South London is a treasure trove of independent eateries, and in particular, great curry houses. You know the sort, living room-esque setups with big windows on the front. Mismatched chairs and stools you can just about fit one cheek on. Hustley and bustley, low lighting, elbows knocking, waiters shouting. Traditional Pakistani restaurant, Masala Wala Cafe in Brockley is a bit like that.
Masala Wala is just a few minutes from Brockley station and is run by mother and daughter duo, Nabeela and Saima. It’s a humble little hotspot. It’s small, all in one room with a box at the back that looks a bit like a DJ booth, especially when Saima is behind it, hands placed on a clipboard, one hand to her ear holding a phone taking a delivery order. They’re on Deliveroo too, by the way.
It’s rustic and feels homely, and there are big tables for groups and smaller tables for couples – none of that communal dining nonsense, thank god. It’s a really warm space – ask for the windows to be opened if you’re staying a while – and there are strings of lights hanging from the ceiling and tea lights on table tops. I’ll get to the food in a bit, but I know the next bit will lure a lot of you in further: it’s BYOB.
The menu is simple. And when I say simple, it really doesn’t get much simpler. There are two meat dishes: Murgh Channa, which is a rich, tomato-y curry with chicken on the bone and chickpeas, and Aloo Gosht, a combination of slow-cooked lamb and potato. The latter was my favourite. The lamb falls apart and is super tender, soaking up all of the lovely, mildly spiced sauce and the potatoes were beautifully soft too. And, there are two veggie dishes: Kaali Dal, an incredible, pungent mix of black lentils, and Sabzi Masala, which is made up of carrots, potatoes and peas. The lentils were a firm favourite in my group. Sides are straightforward too; you can choose from rice, raita, roti, pickle and salad.
The home-cooked menu changes slightly every week, and I’ve heard good things about the potato and cauliflower curry. Great news for the meat adverse as well since two out of the four curries are always vegan.
There were 8 of us so we just asked for a bit of everything and they were only too happy to accommodate. Everything comes in hot little casserole-like boats that work well in the middle of the table and while the portions are good, we did have to go for another round of lamb and lentils… but maybe we’re just pigs!
Our session came to about £30/person, but you could definitely do it cheaper. Mains cost between £8.50 and £11.50 and sides are about £3.50.
If you’re a proud South Londoner and haven’t visited Masala Wala yet, it’s definitely worth a trip, just for the lamb. And the chicken. And the lentils. You get the idea…