More adventurous than your average Indian, Masala Zone

  • Food and Drink
More adventurous than your average Indian, Masala Zone


Fri, 21/10/2016 - 15:38


More adventurous than your average Indian, Masala Zone
20 October, 2016

YOU won’t find her showing off on TV or Twitter, but Camellia Panjabi is a true legend of Indian food. 

A veteran of the curry business, she avoids the media limelight. Yet her book 50 Great Curries of India has sold well over a million copies.  

Born in India, Panjabi flits between Bombay and London and has launched dozens of restaurants in her long career.  

But it’s Masala Zone, her small chain of mid-range Indian restaurants, that’s our best bet of sampling Panjabi’s food. 

For years, she explains, it was the food of the Punjab region in the north that dominated most restaurant menus, both here and in India. 

No one showed much interest in dishes from elsewhere in the country. In India, in fact, Chinese food is the popular choice when eating out. 

Panjabi has worked hard to raise awareness of regional Indian food – and the results can be seen in the Masala Zone menu. 

The branch in Upper Street in Islington has been trading for years, but has recently enjoyed a revamp. It’s a large restaurant a near to Angel tube. Inside, the décor is modern and stylish.

Walls are painted with folk art tableaux of serpents and other creatures. You can watch chefs at work in an open-plan kitchen on the far side of the room. 

One flick through the menu reveals food far more adventurous than your average Indian restaurant. Stone moss, purple yam and Himalayan screw pine flowers are among the exotic ingredients with a starring role. The cooking here is the real deal – carefully spiced and bold in flavour. 

The restaurant is well known for its range of thalis, priced from £13.95: a complete meal served on a shiny steel platter with a medley of curries, dal, chutney, rice and breads.

Their grills and biryanis are pretty special, too, such as a Keralan dish of hand-pressed rice noodles with seafood, coconut and curry leaf. 

As a starter, cheesy pakora (£4.95) was fun to eat, as we skewered each crisp fried potato ball with a cocktail stick. Another called Chettinad Pepper Chicken (£6.95) was an eruption of chilli, fennel seeds and star anise. 

For vegetarians, Masala Zone offers plenty of options. I chose Undhiyo and Lentil Khichdi (£11.60), a dish from Gujarat in the west of India. 

Nine vegetables are cooked in a delicate masala of spices, each added in sequence to preserve crunch and flavour. 

Masala Zone has been around for some years, but isn’t resting on its laurels. Service is smiley and efficient. Prices are fair. I liked the creative little details, such a wrapping a tree outside in twinkling fairy lights. 

You won’t find Panjabi in the kitchen. She runs this business with her sister and husband, taking a background role in creating the food. 

If a meal at Masala Zone reawakens your interest in curries, her book makes for essential reading.

It clearly explains the key steps and ingredients for cooking successful curries at home – a task I’ve always found rather daunting. 

80 Upper St, N1
020 7359 3399

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