Still, on the quest for an authentic Indian restaurant that I could liken to the dishes, I regularly feasted on in London, my family and I ventured to Massala at The Karvin Hotel in Heliopolis. Off the main street, one finds the independent hotel on a quiet narrow road, making parking a little tricky.
The hotel, a relatively tall apartment building nestled between other such apartment buildings, stands out from its noticeable sign, glass doors, and security metal detector out the front. The full garage meant we had to park right outside the hotel, having to leave the key with hotel security.
But this did not matter, for the promise of delectable Indian spices waited in close proximity. Much to our surprise, however, was the “Massala restaurant is undergoing refurbishment and is closed until further notice” sign that greeted us upon entering. Deflated, and about to turn on our heels and leave, the receptionist informed us that the Massala kitchen as still open, just not the restaurant. We could eat in the Chinese lounge instead. So far, my emotions could be likened to a heart monitor, up one minute, down the next, and up again. The food had better be worth it.
It was a little bizarre entering the empty Chinese restaurant, and one could not blame customers for staying away. I imagine this is what Charlotte Bronte had in mind for Jane Eyre’s traumatic experience in the Red Room, the lounge pulsating a reddish glow that even Al-Ahly fans would detest.
I wanted to be the Hotel Inspector right that minute and order things to be taken away with a clap of my hands, including the Chinese lampshades that were causing an attack on the eyes, and the strange Chinese figurines on the old, wooden piano. Everything seemed to be a different shade of red, including the tableware. The walls also needed repainting (preferably a different color). Gordon Ramsay would not be happy here, and I could imagine him using quite a few profanities about the chosen décor.
But the menu was brought to our table and it was time to study my hopes and dreams of revisiting my comfort zone. Scanning apprehensively through the list, I have to admit I was a little disappointed because there wasn’t a good selection of choices in the non-vegetarian section.
I noticed the prices were in the 45 Egyptian pounds range for the main dish, having to order the rice separately. For three people we would pay a total of three-hundred and fifty Egyptian pounds, which included starters and drinks.
I chose number 25, which was as close as I was going to get to butter chicken. We also ordered number26, and number 27. What I liked was that the waiter asked whether we wanted the dish to be mild or quite spicy, something that we were not asked in the previous Indian restaurants we had ventured to. We ordered two of the dishes to be mild, with one being very spicy.
While we waited, we ordered starters, naturally. The samosas were shaped unlike any I have laid my eyes on, which was an entertaining change. Breaking into its crusty exterior with my fork, I could smell the delicious spices already.
After tasting it, I was pleased that the vegetables inside did contain the spices I remembered so well. The fried onion, however, failed to please me, as all I tasted was fried oil.
Now, my dish looked quite interesting. The chicken had a nice tandoori taste to it, appreciating that it was marinated quite well. But the sauce was just too rich in tomato purée, and I couldn’t detect the taste of butter, cream, or even a hint of coconut which was always delightfully added to the Indian dishes back in London. This meant I wasn’t really satisfied with the dish on the whole, although the tasteful spices were there, unlike Indira’s restaurant at the Holiday Inn.
This dish was number 26, the tandoori chicken boneless cooked with bell peppers and onions. It didn’t really have a sauce like my dish, and the bell peppers hindered us from tasting the spices that I enjoyed in my dish. So this was a disappointing choice. The saffron rice with peas was cooked well, the peas giving it a pleasant, crunchy texture.
Number 27, the tandoori chicken in a rich, spicy tomato sauce, was surprisingly spicy for those of us who could tolerate it. And this was the authentic spiciness we knew and liked, not like the awkward Egyptian chili one splashes on a plate of Koshary, which was offered to us at the Indira Restaurant, passing it off as Indian. (Tsk.)
The garlic naan was a much better version of Indira’s too (couldn’t help but compare). It was juicy and tasted of butter and garlic, just as it should. But the bread was a little strange, and I couldn’t help but think this was not the naan bread I was accustomed to. It was a little thick and just didn’t taste the way I know a naan should taste. However, the one portion was quite generous, with four large naans to accompany you with your main meal.
On the whole, I would rate the atmosphere with a big, fat juicy zero. The décor was outdated and ghastly, even if it wasn’t the Massala restaurant. Perhaps after the Massala restaurant is refurbished, it will prove itself worthy for customers to venture inside and enjoy a quiet meal. Although the hotel has a roof terrace to enjoy one’s meal, it was too cold that night to even comprehend eating outdoors.
The service was good, the waiters helpful with suggestions, giving us an idea about each dish. They gave us our space but were also fast to appear when it came to wanting their attention. During our stay, another small group came in to have a meal without looking at the menu, so I got the impression that the restaurant must have its regular customers.
Overall, the food was definitely an improvement from the last two Indian restaurants I visited; the spices and tandoori were authentic. The fact that there weren’t many choices in the non-vegetarian section means it is unlikely I visit again unless I am in the mood for the same dish I tried. But I would ask the waiter that the chef go easy on the tomato purée. And if the chef was open to suggestions, I’d even ask for something off the menu.
The Karvin Hotel’s Indian Restaurant
Massala at The Karvin Hotel
11 Mohamed Ebeid st.,
El-saba`a Emarat Square,