Since my trip to London was rather spontaneous, and this is one of the busiest times of the year for me at work, I was not able to dedicate much time to researching the city's culinary scene. (Fish and Chips, anyone?!) Tweets seeking dining advice did not generate much of a response, and googling London food blogs managed to overwhelm me with information. I expressed my complete lack of knowledge on the subject one evening to a friend and he passed along a welcome tip - definitely get Indian food while you're there. Apparently this is a known to-do while in London and in mentioning this to Tricia, she concurred that yes, she had actually heard this as well. And so it was decided, we were going for Indian! But where? Our concierge recommended Masala Zone, with a convenient location close to our hotel. We were staying in the busy and stylish Covent Garden district, and on Saturday morning we set out to explore our surroundings. Venturing into the heart of the neighborhood, we found ourselves instantly enamored with the vibrant streets, lined with everything from designer boutiques and historic theaters to old fashioned pubs and classy brasseries.
The high energy area outside well known Covent Garden Market is home to street performers, The Royal Opera House and the Underground station stop with its eye catching glossy red tile facade and large arched windows. Our lunch destination actually boasts eight locations in various districts throughout the city. The Covent Garden Masala Zone is located steps from the hustle and bustle of James Street at 48 Floral Street. We arrived just after they opened at 12 noon and were greeted immediately by a sweet natured hostess who lead us through the sprawling modern dining room and sat us at a window-side table. To drink I ordered a Kingfisher Lager (£3.80) (India's #1 beer!) The pale amber colored lager was light, crisp and refreshing. It definitely served to pair well with my spicy Indian food. Tricia settled on a Diet Coke (£2.35) . (Everywhere else we have been Europe they call it "Coke Lite", so we were surprised that in England, it is still a good old Diet Coke.)In between sipping our drinks and perusing the menu, we took in the lively decor, where hundreds of colorful puppets are suspended from the ceiling among stuffed elephants and glowing star shaped lanterns. The expansive interior consisted of large floor to ceiling windows on two sides set to a backdrop of exposed brick walls painted a pale peachy pink. A small open kitchen the center of the room displays luminous photographs of the cuisine on the wall above it. Everything on the ground level was pristine and minimal, which nicely balanced out the intricate and exotic decor parading overhead. Our waiters were extremely helpful in explaining the menu specials and offering recommendations. We both appreciated how patient they were with us as we asked questions and took our time deciding. I know that I like Indian food, but the extent to which I've dined out at real Indian restaurants is slim. Adam and I went to Rani in Brookline once, which was fantastic; otherwise, chicken tikki masala, yellow lentils and naan bread at the Faneuil hall take out counter is my go to Indian cuisine. Needless to say, I was super excited for this meal! I finally settled on the two course lunch special (£8.95). I chose a warm vegetable dish called Chana Dabalroti for my starter. A tangy chickpea curry containing lotus root with hunks of toasted bread - oh my goodness, was this incredible!! If I could eat this famous Sinhdi dish everyday for lunch, I absolutely would. Originally when the plate was delivered I wondered to myself - where are the hunks of toasted bread, as described on the menu?I dug in and discovered the bread is hidden within the dish. (Told you I know very little about this cuisine...) The bread absorbed the curry in a way that it became soft and luscious, but was far from mushy. The chickpea curry was amazing, not to mention extremely comforting, with intense flavors and spices that built with every bite. Topped with precisely diced onions, tomatoes and cucumber, the fresh vegetables added a cool contrasting element to ever so subtly balance the warm spicy flavors. Tricia went all out with the Grand Thali (£9.50), forgoing a starter but getting a main dish of her choosing with accoutrements to include a tangy yogurt sauce, yellow lentils, mango chutney, spice rubbed cauliflower, crispy naan bread and more! For my main course I ordered the Chicken Mangalore, with a zesty coconut and tomato flavor base. Once again, I was highly impressed. It had two chilies on the menus spicy scale, and it definitely brought the heat which was nicely tempered by fluffy jasmine rice. Served in a compact mound, it was easy to spoon the rice into the dish to mingle with the chicken and absorb the spicy sauce. The chicken itself was plentiful and delicious, tender chunks were easily cut with a fork.
Masala Zone exceeded my expectations on all accounts. When I initially heard the concierge state the name, I'll admit, I thought it sounded a bit cheesy. But he was so convincing, so matter of fact about it. I'm glad I kept an open mind because his recommendation was spot on. With a casual vibe and service that is both friendly and knowledgeable, we felt extremely welcome, relaxed and content. Offering well priced, delicious cuisine in a contemporary setting with traditional touches, Masala Zone is a superb choice for Indian food in London.
And with that, we were off to ride the London Eye....