The Camden branch of the chain continues to focus on fresh-tasting, healthier Indian food at impressively affordable prices.
Situated a stone's throw from Camden Town tube station, it has a great location. As with all the other branches, the restaurant has a theme, with this one's funky beaded lampshades, posters from the 1930s and 1940s advertising Western products and an open kitchen covered in modern Indian art bringing some colourful Bollywood decor. The dining area is large and full of brown wooden tables. There's a big space downstairs to cater for big groups too.
It's all very laid back and relaxed. Expect to see everyone from workers taking advantage of the midweek lunch offers to families and shoppers stopping off for a bite to eat at the weekend, and couples taking advantage of the sharing menu. Staff are well trained and take you through the meals on offer, explaining the daily thali specials and anything you don't understand.
The venue takes a unique approach to Indian dining and focuses on street food, thalis, noodles in curry sauce and Indian grills – emphasising the way Indian people eat at home and focusing on not using too much oil in the dishes. It’s great value and unlikely to cost you more than £15 a head – even less at lunch time.
The starter grazing items start at £3.95 and feature traditional Indian street foods, such as the cold starter dish Bhel – a tangy crunchy salad made with puffed rice, vegetables, peanuts and chutneys. Although this is very dry, it’s well formed in a small rounded heap and the spices are delicious. The dahi puri is also very flavoursome. Made of puffed, hollow biscuits filled with chickpea mash and yogurt, it isn't the easiest dish to eat – and the staff will insist you eat it all in one – but it's worth the effort. The yoghurt is a refreshing way to start the meal, in more ways than one.
For main, the focus is on the thali (starting at £6.70 for a regular, £8.45 for a grande – equivalent to a two-course meal). This consists of a platter of a poppadom, chutney, a curry from the curry section, two vegetables, dal and rice or chapatti. The mildly spiced vegetarian undhlyo and lentil khichdi curry is a mouthwatering choice. All the veg is cooked to perfection and the various flavours from the sweet potato, purple yam, baby aubergine, raw banana, val dal with greens and snow peas go very well together. Made with coconut and tomato, the chicken mangalore is a deliciously creamy and slightly spicier option. The chicken pieces are tender and gently spiced, and you get a reasonable amount of meat.
If you're looking to alter the spice in your dish, then you'll be disappointed, with the staff offering fresh chillis on the side but insisting you should simply enjoy the unique flavors in each dish. While the vegetable dishes vary from day to day, the lentil dahl is a good staple that comes with all the thalis. It's deliciously thick and great for dipping the warm and fluffy wholewheat chapatti or crispy poppadom in, something that's particularly useful as the dollops of chutney are small. If you're looking for a side dish, the baby spinach with garlic (£2.30) is also great for dipping chapatti in. Served in a simple round bowl, the garlic seasoning is just right so the spinach isn’t too bitter.
Desserts focus on fruits and sorbets. The Kulfi ice cream (£3.40) is a delicious choice. The gentle flavours of caramel, mango and pistachio ice cream are creamy, but not too sickly, and they gently cleanse the palate after the spices. The sprinkling of pomegranates adds a tangy zest.
If you’re looking to soothe the spice, try the fruity lassi yogurt drinks or chaas. All priced under £2, they’re great value for money too. The Masala Coke – Coke with fresh mint, coriander and lemon juice - is a great pick for the more experimental. Beers start at £3 for a bottle and are of Indian and European origin. While the wine list could be seen as a little random, the Merlot Corvina House Red (£13.80) is easy to drink and goes well with most dishes. You can also get a carafe if you can't manage a whole bottle.
The Last Word
A much better option than the majority of the capital's curry house alternatives, this branch of Masala Zone is a particularly good example.