These are great times that we live in – we live in the time of the viral. The instant. The I-Can-Set-Up-An-Interview-With-The-Mooli’s-Boys-On-Twitter-In-150-Characters-Or-Less. Yup, this all happened because I Tweeted them asking if I could pop down for a chat and some photos, and their speedy response was, “Deal. Best to come by after peak time though (2pm)”. How amazing is that? Sometimes Twitter is totally useless, but sometimes it’s perfect.
Sam (left) & Mathew (right), the co-owners of Mooli’s, are two of the nicest, most genuine and generous guys you will ever meet… and they’re cute, to boot. Within minutes of me arriving at 50 Frith Street, the Mooli’s home since mid-September 2009, Sam had thrust a complimentary refreshing mango lassi in my hand (which I definitely needed after my jaunt into Soho from Hammersmith!) and was chatting away to me with a big smile on his face, despite the fact that he was watching the England vs. Slovenia match on his MacBook. In fact, all the staff were watching the match on his MacBook, except for Mathew who was across the road at a karaoke bar, watching the match there. Whoops – I scheduled my interview during England’s World Cup match.
Sam had to run off to deliver some Moolis up the road, but fetched Mathew from the karaoke bar during half-time to chat to me, and it’s clear when they start talking about Mooli’s that they’re passionate about what they do and, more importantly, they’re passionate about food. Again and again the words that keep coming up are ‘tasty’, ‘delicious’, ‘yummy’; their eyes light up when they talk about it. In fact, the boys start chatting away about Mooli’s before I even have time to get my voice-recorder out of my bag, so I scribble notes furiously as Sam is packing up his delivery, telling me that they’re keen on keeping Mooli’s simple – they started off with only five Moolis on their menu, a number which has now crept up to seven, and is possibly set to become eight if Germany make it to the Final (Sam has a new concoction up his sleeve, apparently!) – because they feel that quality suffers otherwise. The bread, their rotis, are made fresh every day using their special machine Moolita, and if they tried to do more mistakes would be made; which just tells you how keen the Mooli’s boys are on fresh, tasty, quality food. They’re 100% thoughtful about their business, but they’re fun, and maybe that’s why I instantly liked them.
Sam’s favourite Mooli? Hard to say and he pulls a face when I ask him, claiming that it’s unfair to make him choose – can he have a top three? Okay, favourite today? Sam thinks for a while and then chooses their newest Mooli – the Bobotie. He tells me that last night at 2am he had a sudden craving for the Bobotie and so (for today) that one’s his favourite! He also elaborates on why he thinks Moolis are great – they’re new and exciting and (for now) you don’t get Moolis anywhere else. They’re tasty, but they’re different; then, boxes in hand, Sam runs off for his delivery, and Mathew and I settle down for a quick chat.
It must be said that whilst Mooli’s was empty when I arrived (thanks to the World Cup), in the middle of my interview a guy came in to buy a Mooli and when asked if he wanted a bag to take it away in said, “No thanks, I’m going to eat it as I go!” and looked more than happy to be doing so. I guess that’s the real testament to Mooli’s – customer satisfaction.
Me: So what exactly is a Mooli?
Mathew: It’s a product that we invented actually, easiest described as a roti roll, and we make the fresh roti every day like an Indian flat-bread – wholemeal, very fresh, very light, no preservatives. We’ve chosen some really interesting fillings, like a Goan pork with a pomegranate salsa, or spicy lamb mince with mango chutney and scrambled egg, or Punjabi goat with cumin potatoes, so really interesting fillings; and then each of them has their own complimentary chutney which makes them very fresh, very zingy. So it’s a sort of roti roll but much better than any roti roll anyone’s ever made!
Me: How did you come up with the fillings?
Mathew: Actually just many, many, many years of experimentation in our kitchen. We had a market stall, we tried out stuff from our customers – I think everybody asks us “where did you come up with your stuff”, and there’s no real answer. In a way you get inspiration from something you had, you think: “oh, that would be really nice in a roti”, and then you add on what else you think would go with that, so you add some cumin potatoes, and you say, “okay it’s still missing something”, and then you add on maybe an apple chutney, and then it tastes great. It has evolved. But it’s definitely not something you’ve had before, it brings back memories of things you’ve had before but actually they’re all our creations.
