9 November 2019: Mirch Masala - Mirch ado about curry
After a recent trip to Spice Village with my Dad and brother, it was another family affair in Tooting. This time, my brother and I were joined by my sister, her fiancé and our two cousins for a bit of a pub crawl and, of course, a curry. After pints in The Rose & Crown, Wheatsheaf and King's Head it was down to the off-licence before heading into Mirch Masala for yet another re-review.
Mirch Masala is where it all began with our very first review in 2012. 60-odd reviews and countless curries later (including a few further visits here) it was time to see if Mirch would inspire yet another seven years of good tuck.
Since our last review it's fair to say not much has changed at Mirch Masala. It still sits crammed between the saree shop to its left and the far inferior Al Mirage to its right, and the photo of Imran Khan's visit still has pride of place in the shop window. However, now another Khan - local boy and Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan - sits alongside Imran in an article proudly claiming Mirch Masala as our leader's favourite restaurant in London.
Inside, the downstairs covers are still tightly packed and upstairs still hosts raucous groups of merry punters in an unruly classroom setting. The result of this little change is a sense of familiarity, but Mirch could perhaps do with a bit of a refresh beyond the minor re-tiling and lick of paint it's already had. The furniture is functional but tired and the walls upstairs are bare and cold, despite their reptilian, green colour. Nonetheless this is still a firm favourite for a cheap and cheerful BYO feast and, busier than ever, remains a Tooting institution.
Starters and sides
2 Peshwari Naan
2 Garlic Naan
3 Pilau Rice
After a few looseners in the pub beforehand we were getting a little peckish and so the opening poppadoms were a welcome sight. The accompanying firey chilli dip was enough to sober us up a bit, but the mango chutney was a little light between six. Far more generous was Mirch's signature bhaji - a unique, sprawling, tangle of spicy deep fried onion strands that stand apart from the typical balled variety in both shape and flavour. Superb.
Equally packing a piquant punch was the mixed grill, a towering stack of 3 grilled chops, 3 seekh kebabs, 3 chicken tikka pieces, 3 lamb tikka pieces and 4 tandoori wings. For £15, the price is on a par with Lahore Spices excellent offering while it has more heat than Spice Village's own grill. In fact, this meaty feast maybe the best around these parts. Whilst not the most moist or succulent tikka pieces, a delectable and smokey grilled barbecue flavour oozes out from all elements, most notably the amazingly juicy lamb chops.
The naans are also good at Mirch Masala, particularly if you like your garlic naan that come covered here in more cloves than a Frenchman's picnic. The peshwari was less distinctive in flavour, with a drier rather than moist coconut filling, but sweet nonetheless.
Karahi Ginger Chicken
With a rendition of Happy Birthday breaking out from the party behind us, we moved onto the main part of our own occasion with the arrival of a variety of lamb, chicken and vegetable curries.
The lentil tarka daal was the first of the veggie mains but sadly nondescript. Its texture was almost puréed with little flavour to redeem it. The bombay alloo was a lot better, with a more zingy, sugary tomato flavour than the usual more bitter, spinach, whilst black nigella seeds added a nice aesthetic touch.
The karahi chicken had a similar, safe look and feel to the potato, but with a ginger edge (obviously). Neither the karahi or the dhansak were particularly special though, despite the lentil chicken having more of a tongue tingling bristle.
By far the better choice here are the lamb dishes. Not one to usually choose a balti, this one took me by pleasant surprise with its tender, almost braised, lamb amidst a beautifully rich, but bitter sauce. Likewise, the okra in the bhindi gosht was perfectly cooked, bringing out the best of its sweet but earthy flavour. Both great dishes and enough to lift the scores for curries back up to a 7.
As in most Tooting establishments the waiting staff here are more relaxed than the hectic atmosphere probably requires. Whilst they are less attentive as a result, such calmness under pressure is probably to be admired. With no uncomfortable wait times, and the benefit of bring your own drinks, it's a standard 7 out of 10 for Service.
Value for money
Value is the name of the game here. With BYO kicking things off, the bang for buck ratio is high. Sizeable portions and low low prices mean the economies of scale for a group feed are the best around. The bhaji for £2.50 and the mixed grill for £15 are particular steals whilst the big curries come in around £7.50 on average.
Yes, the surround could be prettier but you won't get a more lively atmosphere south of Tayyabs and at about £80 for a hugely filling meal between 6 of us it's a big score for value.
Locally, Mirch Masala probably compares most directly with Lahore Karahi and Apollo Banana Leaf in terms of playing host to a lively, cheap, BYO, Tooting curry experience. Whilst being slightly surpassed in quality by the likes of Spice Village and now Lahore Spices and Khas, it has always been a favourite with us. In fact, based on recent visits, it still pips ahead of Lahore on both quality and value in our opinion, whilst Apollo Banana Leaf is in need of another visit soon. It's also been good enough to hit the Prime Minister of Pakistan and the Mayor of London for six in the past too, so if you haven't already you should give it a try. As for it's sister branches in Norbury, Coulsdon and Southall, they're on the list too!
Address: 213 Upper Tooting Rd, London SW17 7TG
Alcohol Policy: BYOB
Summary: Cheap and cheerful typical Tooting, canteen-style diner. Popular and lively with bring your own alcohol adding to the atmosphere and low prices.