Monday, 28 February 2011

Masala Bites, Cheltenham

Place: Masala Bites, Cheltenham
Booking Tel: 01242 530531
Price per person for a 3 course meal and 1/2 a bottle of wine: £25 incl. tip
Good for: Meeting with friends / students
Dress code: Casual

Pros: good Indian food for very reasonable price and in a warm vibrant setting. A great place for eating with friends on a Friday night!

Cons: limited dessert menu, however this is a planned improvement area, we did wait quite a while for our food – we were the last table to leave the restaurant and did not massively linger over dinner!

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Read on for full review...

For lovers of Indian food there is an exciting new experience in Cheltenham in the form of Masala Bites - a Thali and Tiffin restaurant that opened at the end of last year. Masala Bites is the first dedicated Thali restaurant in Cheltenham and after sampling and enjoying Thali for the first time at a festival last summer; I was very keen to repeat the experience!Thali is a healthy balanced meal consisting of a selection of Indian dishes. Masala Bites offers a wide range of Thali main dish choices, such as king prawns in goan red sauce and serves all of them with rice, dhal, vegetables, salads and yoghurt raitas. Thali dishes start from £7.95, which is incredibly good value for money.
Masala Bites also offers a daily lunchtime Tiffin service with a simple menu of chicken, lamb or vegetable Tiffin’s cooked fresh every day. Tiffin boxes are a kind of Western equivalent of lunch boxes and are widely used in India for the collecting of freshly cooked lunch meals from the homes of office workers; delivering the food to them in their offices and then taking the box back home afterwards. Masala Bites delivers Tiffins in disposable boxes and they contain street bites (e.g. pakoras and spring rolls), dry curry, rice, chappathi, salad and yoghurt. The cost for a Tiffin box is £4.95, which is again excellent value for money. I only wished I worked in Cheltenham so I could take more advantage of these!
Masala Bites also offers a small selection of wraps and noodle dishes along with the usual side dishes expected from an Indian restaurant.

I visited Masala Bites on a Friday evening with a group of friends - there were six of us for dinner and we had booked a table for 8.30pm. When we arrived at the restaurant the evening dinner service was in full swing. The restaurant is open plan; however there is a rear section which has the feel of being a little more separate to the rest of the main room (a good space for a large party). The interior is suffused with warm orangey tones, soft lighting and chunky dark tables and chairs.
We were immediately shown to our table, which was in the front part of the dining room and surrounded by people in high spirits with a great buzzing atmosphere. In fact nearly every table was filled, which boded well. We ordered drinks and a selection of popadoms (spicy and plain). The spicy popadoms were crisper and thinner than the plain ones and were delicately spiced – I am definitely a convert!
One of the owners, Ubad, was quick to introduce himself and needed little encouragement to tell us anything we wanted to know about his new business venture! You could see that Ubad was very passionate about the restaurant and he has lots of plans on new ideas that he wants to try out very soon - a new cocktail menu and a wider range of desserts are a couple of the ideas on the table!
We ordered a selection of dishes ranging from tuna kebabs and vegetable spring roll light bites to shrimps with spinach leaf, panir jalfrezi and house recommended chicken with coriander and ginger Thali’s. The light bites were brought out first and the tuna kebabs were especially good, if not what we were expecting! The kebabs were more like grilled patties and consisted of a tuna and vegetable mix served on a bed of salad. The tuna kebab was really nicely flavoured and a made good starter / accompaniment to the meal. We all had different Thali main courses and the roasted chicken with coriander and ginger was very good, being delicately spiced and not too overpowered with heat or flavours. The jalfrezi paneer was a good vegetarian option and went really well with the other dishes on the Thali plate. The side dishes consisted of a lovely fragrant vegetable curried dish, rice, raita and a selection of Nan breads and chapattis. 
The dessert menu was limited in choices, being either a selection of ice creams or kulfi. We tried all of them – the ice cream was not local and not memorable, which was a shame as there are some lovely local ice creams in the West Country to choose from and the kulfi was the same. This is definitely an area that has room for improvement, however could be forgiven on this occasion for the good choice of Thali offerings.

I am already planning on returning to Masala Bites very soon and really hope that as its growing reputation continues to spread Masala Bites stays true to its roots of providing good quality Indian food, using local ingredients where possible and served with genuine enthusiasm!

T :-))