal. The lemon rice had cashews shot through it, the Moghul had a tiny, perfectly cooked quail’s egg. All of it created a special meal.
The setting of Carron To Mumbai is an Instagramable delight, from train carriages to Art Deco splendour. It’s more than matched by the food. Don’t think curry, think fine dining that befits one of the north-east’s most exquisite dining rooms. All of this at prices that are more than reasonable. Let’s just say I’m going to keep running if it means I can keep going to the Carron – even if just for the kekada.