Sharing owners with some of London’s top Indian restaurants (including Chutney Mary, Veeraswamy and Amaya), the Masala Zone chain is aimed at the budget end of Indian dining. Fortunately, it doesn’t let the side down, delivering punchy flavours, strong spicing and snappy service.
This busy branch – one of seven across London – is tucked behind the Royal Opera House and attracts tourist groups, solo lunchers and many others. Each outlet has the same plain furniture, but its own distinctive decoration: old advertising posters in Islington, tribal drawings in Soho, and a ceiling full of Rajasthani dolls here in Covent Garden. Hot and cold street snacks, including puffed puri biscuits, set you up for mains of meat grills, thalis and regional curries (from a slightly watery goan prawn curry to a gentle saffron korma and more pungent rogan josh).
The thalis are a good bet – assorted little metal bowls holding a variety of vegetable dishes and dals, a choice of main curry, and rice or chapati alongside some tangy chutneys. The venue feels a little canteen-like, and not all the dishes are up to scratch, but it’s a no-nonsense, efficient operation. You can eat well for very little.