Masa
24-26 Headstone Drive
Wealdstone
Harrow HA3 5QH
09/09/2010
Charlene – the car – says: “you have reached your destination” (at last, I think) and there we are: staring at Barracuda Fish & Chips’ signboard. Something is wrong plus we are starving. Please, don’t tell me Masa went bust…please…

Luckily, Charlene was just blinded by hunger and got confused! Masa is still open indeed and looks like it has quite a few supporters! Looks better than we thought: a blend of Lebanon and Morocco, but simpler. It is a bit loud but it doesn’t matter: it is so nice to lay back. There is a big, very big, table of locals having the traditional Afghan spread (interesting) and a few smaller groups of customers who have probably been here before. Oh, and the take away business is rocking!!! Anyway, we look at the menu and roughly know what we want (Wikipedia does wonders), but suggestions are more than welcome so we ask the waitress. Well done to us because she’s great! I’m not big on meat so she suggests Lady Fingers and I think “mmmh, weird…biscuits as a main…?” I have to give in and confess my ignorance and here she comes with a SAMPLE of the dish (Okra. Of course, Monica!). Very nice, but cooked too similar to the starter we ordered so I opt for something else. She isn’t just nice, she’s also very patient because it took me a while to decide among 3 mains (and I just said I knew what I wanted!!!). Edo is snorting in the background, but I need time; it is for the sake of research after all! So…what did we get in the end?

Starters

Burani Afghani: cold starter of aubergines, topped with a garlic sour cream/yogurt sauce, and walnuts – I don’t use garlic much and the dish was LOADED, but it was very good, actually I kept digging in!

Sabzi Bourani: cold starter of sautéed spinach with thick yogurt sauce – good but nothing more than that

Grilled Aubergine: hot starter of cooked aubergines with tomatoes and mild spices –very nice, another one that kept me digging in!

Courgette Bourani: very similar to Grill Aubergine but no spices – nice, courgette melting in my mouth, Edo hates courgette but thought it was nice too

Mains

Mantoo: dumplings filled with onion & ground lamb topped with a tomato and yogurt sauce and dried mint – having said I don’t particularly like meat, this dish was delicious! I don’t know if it’s the sauce, the meat…I really don’t know, but boy it is good!

Sabzi Paneer: sauteed spinach with paneer and mild spices – a bit bland at first, but the flavours and spices come up slowly while you eat it. But wouldn’t order it again.

Naan Bread: it came with the starters but they brought more with mains;

2 bottles of still water;

Coffee machine broken so no coffee, alas!

What about the bill? £32.40 in total service charge included. Shame it takes almost one hour to get there…

• Food: 3.5
• Ambience: 3
• Service: 3.5
• Value: 4
Overall: 3.5
Monica
This was our first country and I started being excited about the quest way before even getting to the actual restaurant. There aren’t many Afghan restaurants in London and we chose Masa primarily because of the good reviews. Getting there was a journey. I am awestruck by the sheer size of London whenever I point in one direction and realise that you can keep going for an hour or more and not see the end of the city. The sense of adventure was palpable, at the start of what hopefully is going to be a long journey of discovery. We went through some very, very dodgy areas to get there but the actual restaurant is in an OK neighbourhood, in a semi-pedestrian area just off the high street.

The decor of the place is very simple yet with enough character to make it feel authentic. They have an open kitchen, very clean, with marinated kebabs ready to cook exposed for all to view. There’s a map of Afghanistan on the wall and beautiful, carved wooden tables which do take your mind to Asia.

The clientele was ranging from Afghans with long beards and strange hats to British families with kids. In fact, it was almost entirely families and groups of friends, from the four corners of the world. The place was full minus one table, on a weeknight.

Service had its highs and lows. The waitress was adorable, kind, friendly, she even brought Monica some vegetables to taste so she could make a more informed choice. On the other hand, multiple times we had to wait and then actively call for attention as there was no one there.

I could describe Afghan food as a blend between Middle-Eastern and Indian, or rather like a version on Indian with smaller breadth but where different things actually do taste differently. The use of spices is widespread but mostly subtle, which makes for some wonderful tastes.

We had assorted starters: one cold creamy spinach, one cold aubergine puree with walnuts, grilled aubergines with yogurt and tomatoes, grilled courgettes also with yogurt and tomatoes. There was a common theme, but all in all they were quite different. The aubergine puree reminded of baba ganoush but was literally a garlic bomb. I hated it, I had two bites and I could still smell it the following day. The other three were all delicious: the vegetables were very well cooked and kept their character whilst balancing nicely with the spices.

I had mantoo as a main, which is apparently the specialty. It was phenomenal. I seriously could go back to that place just to have it again. Basically it consists of large ravioli made with a delicate dough, stuffed with gently spiced lamb mince and smothered with a zingy sauce of yogurt, mint, and tomato. The richness of the lamb was wonderfully balanced by the acidity and freshness of the sauce and by the comforting warmness of the dough, all gently accompanied by a background symphony of spices. It was to die for.

They have no license and I had to drive, so we drank water. We spent £32 for two, which given the quality of the food was one of the best values for money I have ever experienced.

• Food: 3
• Ambience: 1.5
• Service: 3
• Value: 4.5
Overall: 3
Edo
AFGHANISTAN