From popadom to Bombay pizza

    Guest post by Paul Simeon – The Indian meals following Cous Cous Cafe‘s takeouts and dinners at Oxford during his two weeks in England.

    Saturday night I went to Mirch Masala. It was an Indian/Pakistani place. I later found out from the servers that the owner was from Pakistan, and the wife was from India. While I was waiting, alone, the server offered to get me some popadom (it has multiple spellings, but this is how their menu says it).

    I didn’t know what it was or if it were complimentary, so I just said, “no, that’s alright.”  He brought it anyway, and it was quite nice.  It was a thin, crisp flatbread, like a cracker, and it had three toppings for it: chutney, chopped onions and coriander, and some green mint sauce.  The chutney was quite good.

    I didn’t finish all of the popadom by the time the main dish came, Murgh Makhani (Tandoori chicken off the bone cooked in butter, yoghurt, cream, cashew nuts, powder and masala sauces) with a side of paratha (rolled out Indian bread made on tawa, spread with ghee) to eat it with.

    Murgh Makhani was the first on the list of house specialties, and I’m inclined to pick from the house special list.  I decided to try paratha instead of the more familiar naan.  They’re both good.  Paratha is just grilled in a skillet rather than baked like naan.  It works just as well as the naan at scooping up the main dish, and they are both better than the popadom.

    The highlight of the night was the main dish, though.  It was simply perfect.  It was sweet, spicy, savory all at once, and just the right level of spice (for me) where one doesn’t notice it.  It had lots of grilled chicken pieces in it.  It was good quality chicken with little charred bits on it.

    I barely had enough room to finish it all, except a little bit of popadom. The bill was 9 pounds, and the popadom was indeed complimentary, but perhaps just in my case. Tax is already included in the bill in England, which makes it easier to split the bill with multiple people. The servers noticed I was taking pictures of my food and suggested I should take a picture of the murals on two walls in the place. He said they were specially painted for them.  I thought the lights that had shining on them would mess up the picture, but it turned out to be the best picture of the night.  The lighting was too low for good pictures with my camera.

    My last day in Oxford was spent in the Oxford University Museum of Natural History.  It was a pretty good museum, with the first dinosaur bones ever identified as a prehistoric reptile.  It was also the site of the famous 1860 evolution debate between Huxley and Wilberforce.  When it closed at 5, I roamed the tourist-filled streets of Oxford for a place to eat.  There wasn’t much by the museum, but I eventually found an area with some more options.

    I settled on a place called Fire & Stone. Its theme was international pizza, with their menu divided by continent and filled with bizarre pizzas made from the cuisines of the continent. For example, Africa offers the Marrakech (£8.95 cumin spiced ground lamb, mozzarella, mint yoghurt sauce, green olives, raisins & sliced red onion drizzled with chilli oil) and the Cairo (£7.95 (v) Fire roasted red & yellow peppers, courgettes, aubergines, balsamic roasted red onions, mozzarella and Fire & Stone’s tomato sauce topped with crumbled goat’s cheese & pine nuts).  In some cases, it was pretty much insert-your-cuisine fusion food baked onto a pizza. They had a few vegetarian options, but I just got the impression that they didn’t offer as many vegetarian options in England as in the Bay Area, not surprisingly, and there was never a mention of vegan options.

    I chose the Bombay (£8.95 Roast tandoori marinated chicken breast, spiced tandoori yoghurt base, broccoli, sliced red onion, mozzarella, spiced mango chutney and cucumber & mint yoghurt) since Indian food is rare on this blog. This was good, but it would be a let-down if you’re expecting good Indian food, especially after eating at Mirch Masala. The chicken was not grilled or very flavorful, and the yoghurt and broccoli didn’t seem to go well with the rest. It was a nice change to have a tandoori base instead of normal pizza sauce. The pizza was 9 inches wide, a decent portion. I ate the whole thing without feeling too stuffed, which is just the right amount, I think. American restaurants tend to give a lot more food, which is good if you want to take home leftovers, but it often causes people to overeat or waste food. 9 pounds (roughly $14) is a little high, but I guess it’s normal (or even reasonable) for eating out in the middle of Oxford. They didn’t cut the pizza. Why not?

    The restaurant was pretty big. It was a little early for the dinner crowd, so it was a bit empty. They had many big sliding windows open to air the place out. They also offer pasta, but I saw at least one table leave when the server informed them that the oven just broke, and they wouldn’t have pasta for about 30 minutes.

    They had a hand-held credit card reader (as many places in England did) so that she could scan my card right at my table. Then she passed it to me to enter the percentage to add on as tip. I thought it was convenient compared to estimating it by hand, but I could see how some might find that awkward.

    Mirch Masala
    137-139, Cowley Rd
    Oxford, Oxfordshire OX4 1HU
    Telephone: 01865 728581

    Fire & Stone Pizza Restaurant
    Threeways House, 28-38 George Street
    Oxford OX1 2BJ

    Other bites in England:
    Oxford dinners – part I and II
    Cous Cous Cafe in Oxford
    – Pie and mash at the Ship Inn Upavon and Pieminister
    – England’s healthy fastfood chain: Pret A Manger

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