Cobham, Surrey: a new magnet for those seeking a fine Indian dining experience. One looks at this green and leafy corner of the Home Counties and it doesn’t immediately speak to you of all things exotic and subcontinental. Yes, there are plenty of Indian restaurants in Cobham but we have found one that is exceptional in every regard and is thoroughly deserving of the accolade Fine Dining.
I visit fabulous restaurants of every ethnic persuasion all the time. They each have their own character but they all have that essential common denominator, fine food. The seats might be comfy. The linen might have ironed creases that are sharp enough to carve stone, but the food is the important thing. Massala is the style of restaurant which is attractive, light, welcoming and friendly. The ambiance is contemporary with hints of Indian crafts. Yes, plenty of crisp serviettes but it’s the food that will assure your return visit.
Massala is owned and run by two talented chefs. Sunil Sinha is a chef whose cooking has been described as superb by those in the know. He is especially noted for his seafood dishes such as whole tandoori lobster and whole sea bass. He was trained by the Taj Group who have sired many of the world’s best Indian chefs.
Chef Pradeep Asawa is celebrated for having cooked for HRH Prince Charles and the late Princess Diana on their state tour of India in 1992, and the for late Rajiv Gandhi, Prime Minister of India. Pradeep is evidently well respected in the industry. Both chefs have a passion for quality ingredients and authentic recipes. They use fresh produce and don’t use any artificial colourings, flavourings or GM foods. All the food is cooked specially to order so you can request a particular dish to be prepared to your taste: a little more heat for this, a little less heat for that (although Laal Maans from Rajasthan should never be ordered mild like Korma). Sunil and Pradeep shun the factory mentality of lesser restaurants which have only their two vats of base sauces. There is variety and subtlety here.
I mention variety and you might glance at the menu and say it’s a bit short. Well, no, dear reader, it isn’t short. Compare this thoughtful and diverse collection with that of a regular high-street Indian restaurant where you might find the usual suspects of Korma, Madras and Vindaloo, the only varieties being chicken or lamb. The sauces would be the same; only the shape of the plate might vary. The Massala menu has individual dishes made to order. They originate from different regions of India and the chefs take trouble to ensure that each one is a faithful representation.
Gilafiseek Lamb from the Punjab is a minced meat kebab starter cooked in the tandoor. It has a glaze of fresh aromatic vegetables. This had robust flavour and was most remarkably moist. The meat glistened with flavourful juice.
Seafood lovers are well-served at Massala. It is, after all, Sunil’s speciality. Try Methi Machchi Tikka from Northern India. These are chunks of fresh salmon marinated in yoghurt and spices and then cooked with fenugreek leaves. The flesh was delicate and opaque with marvellous flavour from both seasonings and the tandoor, which had just singed the edges of the fish.
Samudari Ratan hails from Western India: scallops, mussels and squid perfumed with mustard, garlic and cumin is a speciality from Goa. Jhinga Merunisha, again from Western India, are Jumbo prawns in their shells marinated in yoghurt with saffron, carom seed and cloves, and then grilled. This dish must be a signature dish – don’t miss this one. A striking presentation and amazing flavour and texture.
The main courses at Massala are geographically broad-based. We chose lamb shank cooked in Xacuti Massala which is Goan and has vibrant spicy flavours. Great depth and richness, with meat as tender as you would expect to find in a restaurant of this quality.
Monkfish Malabar from South India is monkfish cooked with coconut and onions and flavoured with tamarind for an agreeable contrast to the sweetness of the other ingredients. This fish is prized for its firmness but it can be dull. Not at Massala – you won’t be disappointed if you order this.
I am not a vegetarian and I have become bored of vegetable dishes in so many Indian restaurants. Heavy sauces with that tell-tale oily residue. The vegetables at Massala are some of the best you will find. They have a lightness and freshness more often found in Indian home cooking than restaurants. They have flavour, crunch and striking colour. Sukhi Meloni Subzi is peas, carrots, broccoli, corn and beans cooked in a delicious sauce with a pinch of asafoetida and a little tamarind. Okra Kumuri is a simple presentation of stir-fried okra with onions and garlic. Outstanding. Any non-meat eaters in your party would be delighted with these two dishes, along with some Tadka Dal and some rice.
Gulab Jamun might be an Indian restaurant staple but it’s a delight when made fresh. It’s a traditional Indian dessert made of curd cheese. They are small dumplings which are finished in rose-flavoured syrup. Gulab Jamun is often over-sweet but Massala’s are hard to beat for both flavour and texture. If you prefer a pud to make you feel noble then order Gajar Halwa, an Indian carrot pudding topped with cardamom and nuts. Those carrots are one of your 5 a day so enjoy the delicious confection. OK, so now it’s back to power-walking but one should always save space for dessert. It’s a universal law and one to which you will be glad to adhere on every visit to Massala.
Massala is a surprise. I am a Londoner and I don’t tend to stray far from underground stations, red buses and grime. It took effort, although not as much as I had expected, to wander to Cobham. It only took half an hour and it was worth the short trip. It has a catchment zone of the whole of west London and Surrey and deserves to be considered as THE out-of-town restaurant for lovers of real Indian food. Great prices and unbeatable quality. Two talented chefs for the price of one. It’s going to be an award-winning restaurant. Remember my words.
Monday – Sunday
Lunch: 12.00 noon – 2.30pm
Dinner: 5.00pm – 23.45pm
Massala Indian Dining
19 Anyards Rd, Cobham, Surrey KT11 2LW
Phone: 01932 865005
Visit Massala Indian Dining here
Restaurant review by Chrissie Walker © 2018