6 January 2012: Mirch Masala - Starter (and main) for ten
This is our original review of Mirch Masala; for a more recent review from 2019, please click here.
I met Tom at The Wheatsheaf pub opposite Tooting Bec underground station at approximately 1700 hours (Actually, I saw him get off the same tube as me and followed him outside – don’t worry I clocked his headphones and avoided making a tit of myself by shouting at him only for him to be completely oblivious due to aforementioned headphones).
Once in the pub, we enjoyed a nice sup of lager (Amstel) and caught up on news and gossip as most friends who haven’t seen each other for a while tend to do. (At times like this, I personally avoid the hard hitting, deeply philosophical and intellectual debates I’m renowned for, as there’s a time and a place, but each to their own).
After a cheeky couple in The Wheatsheaf, we had another jar in the King’s Head, which has a nice picture of Henry VIII on its sign. Unlike his several wives, we left with our heads very much intact, and with our appetites nicely wetted (deliberate spelling mistake) by the beer.
We stopped off in Tesco to pick up some BYOB and left with a cheeky four-pack of Sols each. Not the best start to our curry marathon on the lash front it has to be said, but they did the job and were pretty much the only thing on a sensible offer. (FYI Mineral water and a clear head are the ideal accompaniment for impartial curry appraisal but we are mavericks blazing a trail down the Upper Tooting Road)
We then made our way to Mirch Masala after ruling out Masaledar (queue) and others (there were no others, Mirch Masala was our immediate second choice). On arrival we found ourselves waiting for space to become available. We were greeted with a smile and were seated reasonably quickly by the door (there was some musical chairs taking place with the current occupants being relocated to the opposite side of the restaurant for no apparent reason). Early fears of a draft were soon quashed and we settled down to enjoy, what was a worthy debut.
Mirch Masala is an old favourite amongst Tootonians (just made that up), and rightly so, but it's fair to say its strength doesn't lie in its architecture. I must confess, when I first came to Tooting a couple of years ago it was perhaps with an air of out-of-town snobbery about what a curry house should look like. However, my initial prejudice against the canteen-style restaurants of the Upper Tooting Road has subsided, in most part due to the quality of curry on offer. Whilst you might take your Mum or a date (hopefully not one in the same) to a slightly more refined establishment, Mirch Masala's charm, like many other places, is in its food and value; but more on that later. In general, with two floors and table versatility, there's plenty of room for pairs and groups alike. Geographically it's located equidistant between Bec and Broadway tubes for the convenience of those travelling either North or South. However, the decor is fairly drab, as is the furniture, so, whilst not the highest priority, I'll have to give Mirch a Tooting benchmark of 6 on 10 for Venue
Sides and Starters
Starting with the poppadoms, there was nothing really to complain about here other than the sides. Whilst I appreciate the business sense in charging extra for mango chutney, as it is essentially an inelastic product, it leaves a bitter taste in the mouth (metaphorically not literally) when rivals in area are fairly liberal in offering it. In addition the chilli and mint dips were not, in my humble opinion, of a standard to adequately replace the mango. If we’re going to be fussy, the poppadoms were also provided as standard, at a nominal fee. I respect the foresight and business sense (again), as obviously only a fool turns them down, but to quote Alan Partridge, I want that decision to be mine. This said, I’m picking on a minor part of the sides and starters experience.
The rice at Mirch Masala is served in large portions which is a definite positive – ideal for a couple, or famished male. The naans, it has to be said were a mixed bag. The butter naan was a tad dry, but the peshwari was as moist as an otter’s pocket and succulent to boot, and, whilst not as sizeable as some on the Upper Tooting Road, they were more than ample. What about the bhajis I hear you cry? Well, whilst I appreciate, from previous experience, they are rather unique here at Mirch, on this occasion we did not partake and therefore have to remove them from our 100% objective assessment (I’m sure we’ll come again). On the whole though we’ll have to give starters and sides a steady 6 out of 10.
Chicken Karahi Methi
As a first port of call, I like to consult the specials, but Mirch doesn’t offer any explicitly on the menu. Instead, if my memory serves me correctly (we carried on drinking after the curry), we decided to put the waiter through his paces and asked for a recommendation, he suggested the Karahi Methi. When consulted further he waivered under the immense pressure and panicked somewhat - I believe he said ‘Karahi means curry’ (I’ve since looked it up and the Karahi is the cooking pot the curry is cooked in). Despite a lack of clarity with what we were eating it was very good – creamy, garlic sauce (potentially a hint of spinach). The jalfezi was similarly very tasty (note to self: get a food thesaurus), but not the best I've had in the area. The chicken in both dishes was similarly decent, being both tender and succulent. All in all both dishes were of the above-average standard one associates with Mirch’s reputation. However, it must be said neither blew me away. Based on these dishes and these dishes alone, I will give the mains here 7 on 10.
We’ve already mentioned the quick service to be seated which is a definite plus point. Similarly, whilst being a BYOB venue, they were very proactive with offering a bottle opener and in clearing away our empties. Despite the lack of knowledge about the curry, the recommendation was nonetheless strong. Service was prompt and professional and always came with a friendly smile. With no complaints, I’ll give an 8.
Value For Money
Whilst making a point earlier about the lack of choice over poppadoms and the extra cost for mango chutney, all in all the prices here are very fair. Our meal cost £10 each (including a less than generous tip (it was easier to keep it to a round tenner)). Portions are generous (especially the rice) and service was decent. With low cost and quality food to boot, Mirch ranks highly on VFM (certainly falls in the top quartile of our normative database), and will be hard to beat – I’m giving it 8 out of 10.
Mirch Masala lives up to its reputation and comes highly recommended – a fine place to start our curry quest indeed! Whilst this blog has nothing to rank against as yet, from my previous experience of Tooting I’m happy to use this as the benchmark. All in all, a thoroughly enjoyable meal and the perfect start to a Friday night (for those interested – my house, The Sun in Clapham and then the classy joint that is Artesian Wells).
Totaling the scores up, that gives Mirch Masala, our first officially rated curry house, a respectable 35/50 (no x factor points were awarded)
Address: 213 Upper Tooting Rd, London SW17 7TG
Alcohol Policy: BYOB
Summary: No frills, bring your own restaurant offering great flavours for outstanding value for money.