|Classy Curries on the Broadway|
Meat and two veg at Masala Zone
Going into Masala Zone on Fulham Broadway feels a bit like entering the Tardis. Glancing at it from the street outside, it looks quite small and intimate, but once inside you discover it opens up at the back to a vast seating area with the kitchen at the very far end.
This might be great for big parties, but when you are sitting near the window on a quiet Monday night, you often have to use some form of semaphore to attract the distant waiters.
Anyone who has walked past the restaurant after dark can't fail to have noticed its colourful wall paintings, which the restaurant says have been created in the style of frescoes from grand mansions in Shekawati in Rajasthan.
Masala Zone is part of a chain run by the group which owns more upmarket restaurants like Chutney Mary on Kings Road. Each branch has its own unique decor, which in the Fulham branch also includes dozens of hand made light fittings in an array of colours intended to reflect the spices used in cooking.
All this looks great, but what about the food? Masala Zone's speciality is the traditional thali, a complete meal on a plate with a mound of rice in the middle and a selection of chutneys, papadums and small curries which change every day.
We decided though to do our own thing, and we veggies began by sharing a grazing platter for two (£6.80). This is part of the restaurant's range of "street food" and consists of three mouthfuls, bhel, described as a crunchy salad with chutney and peanuts, plus sev puri and dahl puri - little munchy hiscuits containing mash and chickpeas, served with chutney and yoghurt.
My friend, a connoiseur of bhel poori, pronounced them better than anything she had eaten in the famous restaurants in Drummond Street in Kings Cross.
Our token carnivore decided on shikampuri kebab (£4.50) - minced lamb patties stuffed with herbs - which he said were delicious, though slightly too hot and spicy.
He had the same verdict on his main course, Goa Prawn Curry (£8.40) though to be fair, the menu does have a symbol indicating that this dish, a coastal recipe of coconut, red chillis and tamarind is "medium spiced".
My veggie companion threw caution to the winds and chose one of the more unusual dishes, spicy vegetarian chilli noodles (£8.10) - despite the warning that it was highly spiced. I decided on the more conventional vegetable biriani (£7.35). Both turned out to be enormous bowlfuls.
Of the two, I think the noodles were the slightly tastier choice, and not too fiery. The biriani did not come with its own side dish of vegetable curry, so instead we ordered two separate side dishes, baby spinach with garlic (£2.90) and paneer makhanwalla (£2.60) both of which were excellent.
After seeing we had failed to make major inroads into our mountains of rice and noodles, the waitress offered to give us doggy bags to take home.
Masala Zone's short list of desserts consists of favourite Indian puds which we told ourselves we really ought to sample. The gulab jamun (£3.95), a kind of Indian doughnut in syrup, went down best. The pistachio kulfi (£3.40) sparked a three way debate about whether it needed more defrosting, and the rasmalai (£3.60) described as milk patties in a creamy milk sauce with saffron were rather insipid and cardboardy.
Make an evening of it at Masala Zone, as we did and you might find costs soaring. Washing all that food down with a carafe of drinkable ponte white wine (£9.40) plus two extra glasses, one large (£4.80) and one small (£3.75), one small bottle of sparkling water (£1.80) and four Cobra beers at £3.50 each, our bill came to a hefty £96.25 including an optional service charge of £8.75 and VAT of £12.71, which is not included in the prices on the menu.
But there are ways to enjoy the experience much more cheaply. A good value two course set lunch is available fo £8.75 and you can simply order a thali or one of a large choice of curry and rice dishes, either to eat in or take away, for around £10.
The restaurant has also joined £5erFEST, which sees many local businesses offering a range of special £5 summer deals during Celebrating Fulham, the annual festival of all things SW6 which runs from June26 to July 4.
As its part in £5erFEST, Masala Zone is offering any chicken curry and rice or vegetable curry and rice for £5 before 6.30pm. To take advantage of £5erFEST's offers, you can download vouchers from the council website or pick them up from local libraries and shops.
June 10, 2010