The socially distanced streets outside were empty and the restaurant itself featured a vast Wolverhampton Wanderers logo. Which is not good if you’re a West Brom fan.
What would happen as I approached. Would Steve Bull pop up from behind a bush and lecture me on the error of my ways. Or would Nuno Espirito Santo appear and explain the unfairness of life given the unstoppable rise of the men in old gold and black?
The Wolves mural was not the only artwork at Massalla Club. To the other side of the unprepossessing building was a mural of a leopard. And a few of the letters were missing from the sign above the premises, which meant Cuisine now said something different and unpronounceable.
If first impressions count – and they do – I was also confused by the name of the restaurant.
I can only imagine the sign-writers were offering a buy-one-consonant-get-one-free offer when they spelled massalla, which, as our good friend Google tells us, is spelled with a single s and single l.
28 million masalas versus 140,000 massallas is a pretty comfortable majority in that particular spelling test. It’s a good job they chose a name whose meaning didn’t change by the addition of those lettesr.
The website was also pretty grim. What is it with Black Country restaurants and websites?
I thought we’d smartened up our act 20 years ago and accepted that customers needed a decent gallery and a clear and easy to read menu as a basic requirement.
The Massalla Club’s gallery offerings banging music but pictures that are variously blurred or tend to show lots of people eating or lots of empty chairs and tables, rather than inviting depictions of alluring food. The age of Instagram clearly hasn’t made it as far as Regis Road.
People eat with their eyes, as well as their mouths, and viewing attractive photographs of food is a sure-fire way to whet a customer’s appetite.
And yet while Massalla Club is the bride who turns up at a wedding wearing tracksuit bottoms and a hoodie, it does other things reasonably well. And those are the things that really count – like decent service, good food and value for money.
In these days of social distancing, I’d ordered an evening collection and the food was ready bang on time. Being punctual counts for something; and the chefs and waiters were that.
They were also pretty friendly. Sure, asking a first-time customer how his family is, is a question straight from the book. But it’s the book of decent customer service and making an effort when it would be easier not to bother. Staff were hygienic. Latex gloves were in place and the Covid-19 protocols were rigorously observed.
The food was pretty good, too.
Complimentary poppadoms and dips were in our take-home bag, which also featured starters of chicken chaat and salmon tikka.
The tikka was pungent and strongly flavoured while the chaat was a little too oily. When customers are travelling home with food, the amount of oil used in a dish becomes ever-more apparent as it settles on the top of curried dishes or drowns breads that encase ingredients.
And in the case of the chaat, while the flavours were still fine it wasn’t what you might call a happy traveller. The bread was saturated and on the point of disintegration by the time it was gently lifted to a plate. A side of veg samosa were also good. While no longer crisp, the flavours were delicious and the texture great.
The curries were good. A butter chicken was rich and indulgent. Mildly flavoured and cooked so that the chicken remained tender and moist, the chef had done a good job and delivered ample flavour in the dish.
A chicken achari was the stand-out dish. Originating in North Bengal, it comprised tender pieces of chicken with garlic, ginger, mango pickle and plenty of herbs and spices.
The mango pickle added both sweet and acidulated elements while providing added entertainment. It was like playing a curried version of Bob Apple – is it a piece of chicken or is it a chunk of mango? Aaaahhhh, it’s tomato.
I think the final dish I’d ordered was meant to feature prawns, though the one we opened featured chicken. Maybe I’d said chicken, though I’m sure I didn’t. It was fine, nonetheless, with thinly sliced pieces of land-dwelling meat and a rich, fruity sauce.
The breads and rice were decent. Pilau rice was light and fluffy while both roti and naan were elegantly cooked. The naan was as big and airy as a pillow made from swan down. The roti was its street-fighting mate, light and nimble while being used as a scoop for sauce.
Many small, independent restaurateurs will go to the wall during the corona crisis. They simply don’t have the cash reserves to sustain themselves over a lengthy period of time and without regular income the outlook is bleak.
We can, however, show some form of solidarity with them by ordering safely-procured takeaways that provide them with a trickle of income. Not that restaurants will be thinking of profits. It’s a race to survive as establishments focus on paying suppliers, utility bills, mortgages and heaven knows what else – long before they are able to pay staff.
While many restaurants have already closed, Massalla Club is promoting its takeaway offering and hoping to serve the people of north Wolverhampton.
Their staff are friendly and polite, ordering is easy and efficient and the food delivers on flavour by being bold and punchy.
If you know a great restaurant that’s offering a brilliant take-away service, let us know. Email firstname.lastname@example.org with the details, so we can check it out.
Belpuri chana £3.95
Prawn cocktail £3.95
Tandoori chicken £3.50
Sheek kebab £6.95
Tandoori king prawn £9.95
Relish chicken £8.95
Mushroom rice £2.75
Cheese naan £2.50
65 Regis Road, Tettenhall,
Wolverhampton, WV6 8RH
01902 745166 - 01902 757687