Masala Zone Soho

Tel: +44 (0)20 7287 9966
Address: 9 Marshall Street, London W1F 7ER
Cuisine Type: Indian
nearest tube station Oxford Circus

I had high expectations for Masala Zone. Established by the owners of Veeraswamy (which I’ve eaten at and enjoyed) and Chutney Mary (of which I’ve heard nothing but praise), Masala Zone aims to offer “real Indian food on a budget”. More difficult than it sounds or, at least, to do well. But I wasn’t disappointed.

The dining space is open and unfussy, though it’s worth looking out for the London landmarks depicted on the wall decorations, giving a local and modern flavour to what otherwise looks deceptively like basic cave paintings.

We read through the menu as we drank nimboo pani, a sharp and refreshing lemonade, both thirst-quenching and appetite-inducing, and fresh watermelon juice, perfect for our late summer visit. The wide range spans small plates of street food, to larger noodle, curry and rice dishes, to thalis, complete and balanced meals. The latter appear to be a popular choice amongst diners, probably as they come as several bowls of different dishes, giving the opportunity to sample a range of dishes without over-ordering. Choose from chicken, lamb, prawn or vegetarian, or even an ayurvedic thali, which is prepared in accordance with traditional Indian medicine.

However, we decided to order a range of starters and main courses. Our waiter informed us that bhel (£3), a tasty crunchy salad topped with peanuts and chutney, is often sold by street vendors in India in paper cones and is a popular indigenous snack. He also said that dahi puri (£3), little goldfish-bowl shaped biscuits filled with spiced chickpea and potato, are eaten in one mouthful, a feat we couldn’t accomplish without getting it all round the corners of our mouths. We also tried chana dabalroti (£3), an unusual and unexpectedly hot medley of chickpeas, lotus root and toasted bread, which is apparently a famous sindhi dish.

Generous portions (combined with over-ordering, because we wanted to try too many of the dishes) meant that we were almost full before main courses arrived. However, when they did, the aroma was enough to induce another bout of over-eating.

Butter chicken (£6.25) in a creamy tomato based sauce was noteworthy, as was the prawnmalai (£6.95), fat king prawns in a mild coconut sauce. Dhaaba roghan josh (£6.95) featured tender lamb cubes in a vibrant sauce, perfect for mopping up with naan bread. Mushroomkofta curry (£5.50) perhaps couldn’t quite compete with the intensity of the other dishes, butdal, a beautifully prepared version of this classic Indian staple, more than held its own.

We didn’t need dessert (all £2.65), but I wanted to see if Masala Zone would follow in the footsteps of so many other Indian restaurants by offering a disappointing finish to the meal (yeah right, any excuse). Again, we were pleasantly surprised, with unusual choices such assrikhand (strained yoghurt with saffron) with fresh fruit and kheer (chilled Indian chocolate rice pudding). We sampled the gulab jamun (nicely sticky, if a little too sweet) and mangokulfi (made with real fruit).

We waddled away, resisting even the tempting offer of a masala chai or fresh mint infusion to wash everything down. We’ll be back, sooner rather than later, to try those other dishes we would have ordered, had our capacity allowed.

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