Seconds away from the Royal Opera House, with pre-theatre menus and fast service, Masala Zone Covent Garden is the ideal place to grab a curry before an evening of high culture.
Chic and cheerful, it manages to stay one step ahead of the usual chain restaurant and with simple wooden tables and a light, airy atmosphere it attracts a sophisticated West End crowd. Its open plan, airy dining area can seat more than 150 and feels roomy and spacious, set out with simple tables that can accommodate an intimate evening for two or party sizes up to seventy.
As part of the popular Masala Zone chain, which now has several branches across London, the menu is a known quantity but with such a wide choice that’s hardly a disadvantage – the street food starters, sharing platters and thalis are great for those who need a quick turn around on their lunch break or before the opera starts, and knowing what’s on offer before you walk in can help to cut valuable time that would otherwise be spent perusing the menu.
For those who haven’t had the Masala Zone experience before, friendly staff are on hand to talk you through the menu – including, for the uninitiated, tips on how to eat the various dishes. With hot and cold starters from around £4, thalis from just over £10 and main courses for £8-9, it’s decent value even before the special offers. Two and three course lunch or pre-theatre menus can take the prices down to less than £20 for two.
Usefully, for those on the move, it’s perfectly possible to fit two courses into a lunch hour. To start, we plump for samosas with curried chick peas, and dahi puri filled with chick pea mash splashed with yoghurt and chutneys, both of which are full of flavour. To follow, we risk the Masala Chili Paneer – which, with a two chili rating is at the top end of the menu’s spiciness scale but manages not to be overbearing, and Butter Chicken, with a side order of fresh and tasty baby spinach with garlic. The portions are beautifully presented and more filling than they look – somehow managing to be an Indian version of nouvelle cuisine and an entire day’s nourishment at once.
The drinks menu is equally versatile, with the soft drinks as appealing as the extensive wine menu. Nimbu pani, a refreshing Indian lime squash, is a perfect complement to the spiciness of the food, and there is a long list of fruit juices to choose from, including pomegranate, mango and apple and mint.
All in all, lunch at Masala Zone is an extremely satisfying experience. Busy without being crowded, chic without being pretentious, good value without cutting corners, the food is lighter than the average curry house and perfect for lunch or early evening dining before an afternoon back in the office or a night at the Opera.