The Phoenix of Belgrave Road: Mirch Masala
Mirch Masala had been bringing a delicious range of vegetarian world street food to Leicester since 1996. Then, in January, an arson attack on the Belgrave Commercial Centre saw fire rip through the popular restaurant. Along with some of their neighbours, the business was devastated. Fortunately, no one was hurt, although a small number of staff and customers were in the building as the fire took hold. After months of hard work by the Popat family who run it, Mirch Masala was able to make a triumphant return on Diwali Day – one of the busiest days of the year in Belgrave Road’s calendar.
I finally made my way to Mirch Masala last week to see for myself what it was like after the extensive revamp that has taken place. I was absolutely gobsmacked when I walked in the door. What was previously a very homely little restaurant, but a little plain and cafeteria-like in feel has risen from the ashes as a more mature, contemporary and effortlessly stylish restaurant.
The knocked through wall, replaced with open plan shelving and tasteful ornaments (including a subtle glittery Christmas tree or two) has really opened the whole space up. There is still a comfortable waiting area for takeout customers, and so high seating for those popping in for tea and cake or cocktails. The dining area has a good selection of comfortable booth seating, bucket chairs and wooden chairs. The polished wooden floor is accented by a subtle but elegant palette of golds, teals, purples and browns which give a feeling of understated opulence. In short, it’s a beautiful and very comfortable dining room.
Vegetarian and Vegan Street Food
True to their roots, Mirch Masala has remained a world street food restaurant, with a vegetarian only menu. In actual fact, I would guess that the menu is at least 90% vegan – there is some paneer, and dairy in some sweets (although all the cakes are eggless) but those are probably the only non-vegan items. With menu selections including India, Indo-Chinese fusion, Italy and Mexico I must confess I have always found choosing what to eat at Mirch a bit of a struggle! So it was with some relief I noted that they have pared down the menu considerably. It is much more streamlined and so easier to select from.
Rather than mixing my cuisines, I opted to order from the Indian part of the menu, but if past experience is anything to go by, I would heartily recommend the vegetable lasagne and the veggie enchiladas. I look forward to going back and seeing if they still hit the spot for me soon.
Ordering from the Indian menu
I started with the Hara Bhara kebab, because I hadn’t had it before. Always nice to order something you haven’t tried! These little spinach and potato patties had a light spice kick and a lovely crisp exterior. Full of flavour and very moreish they were. A great complement to the beetroot and coconut samosas, that are an interesting twist on a classic. The beetroot is earthy and a little sweet, lightened by the coconut and all encased in a perfectly crisp wrapper. With a delightful green chutney to dip everything in, I polished off my starter and went on to something a little more substantial.
The measure of any Indian menu is the rice for me, and I adored the Pilau. It was light and steaming, with just a hint of bite. Perfectly separated, fluffy grains beckoned to be introduced to a rich and flavourful sauce. And this I found in the Paneer Makhani. This is a super decadent dish. It has a sweet tomato note and a creamy undertone. The firm paneer within adds delicious texture as well as soaking up all of the complex spice flavour. It has a chilli kick, but isn’t overly spicy, more flavourful. Although if you like it hot, do ask for it to be spiced up when you order. Many dishes on the menu can also be ordered without onion or garlic to if you so desire.
All of this was simply delicious and I was pretty full. However I am quite pregnant, so I could not resist a little taste of the desserts. The Ferrero Rocher cake was recommended to me. I was caught in a quandry between that and the mango and passionfruit cheesecake.
Apparently Mirch Masala’s eggless cakes are the stuff of legend locally. And rightly so! Despite being eggless, I found the cake to be light textured and beautifully baked. The hazelnut-chocolate frosting was quite heavy, tempered with the same flavour of buttercream in the layers. And of course an actual Ferrero Rocher on top as a garnish. And did I mention it… was.. huge!? My only disappointment was my old enemy, squirty cream, which brings out an irrational anger in me. I shall opt for ice cream next time!
I cannot urge you to go and check out the all new Mirch Masala enough. My visit was a real pleasure. The food, the service and the surroundings were all on point. Although the menu was still familiar, it really feels like Mirch Masala 2.0 and I am loving the improvement. While the menu is not quite so overfacing anymore there is still a lot on offer to keep you coming back to try something new. They also have an interesting selection of cocktails and mocktails. On the whole I think they do a surprisingly good job of offering something unique on the restaurant-heavy Belgrave Road and I wish them every success going forward!
Thank you to Mirch Masala for inviting me to dine with them on the house. My opinions are an honest reflection of my experience.