Life

Eating Out: Masala Hut in Moira is clearly a restaurant that knows its onions

Masala Hut – it would be impossible to eat anything here and not realise you’re getting something way beyond what you’ve any right to expect. Picture by Mal McCann
Seamus Maloney

Masala Hut

36 Main Street

Moira

BT67 0LE

028 9261 1711

masalahutmoira.co.uk

THERE are certain items on a menu that will tell you a lot about the place that’s serving them. The attention to detail and execution found in a perfectly cooked plate of chips or basket of chicken wings or how they’ve put together a simple vinaigrette – and what they put it on – can be a bellwether.

If somewhere can’t be bothered to get their gravy right, what’s the chances the meat you’re about to pour it over will be any good?

In an Indian restaurant, you can get a pretty good idea of what might be in store from their onion bhajis. It’s the type of thing they know they’ll be firing out plenty of, which makes them the type of thing it may be tempting to take shortcuts on.

It’s also such a ubiquitous item, not just in restaurants, but supermarkets, corner shops, as a crisp flavour, that it’s taken on a mass-produced character. People aren’t going to get too exercised about a stodgy ball of indeterminate spice and a few onions because, sure, isn’t that what’s they’re like?

Well, no. At least that’s not what they’re supposed to be like. The onion bhajis you get in Masala Hut in Moira – that’s what they’re supposed to be like. Light, delicate, crunchy, spindly tangles of onions are bound with a barely-there batter that still carries through a warming, toasted spice.

I’d go through a pile of these like a tub of popcorn at the cinema, scooping fistfuls into the vicinity of my mouth safe in the knowledge that my shame is hidden in the dark.

They are the first indication that this isn’t your standard Indian, though nothing could be said against the poppadoms and their usual-suspects line-up of condiments. The best is the onion – they clearly know them here – crunch and tang and the balanced heat and flavour that will have us purring the rest of the night.

It’s early on a Friday night and it’s still quiet enough, with just a few tables in the bright, modern space on the village’s main street. The decor could make it any sort of restaurant, though on the way in there’s some backstory posterised with a picture of an explosion of spice.

Owner Rashal Khan fell in love with Moira, the wall tells us, while on holiday from London in 2017. While he was here the Masala Hut came on the market and he decamped from the big smoke, bringing 20 years of experience in the restaurant trade, and head chef Khaled Ahmed, with him.

All evening there’s a steady stream of locals calling in to take away their tea, who will never know their luck that the two lads decided to make the move they did. Actually, they probably do, because it would be impossible to eat anything here and not realise you’re getting something way beyond what you’ve any right to expect.

The eponymous cinnamon and chilli on a sea bass starter are just about lurking in the background. But they’re there, lifting the gleaming, perfectly deep fried fillets of brilliant white fish.

It’s the most expensive starter – along with some very-nearly-ordered rabbit and potato parcels – at £5.95 but it’s so deft you may wonder why they’re letting it go so cheaply.

Mains, which cover all the bases you’d expect, all run from around £11 to £15, but also stray beyond the ordinary.

A ‘royal’ lamb korma is so much more than the bog standard lumps of meat covered in something approaching melted ice cream that you find some places. It’s not hot, obviously, but it’s not overly sweet either, with the cream and almond smoothness balanced by a fragrant sharpness of mango. The strips of lamb stand up to the sauce before falling apart on the fork.

The meat in the chicken zoya does the same, with this sauce on the milder side of medium and green peppers and a hefty dose of coriander cutting through its richness.

Sides are all £3.95, and the quality doesn’t dip here, with the chickpeas in the chana bhaji tasting like they’ve been mined from the depths of the earth. It’s relentless, and the conversation is in danger of collapsing under an avalanche of “have you tasted this?” The rest of the time, faces are being stuffed.

The naan is another minor miracle. Cream-cracker crisp on the underside, pillowy soft on the other, it’s the best I’ve had anywhere here.

There’s no dessert menu, so if you’re thinking of saving room don’t bother. Unless it’s for more of those bhajis.

THE BILL

Poppadoms £2.95

Onion bhaji £3.45

Cinnamon chilli fish £5.95

Lamb royal korma £12.95

Chicken zoya £13.95

Chana bhaji £3.95

Onion naan £2.95

Still water £2.95

Total £49.10

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