The nondescript Harrow location and the plain square dining room (with a takeaway counter to one side) might not be instantly appealing, but Masa really delivers where it matters. The restaurant is popular with local Afghan families, who fill its long tables with chatter and enormous amounts of food. A TV burbles quietly in the background, to keep the kids occupied, and the whole kaboodle envelops you in a warm fug of talk and cooking aromas.
Rather than the classic mountains of fluffy pilau full of nuts and lamb, we chose delicate parcels of aushak dumplings with a spicy leek filling, topped with yoghurt and minced meat. We also ordered a warming, hearty stew of okra and lamb: perfect comfort food. The affable staff brought huge discs of soft, fragrant bread warm from the oven, and the standard side salad was made crisp and lively with carrots and fresh mint. Masa’s menu shows many culinary influences from Afghanistan’s neighbours (Central Asia, the Indian subcontinent, the Middle East) and is astonishingly inexpensive.
There’s no booze (though you can bring your own), but there are various juices and lassis – all the better to enjoy the hefty portions and delicate spicing.