(corner with inverness terrace)
75 bishops bridge road
Walking into Masala Zone in Bayswater will definitely help you to wind away any bleak weather blues (at least until you leave again). The walls are brightly decorated with kitsch pop art collages of firecracker labels from the town of Sivakasi, in India. The cheerful staff bounce around the restaurant, bending down at tables to talk to the diners. The atmosphere is a laid-back one, where you can talk at any volume because all sound gets muffled into one unanimous backdrop of pleasant noise.
As we sit down, a waiter comes over and takes us through the extensive menu, which covers Indian street food, regional currys, thalis, tandooris, biriyanis and even noodles. Unbeknownst to him, my decision was already made. The grand thali of course -‘the traditional way Indian families eat at home…a balanced combination of nutrition, flavours, texture and colours’. Sold. Despite the thali being described as equivalent to a main course and a starter, I still order a grazing platter. You know, just to whet the appetite. The platter consists of a satisfying combination of crispy whole-wheat clusters, piquant chutney, cooling yogurt and spiced mash.
Next up, the grand thali, a feast for the eyes and eager stomach. Two small bowls filled with spiced vegetables, a spinach dal and a raita surround a pile of rice, folded chapatti and standing papadum. On the right side is my bowl of butter chicken (apparently the authentic version of chicken tikka massala) and to my left, two small dollops of pineapple and earthy coriander chutney, along with a chunk of lentil bread. For a moment I go into a daze, not quite sure where to start. But then my jovial waiter kneels down and gives me clear instructions on how to tackle the thali. My friend has a big grin on her face “ Isn’t it great when you get lots of tiny things on a plate and then instructions on how to eat them!” Yes I guess it does enhance the dining experience and save you from looking like a lost puppy. The spiced vegetables and spinach dal are definitely the highlight. Each packed with depth and flavour and lovingly scooped up with a freshly baked chapatti. My friend’s dhaaba roghan josh, was intensely perfumed and packed in some welcoming spice. Unlike my butter chicken, which was suitably creamy and tangy but tasted more like a child’s curry than the real deal.
Indian desserts aren’t exactly renowned and most often require an acquired taste for strangely textured or overly sweet puddings. I decide to take the risk and order a gulab jamun with ice cream, whilst my friend orders the rasmalai (milk patties in saffron milk). Warm syrup oozes out of the spongy sphere and combines well with the vanilla ice-cream. Before long the bowl is clean and I find myself reaching over to my friend’s rasmalai. Unfortunately it has the texture of two tatty loofers drowning in sweet scented milk, dotted with pistachios…an acquired taste I guess.
As I leave the restaurant, I realise that it’s quite an achievement to eat such an Indian feast without feeling sick and bloated at the end. Masala Zone certainly hits the nail on the head by delivering healthy Indian food, cooked and served with passion in a contemporary laid back atmosphere with a menu to suit everyone’s needs (including diabetics) and all for an incredibly reasonable price. A winning formula if you ask me.
A meal for two without wine will set you back by around £30.
Reviewer: Leila Sarraf