Branches of this smart, clever chain are popping up faster than mustard seeds in a hot pan of ghee. Each outlet is decorated with a different theme – on Parkway it’s advertising posters of the 1930s and ’40s; at Covent Garden Rajasthani puppets hang from the ceiling; in Soho, Islington and Earl’s Court the walls feature striking work by tribal artists.
The mood is both vibrant and relaxed – as cheering to singletons having a thali for supper, as it is to family groups and couples. Conceived by the Panjabi sisters of Chutney Mary and Amaya fame, Masala Zone is not expensive, yet even so there’s a high rotation of attractive discount offers.
The menu takes in street-food snacks (springy, grease-free onion bhaji; dahi poori), wraps, grills, curried noodles, curry and rice plates. There are also two sizes of thali; well-trained, multicultural staff describe the daily veg, dahl and raita on your arrival, and you choose which of the curries you would like included – clove-scented lamb roghan gosht, say, or a tomatoey tilapia masala.
To drink, try the cola with mint and spices, or the bright, fruity Portuguese rosé created specially to match the fiery dishes.