dezzikitty's trip to London for New Year was a lot of fun, even if rather far from planned. The theft of Meg's wallet put a crimp in the joy and indeed there was much that did not go as planned (not least New Year's Eve and the trip to Oxford, the latter of which was highly improvised). Additionally, a can of Coke in my hand luggage became punctured, spraying the contents of my bag with carbonated goo. Despite the small problems, many lovely folk were met; all things considered, I had a fantastic time, and ate a particularly interesting Indian meal. Meg's trip to London was booked long before I knew I would have a long period of time off work for New Year, so I flew back with her to Boston and will be here for another week before I return to the power station.
Despite surveys suggesting that Indian food has overtaken the stereotypical fish'n'chips as the favourite UK takeaway meal, there is not really such a thing as a national chain of Indian restaurants. Accordingly, many people will spend good amounts of time, money and effort working out where the best local Indian restaurant is. Masala Zone might well eventually develop into the fabled Indian restaurant chain and I would not object in the least if it did.
The proprietors, the Masala World group have experience of running high-price Indian restaurants in London for years, but the original Masala Zone restaurant in Soho attracted plaudits for high quality at low prices in a basic environment often compared to a school canteen or to a hypothetical Indian version of Wagamama. Certainly it's a name that crops up from time to time in "good cheap Indian food in London" listings; most recently I saw it in Annie ("Going Underground") Mole's "Eating Cheaply but well in London". (I would back up the recommendation for The Stockpot, based on their second branch on Panton St., by the way.) Masala Zone recently opened a second branch on Upper Street in Islington which is the one we visited, and will be opening a third branch in Earl's Court in April. World domination must surely follow.
The location is reasonably convenient; take the Northern Line to Angel, turn right out of the station, cross the street and keep going up Upper Street for about six minutes or so to number 80. It's next to the "Screen on the Green" cinema, opposite Islington Green bus stop. There is a street patio area with haf a dozen picnic tables, with the indoor restaurant itself reasonably close to a square room with side of about 25'. The walls are painted with fairly simplistic art and the tables are neatly lined, almost cafeteria style. The minimalist effect coupled with the high roof combines to give a feeling of compact efficiency, though not to the extent of discomfort.
This efficiency is borne out by the construction-line nature of the kitchen and the non-stop waiters. The waiters move very quickly and hardly get the chance to stop when the restaurant is busy; I'd love to hook pedometers up to them to count the number of steps they take. Service is refreshingly brisk throughout. This restaurant may have been designed by a time-and-efficiency expert. If Stelios ever decides to branch from EasyPizza (delivery only in Milton Keynes at the moment) to EasyIndian then he may well be impressed by the model in use here. We were in and out in under an hour. This is an absolute Grand Prix of a restaurant.
The signature dish here is the thali - a metal platter with a timbale of rice, a chapati, a poppadom, a couple of dabs of chutneys, a pot of curry of your choice from about 15 and two little pots of vegetable dishes. (I went for the Grand Thali, which comes with a bonus salad - mostly carrot - and an extra pot of veg.) The Indian tendency to name their meals after their containers is noted: balti, thali and so forth. (Are there other examples?)
The food quality is generally very good. Meg's butter chicken was very fine with tender, lean meat. All the veg diskes were fairly simple, but let the quality of the ingredients shine. The chapati was excellent though the optional extra naan bread unusually poor - doughy and dense, rather than the aerated joy that they can be. I would also consider my vegetarian main dish (the last one on the menu with an assortment of slightly unusual veg) to have been slightly oilier than I would've liked.
I enjoyed trying the traditional Indian lemonade drink, which turns out to be salt water with lemonade. Possibly doesn't sound appetising, but works surprisingly well in practice, not least as a "hurry up" pit-stop to get you quickly back to the food, nevertheless refreshed. The mango lassi is unfortunately mango and coconut, so perhaps I will try the berry lassi next time. (Alas, the single prawn dish on the main curry menu also includes coconut, too, thus ruling it out for coconut-allergic prawn fan Meg.)
We had desserts, too; my caramel kulfi had a disappointingly mild taste and was far more satisfactory when left to melt into my mouth half a stick at a time rather than when nibbled gingerly. However, Meg's mango sorbet was exceptionally good. I would recommend the restaurant on the strength of the mango sorbet alone.
The damage was just over £30 including optional suggested service charge, which covered two thalis, two drinks, two desserts and some extra breads. All told, not as wonderful as the Dilshad in Birmingham, but I certainly haven't enjoyed an Indian restaurant in London nearly as much. Likely to see some repeat business from me, I fancy!
To start the year off, a quick reality check. This might be taken as read by you all already, or it might be worth pointing out again for the avoidance of doubt - but better to say it needlessly than to let it go unsaid.
I like all my Friends, but I like some better than others. Nobody is perfect, nobody is awful, all of you have good points and bad points and, for all of you, your good points exceed your bad points to the extent that I trust you at least with my Friends-locked entries. I don't expect any of you to be perfect and I accept you as you are.
This isn't covert bitching at a small number of people, it's a general principle that applies across the board. (There are many of you who I don't know at all well and whose bad points I don't know in much detail yet, but I choose to believe you have them.) For instance, to pick a widely-applicable enough example that it doesn't feel like I'm picking on a few, anyone who smokes has a strike against them in my book. However, that's not a big enough strike for a deFriending on its own, I don't want you to stop smoking on my behalf, I wouldn't ask you to and I wouldn't expect you to do so. If I know you smoke pot and you're still on my Friends list, then you're still cool with me, just a bit less cool. Same thing goes for lots of other things I don't like. I reckon this is probably pretty generally applicable, too.
Again, I stress this is not me trying to have a dig at a small number of people, though if you feel the cap fits then do feel free to wear it. (Conversely, I know there are a few people on my Friends list who I cannot currently look in the face, especially if our connection concerns Quidditch.) However, people tend to have a lot of good karma in my book; it's not as if I'm going to declare you deFriended, let alone defriended, for one indiscretion. And that's all I have to say about that.