Have you noticed how every Indian takeaway menu in Britain is almost always the same as every other Indian takeaway menu? And probably not even Indian. For reasons too culturally nuanced for us to bother exploring, even Indian restaurant menu writers usually include an unornamented section called something like ‘Classic Curries’, where those who have been ordering chicken tikka masala since 1978 can safely find their familiar dish without any risk of discovering controversial new tastes or hard-to-pronounce words.
For this reason we always pay attention when an Indian restaurant makes an effort to include some specialities of their own on the menu. One venue which does this well is Masala Bay in Ventnor: a contender close to the top of our very short list of worthwhile curryhouses on the Isle of Wight. We do genuinely like the food and ambiance at this southernmost Indian – an accolade won from Blackgang’s long-decommissioned Merlin’s.
Making the long trek across the downs to find out, we were interested to know if Masala Bay’s takeaway matched up to our fading memories of our eating-in experiences.
Alongside our meal we got a couple of complementary poppadums. They survived the journey home without degrading into a bag of crisps or going unpleasantly soggy. We crunched our way through the seasoned ‘dums but didn’t bother too much with the rather lurid green mint raita. The bag of chopped onions was filed straight into the organic bin, as is our way. Are we wrong never to eat them? Do you? Fight us!
Lamb paprikash £13.95
Saag bhaji £3.95
Mushroom rice £3.95
Garlic naan £2.60
As expected, both our main dishes were chosen from the intriguing Nepali section of the menu. Dipali is the name Masala Bay gives to the traditional Nepalese chicken and chickpea curry. The two substantial breasts were dotted with a generous tin-load of the nutty pulses. The mild, creamy garlic and ginger sauce was runnier than previous iterations of this dish Cat has had from that self-same restaurant, but the sweet red juices were soaked up by the note-worthy mushroom rice – with its tutti-frutti colouring – enabling Cat to chow forkful after pleasing forkful.
Lamb paprikash is a dish one would normally expect to find on a Hungarian or Serbian menu, so Matt was determined to find out what the Nepali version would be like. To his delight, it was very good. A generous allowance of actual bone-in lamb chops was steeped in a rich, thick paprika sauce, and scattered with a bit of mixed fruit to give a real sweet-and-sour flavour. The meat was properly seared, so the smoky paprika and the BBQ-style blackened fat of the lamb chops made a genuinely interesting and enjoyable dish. If you are looking for the best place to enjoy Serbo-Nepali fusion food, you could do worse than look in Ventnor.
A saag bhaji was a tasty side dish that we shared, good value at only £3.95, and the satisfying garlic naan, which had filled the car with a delicious smell of fresh bread and garlic all the way home, was great for mopping up the rest of our sweet and smoky curry sauces.
This takeaway did justice to the good standards we have come to expect from Masala Bay. It was reasonable value, easy to order and collect, and what’s more, it was intact and tasty when we unpacked the meal at home.
This is the full-length version of the review first published in the Isle of Wight County Press.