Me: You guys have been open now for, what, six months, just over six months?
Mathew: Um, seven months now, yeah, this is our eighth month.
Me: And how’s it going?
Mathew: Good! It’s still exciting.
Me: And you’ve got regulars now?
Mathew: Lots of regulars! Lots of new customers in the last couple of months, we’ve had some very good reviews, so lots of new people, but I’d probably say 60-70% of our customers are regulars, they come in three times a week, maybe? Yeah, the one thing we try to do is keep it quite fresh and quite light so people feel like they could eat Moolis every day… I eat Moolis every day! Happy to eat Moolis every day…
Me: And you’ve got pretty much a viral marketing campaign going on with Twitter and the website and everything, and you guys got Mowie in to do your photography – has that been a major source for your customers?
Mathew: I think in some ways it’s difficult to track because you don’t really know where the customers are coming from, but it’s been fun using social media, I think that was part of the game. We didn’t really think about it as a marketing tool as much as it’s turned out to be. Certainly yeah, Twitter, Facebook, our blog – in fact our blog has been really good because we’ve been writing our blog since before we opened here so people felt like they were part of the story. Twitter I’d say, if I had to guess – random guess – is probably responsible for about 25% of our customers. It is one of those things – people on Twitter like to talk about things they like, and they’ve got friends who like similar things, so someone likes you and they talk about you, and then their friends talk about you, so then it becomes viral. I think Twitter has been a nice way to talk about what’s happening over here, you know, “we’re watching the game and nobody’s at Mooli’s – where is everybody?” – it’s the most random things people seem to find interesting.
Me: People like to have an insight into you!
Mathew: Yeah! I think if you use social media as a viral marketing tool it doesn’t work. If you consciously say, “oh I’m going to try and tell everybody how great we are” then people are like, “bleurgh! I use Twitter for fun and if you’re only trying to sell to me then I’m not interested… but if you can tell me a little more about what’s really happening and what you really enjoy, or what you don’t like about your job, or what it really is like to be rich then I’m interested”. I think people are really interested in what happens in a restaurant. Everybody seems to want to be a restauranteur, live the dream, and we’ve had this rule where nothing is off limits – we can say whatever we want on Twitter, whether we’re giving trade-secrets away or whatever. People have told us it’s bad, we’ve given recipes away, we’ve given, I dunno, everything away! But I think it’s much better to just tell people what you’re doing. If people copy you, eh, big deal.
Me: And you’re still the original!
Mathew: Yeah! It’s the original and then hopefully they’ll feel bad and stop!
Me: So originally you only had five Moolis, now you’re kind of expanding into seven…
Mathew: Yeah, we’re violating our original rules actually! We said we’d never have more than five and it started with the Goat, and it’s become so popular. People come in and say, “I want a Goat Mooli, I want a Goat Mooli”, and it means we can’t take it off! Everybody’s writing about it and it’s just become so popular, and now it’s seven because of the World Cup – we have a really exciting South African inspired Mooli. So we have seven but as soon as the World Cup’s over we’ll be back to six – promise!
Me: But maybe a couple of your customers will still want it there…
Mathew: We think they will, but I think it’s most exciting to keep doing new stuff. I think people always want something there and then, that’s always popular, but really strictly we’ve got to keep it simple, keep it limited, because that’s the only way to make sure it’s also very good. If we expand to ten Moolis we’ve lost the plot a little bit!
Me: Go on then, what’s your favourite Mooli?
Mathew: Um… I think it’s an unfair question!
Me: Ha! Okay, your favourite today then!
Mathew: I do actually think all seven are very good. And all seven are on the menu because they’re very good, we’d never put a Mooli on the menu if it wasn’t good enough. That said, today, if I had to eat a Mooli now… I’d have the Bobotie for sure… but it’s also our newest one so it’s the most exciting!
Me: What does the future hold for Mooli’s? World domination?
Mathew: Yeah, I think world domination!…but slowly, if that makes sense. One day we’ll be everywhere but today we’re in Soho and we take it in steps. Slow steps, because actually we know a lot of people who have expanded too fast and not been good enough to expand fast, and when I say ‘good enough’ I mean have the system, people, and operations to expand and take over the world. So, if you want to take over the world make sure you’re ready for it! So we do want to be everywhere and we’re doing it because we think Mooli’s has a place everywhere – any good city anywhere!
