Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Masa, Harrow

Going back to your hometown. It all sounds so romantic; as if the Smiths 'Take Me Back to the Old House' should be playing as you step off the train; everything tinged with a warm and fuzzy sepia glow. Of course the reality is far more grey North London drizzle, complete with the 340 thundering past Edgeware bound, but such is life.

Despite being a mere stone's throw geographically from where I did most of my actual growing up, the difference from the leafy Chilterns and urban North West London couldn't really be more stark. Both, however, have their merits (there's nothing like the electric the buzz of the city, or the perfect stillness that seems to descend upon a small village), and thanks to the A40 the delights of Middlesex are never far away. Often on a weekend the Ewing and I like to do the Sunday drive in reverse, and head back into town from the country.

So, after reading there was some good Afghan food to be found in the wilds of Wealdstone, we decided to use a recent Sunday afternoon as the perfect opportunity to get back to my roots (more Kenton than Kabul, obviously).

After a brief moment of confusion over whether they were actually open - although the place was rammed with people, the closed sign hanging in the door suggested otherwise - we found ourselves tucked up at the front, with a little corner table beside the cabinet of kebabs and  the charcoal grill. While this may not seem like a romantic scenario, the view of lamb chops grilling (and decent extraction system) made this a prime spot for a pair of committed carnivores to watch the action.

Ambitious, as always, we ordered the Masa special (advertised for 2-3 to share), with an extra portion of Afghan dumplings, just in case we were still peckish. Nothing on the menu's very expensive, and I rued our ability not to be able to eat even more so we could have tried some of the curries or meze-style dips, known as bourani, and including aubergine, spinach and courgette dishes topped with quroot (a slightly sour whey), which all looked lovely.

Masa is unlicensed (although they don't charge corkage if you want to BYO), and as well as the usual soft drinks they also offer lassi, plain or mango flavour, and dogh, a carbonated yogurt drink made with cucumber and mint.

The idea of fizzy yogurt with bits in is pretty much my idea of hell on earth, and although the Ewing tried to persuade me otherwise, I couldn't quite bring myself to try it. Thankfully, considering the huge tankard it came in, she genuinely did seem to enjoy it. Each to their own and all that.

First up foodwise was a plate of mantoo; little meat and onion stuffed pasta dumplings that showed their Chinese roots, both looking and tasting very similar to boiled jiaozi. These came topped with garlicky yogurt, a slick of chilli oil and a scattering dried mint, and proved particularly popular with the Ewing, disappearing mere minutes after arriving at the table.

Our empty plates were swiftly replaced by a huge platter of The Afghani national dish, Qabili Palow, also served with skewers of barbecued meat, piles of salad and a giant serving spoon that more resembled a silver plated plasterer's hod. All accompanied by a basket of soft, fluffy blankets of nan bread to scoop up every last scrap of buttery juices.

Qabili Palow is a lamb and rice dish, topped with fried raisins, slivered almonds and carrots. Digging our spoons into the buttery grains we soon found the buried treasure; a whole, meltingly tender, lamb shank with meat that fell from the bone with the merest of prods. Although perfectly cooked and gently fragrant, I missed a bit of seasoning and spice, but I am a bit of a chili head and have probably destroyed my palate with the liberal application of Tabasco to everything I put in my mouth.

The grilled skewers of chicken wings, lamb kofte, chicken breast and lamb chops were richly flavoured with a variety of marinades and the char of the grill. Chicken breast was surprisingly juicy, kofte provided a little chilli kick and the wings were good meaty fun, but star of the show were the baby lamb chops. There is little finer than a grilled chop and this was a tender, smoky little morsel, simply seasoned with salt and fired until just pink within, that had me gnawing at the bone.

Service veered between disinterested and very disinterested (they were showing a Christmas film on Channel 5 that was clearly far more entertaining than actually serving the customers), but was friendly enough. Also note they don't take cards and trying to find a working cash machine on a rainy Sunday night in Wealdstone put me in mind of a particularly grim episode of Challenge Anneka.

Finally, cash in hand, we paid the, pretty modest, fifty quid bill, picked up our leftover Qabili Palow and lamb chops, and popped to the shop across the street to pick up a tray of sticky pistachio baklava (and some pillowy Persian bread), for a delayed desert at home. A little slice of the Middle East in Middlesex.
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