The Preview of the Review…
Some review you´re going to write, said El Husbandito as we left the Madras Masala after Sunday lunch. You didn´t look at the prices, get the address or phone number, take any of their cards, pick up a takeaway menu, look into the kitchen or even glance at the bill, never mind pay it. You forgot to photograph any of the food and the photos you took of the outside of the restaurant are rotten.
Men. Wouldn´t give a gal a break. After all, this is my first restaurant review and I did the main research which was, of course, to eat the food!
I´d been dying for an Indian meal, even to the point of trying to figure out how to bring one from Madrid for Christmas Dinner. We thought we might get a takeaway ahead of time and re-heat it on the day but we decided that soggy samosas and less than perky pakora just weren´t worth it.
If only we´d known that the first Indian restaurant in Alcalá was providing takeaway less than a mile away! The Madras Masala has been open for a month and, according to Jacob, one of the three owners, it´s going well. Married to a Spanish woman, Jacob is from Madras and speaks excellent English and Spanish.
On Saturday I wrote this:
“It´s spotless, quiet, stylish and neutral and exudes quality, with a beautifully written menu. The (for want of a better word) maitre is not only courteous and informative but speaks English! And our aperitivo of chicken pakora was delicious – fresh, spicy and fragrant”.
Did the lunch date live up to our expectations? Read on.
We were excited about our Indian repast and arrived all dolled up at 3 p.m. on the dot. (Malassie, unfortunately, could not be
threatened persuaded to relinquish her red and black-striped, cut-off mittens and black nail polish). Our table had been reserved for us among the ten or so that fit in the medium-sized dining area and most of them were occupied by Spanish families. Some poppadoms awaited us with two little sauces, one yogurt with mint and the other – beware here of some highly technical restaurant review jargon – a kind of smooth, sweet, jammy, chutney. Thing.
It was all delicious so we couldn´t wait to order. However, the Anti-Spice Squad was on the premises in the form of Malassie, who wanted chips. Fortunately, Jacob reminded her she could get chips anywhere and suggested she try a very mild chicken tikka masala. He took her small, huffy expression to be a yes. I read over the definition of curry in the menu with her – the proper term is masala – and with the low-volume Indian music in the background, we were really starting to enjoy ourselves.
Anyone from Glasgow (in case anybody doesn´t know it yet, I´m a wee Glesga burd) has at least a passing acquaintance with Indian food. The city has some fantastic Indian restaurants, such as the Koh-i-Noor, and so the contents of the extensive menu were familiar to me. However, rather than pick our favourites, we decided to have a bit of an overview to see how the food performed over a range of dishes. Hubby decided on the Menú de Degustación (which does NOT translate as Disgusting Menu, but Introductory Menu) which came in at €22.95. I went for the Brunch de Domingo at €25. I´ve never seen brunch on offer in Alcalá so it´s possibly a novel idea for Spaniards, though I fear they might pronounce it broonch.
Once we ´d ordered, I took a better look around. The tables were simply done in beige, cloth-feel paper settings and napkins. The mesón features remaining from the previous restaurant were a little out of place, although some nice, stained-glass panels on the doors and windows hinted at the bejewelled splendour of “normal” Indian resturants. We congratulated ourselves on the no-smoking law in Spain, free of the worry that our comida would be ruined by fugs of cigarette smoke.
The waiter service (just Jacob and one other man, from the Punjab, apparently) was well-paced, calm and efficient and our food soon arrived. Samosas, pakora and other crispy starters were followed by lamb rogan josh, tandoori chicken, mixed vegetables in a sauce, prawn mughlai korma and the tikka masala. They were served with plain, boiled basmati rice and peshwari naan bread. We had gulab jamun and mango lassi for dessert and I accompanied the meal with two rosé wines to hubby´s two beers (and Malassie´s two pineapple juices).
Very quickly, the matter of which dish belonged to which menu became a moot point. The food was delicious! To my (inexpert) palate the mix of spices and seasonings in all the dishes was wonderful. The korma sauce was absolutely beautiful; light, creamy and pale yellow in colour. All the meat was tender and, as for the chicken tikka in its sauce, it was incredibly tasty – what we could get of it, since Malassie fought us off! Indian food now has one small, Spanish convert!
As for the desserts, the gulab, little balls of pastry in very sweet syrup, was lovely and the yogurt and mango lassi was thick, fruity and gorgeous. To my mind, these really are desserts … better these than all that Spanish nonsense of offering you a banana for pudding!
After Lunch Afterthoughts
After the meal, Jacob and the waiter were keen to hear our opinion. They enquired at every table and patrons seemed to be very happy. Our bill came to €73.95 – pushed up by the cost of the drinks – but in general the prices are good, though perhaps the brunch is a little steep. Then again, Spanish restaurants offer Sunday lunch at that price per head too. There is also a wonderful Menú del Díaavailable for just €9.95. As seems to be a common practice in Indian restaurants in Spain, each day of the week has a pre-set, different menu, in a sort of “It´s Tuesday, so it must be Lamb Korma Day” approach. I imagine the American students from the nearby Cardenal Cisneros University College, the staff and customers of the Alcalá Magna Shopping Centre and the police from the new Comisaría just behind it will flock to the Madras Masala during the week.
Room for Improvement
While the restaurant is very good, hubby was disappointed that the food we had was distinctly lacking in “hotness”. As I, unlike him, prefer not to have my face burned off, this wasn´t an issue with me. It´s quite possible these menus are toned down a little to avoid frightening Spanish diners off but tourists might want to request hotter options. My only criticism is that the samosas seemed a little dry and tended to crumble.
The Peshawari naan bread was a real hit with me (and child) since I´d never tried this sweet version of the naan before. It was presented in a basket, cut into pizza-shape slices which I preferred to the usual practice of laying it whole on a huge platter, barely leaving room for anything else on the table. I thought that the combination of the minutely-chopped raisins, crushed pistachios and caster sugar in the buttery naan with the savoury food was out of this world. If you want to have a go at making this bread yourself, click for a recipe here.
Jacob informed us that the goal of the restaurant is to offer quality and this was certainly on our plates during our visit. We will definitely be going back – in fact by the time you read this, we might just be tucking into another Indian feast!
José Luis Pereda, 2, Alcalá de Henares, Spain.
+34 91 125 78 20