After the interview I try my first ever Mooli (the Chicken) and Mathew watches me from the corner of his eye (whilst keeping the other firmly on the football match). It is awesome. The roti is soft, the filling is moist and juicy with a distinct coriander twist. I’m an instant fan. Mathew asks, “How was your first bite?” with a big smile on his face. I can definitely say: “Delicious” and I’m trying very hard to keep my composure, because all I really want to do is scream, “OH MY GOD I’M HAVING A MOUTH ORGASM” and shove the whole thing into my gob. For the sake of professionalism, however, I refrain. Now it’s Mathew’s turn to run off, he’s promised to bring the crew down at the karaoke bar some Moolis for their lunch, and Sam, back from his delivery a little while later, asks exactly the same question and then insists that I try the Bobotie Mooli fresh before I pack up my Mooli’s goodie bag and trundle off home. The Bobotie is even better than the Chicken – I think it’s a real shame that they’re taking it off the menu when the World Cup is over, but I understand their reasoning. Sam tells me that the chicken is his least favourite of them all (but still loves it) because he likes his Moolis with a little more punch – after tasting the Bobotie I’m inclined to agree, despite the fact that I lean more towards the mild side of things than too spicy. Don’t get me wrong, I love spice, but a little too much is sometimes, well, a little too much. The Bobotie, however, is spot on.
The Paneer is refreshing if a little on the bland side, but bear in mind that I say this having already tasted the Chicken and Bobotie which are much more chock-full of flavour. The coriander and apple in the Chicken is incredibly refreshing, and the flavour is fresh, wholesome – you really feel like you’re eating chicken here, not just something that’s come out of a factory. The Bobotie has all sorts of crazy flavours going on, with lamb mince, scrambled egg, an intense red onion relish – in Sam’s own words, “the Bobotie is really random” and it is, but in a good way. The Goat is famous in its own right and with good reason – it’s soft, tender, juicy, practically melts in your mouth, and is beautifully accompanied by the potatoes, all wrapped up in that phenomenal roti. Sam and Mathew have more than earned their bragging rights for what they call “a roti wrap that is better than any roti wrap you’ve had before”. The Goat’s my favourite, then the Bobotie, Chicken and Paneer, but Momma Lee loves the freshness of the chicken, and Brother the spicyness of the Bobotie. Like the Moolis themselves we’re diverse but can all agree on one thing: they’re tasty. Momma Lee declares that the flavours, textures and unique mix of spices have a perfect marriage in the Moolis, and I’m barely surprised – Mathew did tell me that they spent years perfecting them. We resolve to go back soon to try the remaining three Moolis on the current menu and have them fresh – they are best fresh but still fantastic after a little travel.
Incidentally, you know how I said that the Mooli’s boys were generous? Sam sends me off with a bag full of four mini Moolis (Chicken, Bobotie, Goat & Paneer), a whole range of their special chutneys to try (mango for me, green chilli for Brother, tomato and yoghurt just because we have to try them), a bag of roasted poppadoms (which are awesome by the way – you must try them! They’re peppery and crunchy and have a lovely toasted flavour), my mango lassi AND a Kulfi ice-cream (which I devoured on the way home – sorry!), specially made for Mooli’s. He also offered me a job at one point – seriously Sam, want to just give me Mooli’s? Anyone that can send me packing with a bag full of food immediately gets a big fat gold star next to their name!
I take my bounty of Moolis home on the tube, clutching them to my chest like a possessive mother, passing ecstatic England supporters on the way, but I don’t care about the football, all I can think about are Moolis, Sam and Mathew, and I can’t seem to stop grinning.
Why should you visit Mooli’s? Sam & Mathew have Twitter-inspired 140-characters-or-less reasons to share with you:
Mathew: “Eat @ Mooli’s coz we’re delicious and dare to be different.”
Sam: “They’re incredibly yummy/tasty!”
Also, because Sam & Mathew are so incredibly generous and awesome, if you go in, tell them you read the blog and quote “I Am A Feeder“, they’ll give you a free Mango Lassi or Kulfi! Let me know if you do go in – I’d love to know what you thought of your Mooli (or two… or three… or four… or seven…)
50 Frith Street
Until next time – peace and love.