Masala Pod Karlovem
Can the Vinohrady Indian restaurant's second location rekindle Miss Knedlíkova's love?
Back in 2007/8, me and Masala on Mánesova used to have a bit of a "thing" going on.
Ah, I remember it well... The sense of heady anticipation generated back then by owner Bobby Jain in his free tastings and good-humored hype campaigns on expat forums; the undeniable spark between us when first Masala and I did meet; the subsequent butterflies in my stomach (and not the Delhi belly kind either) on the way home at having at long last located a place for decent curry in this otherwise spice-lorn city... Happy days.
For a while, things continued splendidly between us, but over time, bit by bit, I slowly started to realize that Masala was no longer returning the love in quite the same way. Dwindling portion sizes, inconsistent quality and constantly overstretched service left me feeling neglected and betrayed, and over time the relationship eventually started to fizzle out, finally coming to a decisive end once and for all when my affections were won over by then newcomer-to-the-scene Curry House in Palmovka (one recent disappointing dalliance with Dilli Delhi in Vinohrady notwithstanding).
A year or so down the line, and I thought I was fully over my relationship with Masala -- that is, however, until the recent opening of a new branch on Pod Karlovem in Nusle suddenly and unexpectedly reawakened all my long-forgotten emotions for the place.
Clearly Masala was making great efforts at a new beginning, and I thought it fair to give the place a second chance -- if only for old time's sake.
And so it was that Tango Man, Miss X and I headed to the newly opened Nusle branch last week to take a collective trip down culinary memory lane.
The interior was notably much more spacious than the Mánesova branch, which at busy periods does rather tend towards the claustrophobic. The decor was likewise more "Indian" themed, and they also had a small outside section at the back, where -- like pretty much all other customers that balmy evening -- we also sat on this occasion.
To start off, Tango Man ordered a large Gambrinus at 70 CZK, while Miss X and I both went for a 0.2-liter glass of Chardonnay at 95 CZK per glass. Ouch.
At the Mánesova restaurant they used to serve complimentary pappadoms at the start of a meal. No such luck here.
If it wasn't going to be free, we decided not to fill up too much on starters on this occasion and instead proceeded directly to the mains.
I went for the Murg Methi at 197 CZK. This was described on the menu as "chicken breast cooked in rich garlic, ginger and onion with crushed fenugreek leaves, coriander and cumin powder."
Miss X opted for the Chicken Palak at 175 CZK, a Punjabi dish cooked with chicken, spinach, tomatoes and spices.
Tango Man already knew what he wanted from a previous visit (which he'd also praised highly), namely the Tandoori Chicken (185 CZK) with mint sauce -- officially on the starter menu, but which he requested this time round as a main course.
It wasn't intentional that everyone went for chicken, by the way -- it just worked out that way.
Everyone was hungry, and so as not to test their patience, I just took a quick snap of all the mains collectively, pictured below with a side order of basmati rice at 49 CZK.
Additional side dishes we ordered were the onion kulcha (60 CZK) and plain naan (39 CZK).
The collective opinion here was that the curries both had the benchmarks of a really good dish -- subtly flavored, generously proportioned, tender meat and (unlike some places, where it's all sauce and no substance) plenty of it too. What let both dishes down, in my opinion, was the usual Prague problem of pandering primarily to the spice-averse -- though supposedly served "medium hot," neither dish really registered more than a "2" on my personal spice scale ("1" being a mild, non-threatening korma, "10" a belly-busting phall). This was partly my own fault -- the Masala menu does clearly state that dishes can be requested hotter, and after all the meek and mild curries I've eaten in this city over the years, I really should have known better by now than not to have asked.
Nor was mere lack of spice the only issue with heat here either. Without the traditional hotplates to keep the food warm, out in the garden everything quickly cooled to lukewarm by the time we were halfway through -- a shame when such an elementary error could have been so easily avoided.
Tango Man and Miss X both liked the two large pieces of Tandoori Chicken, which were definitely very well seasoned, but which I personally found rather on the dry side -- I was happy just to have a taste here and fill up on the curries and kulcha instead.
With a couple more drinks thrown in, the meal for three came to a total of 1,130 CZK, which (drinks aside) compares quite well to most other mid-range Indian restaurants in Prague. The overall verdict was that we'd enjoyed the meal, but wished it had been hotter both in terms of spice and standing temperature.
So how does Masala Pod Karlovem compare to Masala Mánesova?
Well, it's certainly less cramped and claustrophobic, and has a lot more potential for hosting big group dinners. (As we left, I noted a pre-booked party of 20 to one side of the indoor section.) With more staff on hand, I also found the service much more pleasant and relaxed -- in the Mánesova branch, they always seem to have one rather frazzled waitress on shift at any one time, with inevitable long waits and occasional slip-ups as a result. I must say I enjoyed the food at Pod Karlovem a lot more than I had done my last two visits to Mánesova, and (though it might be my imagination here), it also seemed that the portions were bigger at this branch as well.
So was this visit as a whole enough to rekindle an old flame....?
In short, not quite. Masala Pod Karlovem was good, but not nearly good enough to replace the current object of my Indian affections, Curry House, where drinks are cheaper (35 CZK for a glass of wine, 32 CZK for a half-liter of Gambrinus), spice is plentiful (and does not have to be specifically requested), and the location is only a quick hop across Libeňský most from my own front door.
No, if anything this return visit to Masala marked a final curry "closure" for me -- we had our good times in the past, but have now both moved on to establishments and custom new.
That's not to say that Masala doesn't dish up a decent curry or that it's not a good place to spend the evening, especially if you happen to live in the area -- it is.
But for me, when it comes to curry, sadly Masala is simply not "The One."
Pod Karlovem 12
Phone: (+420) 222 561 021
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