EATING OUT: ‘Masula’ – “Authentic right down to the whiff of untreated sewage.”
Masula Grand Café. Church Street Market, Manchester. ***
RFN’s restaurant critic Jay Savoir savours South Indian cuisine at its finest.
Situated just off the main drag, Masula could easily be mistaken for a rickshaw repair shop, or a place where the unclean come for a body-scrape, so original is its décor. Set amid a patch of oil-stained concrete and tall weeds, cloaked in rusted sheets of corrugated steel and with a faulty neon sign, it teasingly carries the air of a fetid, roll-your-sleeves up Kerala café, right down to an unplaceable odour that immediately sets your senses on full alert.
Deep in the interior
Inside is much the same. It is charming. Low light makes it fun to bang knees and ankles on the assortment of wonderfully mismatched chairs and upturned oil drums that serve as tables.
London’s #1 restaurant designer Clifford Choice apparently spent a year absorbing the culture in Southern India before coming up with this wizardly creation. It was worth the wait. Loud, steamy, unswept, finger-marked, the place instantly transports the diner to the shores at the sub-continent’s tip. The disfigured beggar who showed the Blonde and I to a table near the cracked window was a touch of theatrical genius!
The card at Masula is not large, (the café’s name refers to a rough type of fishing craft found along the Andrha Coast), with barely half a dozen starters and even less mains. Small photographs of each dish are crowded onto a genuinely sticky and dogeared laminated menu. It feels so real. The misspelt descriptions and poor grammar make reading a delight. We laughed hard at the summary of a combo of Pomfret, a juicy fish, and raw coconut. The menu called it ‘suckulent’. The Blonde commented that the food must work wonders for the male body.
Toilet roll in the fridge
Appetisers arrived after a short 70 minutes wait. The palm-sized Inji ginger curry was scorchingly good. I could feel my sphincter contracting at the first bite. Mixed with aubergine and what I believe were granules of genuine beach sand, this is a favourite among fisherfolk from Kerala to as far north as Goa. I could instantly see why. It was sublime, with burnt edges and an authenticity that even captured the faint whiff of untreated sewage.
The Blonde’s banana chips and coconut fritters were crisp and accompanied by a hot sauce made from dehydrated Fanta. She was speechless with both pleasure and pain. Clearly something for the next 50 Shades of Grey.
We moved on to a sharing platter of Blackened Pearl Spot Fish. This is a seafood prize, caught using eco-friendly poison. The raw fish is sliced longways, gutted at the table, then tossed into a bubbling cauldron of spices and filmy grease. Within 4 minutes, it is half-cooked and served with tamarind, shallots and a side dish of sweetly slimy masala okra. Slapped onto a wad of kitchen roll and sprinkled with dried raisins, it does not look half as good as it tastes, which is half as good as it should be and twice as good as it was. Perfection.
Desserts were an equally transportive experience. The gulam oolong wadah-wadah swirling in a pool of congealed goats’ blood were crisp, yet light and heavy to the taste. The Blonde’s miri-piri-poorhi, a tiny deep-fried tartlet filled with carrot, clotted cream and duck peel was enough to send her spinning from the room. Startlingly good.
Enjoying your wine, sir?
Our wine selection was kept minimal to accompany the originality of the dishes. The choices of Bengali red or white, with the latter specially placed in the freezer for five minutes to make it almost less than tepid prior to serving, were thoughtful and a bargain at £25.00.
Owner Sajid Jones says that the restaurant is, ‘simply trying to echo the home country’. It does far more than that. It screams, ‘beware’. Our note to the rest of Manchester’s culinary establishments – watch out, you have a real contender on your hands.
Dinner for two, with wine and a £1 tip, was £219.37p. (Parking £1.50p an hour at the Pay and Display next to Poundland).