Thursday, 15 March 2012

Garam Masalaa, Msida, Malta

In the world of Vindaloo Queen, a holiday isn't a holiday without a trip to the local curry house. After a few disappointments over the years (Spanish and German curry houses are the worst so far) and a few unlikely surprises (who knew the Cote d'Azur was a hidden curry heaven?), I enter an overseas spice establishment with an open mind, expecting the unexpected. After 2010's Maltese debacle which was Bombay Palace, I was desperately seeking a good quality, non tourist-trappy restaurant.

As the weather was too rainy to walk around Malta this time, I spent a lot of time driving round to where the locals live and avoided the bucket and spade brigade of St Julians and co. Most of my culinary exploits centred round the villages of Birkirkara, Hamrun (more about these in later reviews) and Msida, where Garam Masalaa is located. Garam doesn't open til 7, so I killed time in the cutely named Busy Bee coffeeshop on the same street. Regrettably, I haven't taken any pics or stayed long enough to write about this fabulous coffeeshop, but for the record, the Americanos are deliciously potent and the cannoli to die for. The clock soon ticked round to 7, about time, I was freezing, the wind was blowing a gale and I needed a curry to warm me up!

Garam Masalaa is a cosy restored Maltese 'house of character' with stone walls, long and narrow. A few Indian ornaments lined the shelves like elephants and glittery jewelled items, a reminder just in case you forgot you were dining in an Indian and were expecting Maltese rabbit stew. The staff who greeted us were extremely friendly, the chef obviously having real passion about his cuisine and I immediately felt at ease- unpretentious dining at its best. However, it was absolutely freezing and appeared to have no heating on. My toes were about to drop off and in the words of pop group Steps, my skin was a deeper shade of blue. The staff could obviously feel my pain, as they were wearing coats as they served, rushing back to huddle in the relative warmth of the kitchen. I'd better request extra chillies with my vindaloo then...

I opened the menu and was disappointed to see that the prices didn't reflect those displayed outside and bearing that in mind, it was now going to be a rather expensive meal. My favourite Peshwari Naan was an astronomical 6€- even in high class joints in the UK and Dubai, I have never seen Peshwari so expensive. The Pilau rice came to a shocking €5, time for that second mortgage! I read a couple of reviews on TripAdvisor where complimentary popadoms were mentioned- we weren't offered this luxury. I ordered a vegetable Madras and the obligatory pilau, while The Carnivore ordered that Brit Abroad staple, Chicken Tikka Masala with a plain nan. The waitress asked me if I wanted my Madras mild or hot- this question really perplexed me, it's like asking if I wanted a fried egg boiled or fried. Then she asked me if I wanted fresh or frozen veg- let me tell you something, if I wanted frozen veg, I would have went to Lidl and bought a readymeal, and I sure as hellfire wouldn't be paying over the 7€ mark for frozen carrots and peas. This was going to be an interesting meal....

As you can see above (flash was faulty that night, excuse the slightly blurred photography), my Madras came with potatoes and mushrooms (definitely fresh) and peas (possibly frozen). The Madras sauce was tasty, albeit not what I'm used to. It was spicy which made up for the lack of central heating, but the extra spice tasted if it was possibly from Tabasco or a similar liquid and not powder. It had a coconutty base but too much liquid and not enough veg. There was an imbalance of peas- in fact, I'd say the veg was 65% pea, 20% mushroom and a paltry 15% potato, which ideally, it would have been great if the majority was spud. The pilau was tasty and reminded me of Liverpool's legendary Master Chef, brown and spiced with licorice. The nan was of the flat variety, perfect for scooping up Madras with and eating it wrap-style! The Carnivore's CTM apparently was top notch, the chicken fresh and mixed well with the spice. I've noticed this is quite a common occurrence, restaurants that make mediocre veggie meals serve chicken dishes which are like works of art for the tastebuds.

After seeing the prices of desserts, we diverted back to Busy Bee. I kind of feel guilty writing this review as the staff here are overwhelmingly friendly, but the prices are simply too high, especially for those coming from cities with big Indian communities (Manchester, Dubai etc) where restaurants like this are cheek by jowl, jostling for custom and constantly improving.
And when you charge prices like this, the least you can do is turn the thermostat up a tad.

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Hi Vindaloo Kings and Queens!