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Masala Bites

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My husband is a curry fanatic, so as soon as a new Indian restaurant opens within a 20 mile radius of Cheltenham, we are the first ones there. I particularly love Thali so we were both thrilled when Masala Bites Thali and Tiffin Kitchen opened mid November. It’s the latest addition to Gloucestershire’s leading ethnic restaurant group which includes the Indian Brasserie, Thai Brasserie, India Lounge and Indian Voojan.

‘Let’s go on my birthday,’ I suggested, only two weeks away. ‘Let’s go tonight,’ he replied. ‘Then we can go again for your birthday if we like it.’

We decided to go early as the races were on and we knew we had a short window of opportunity between the traffic leaving the racecourse and the madness of the evening drinkers later on. It was already busy when we arrived.

The restaurant, situated in Albion Street behind Marks & Spencer, has been completely gutted and redecorated; I could still smell the newly laid wood floor and the predominantly orange and brown decor with its leather chairs and bare tables is very contemporary. No flocked wallpaper here. However, to keep it traditional we started with four popadums and a selection of chutneys including a lovely coconut chutney which I hadn’t tried before.

Thali is considered a balanced diet throughout India as it contains bowls of various dishes which offer all the nutrients. There is always a main dish (in Masala Bites it includes Chicken Tikka Masala, Moghul Style Korma, Chennai Style Madras, Gujarati Style Dansak and loads more or you can choose from a wide selection of vegetarian curries). My husband chose the Madras as usual while I went for the Panir Jalfreizi made with Indian cheese. The Thali also includes a portion of rice, a vegetable side dish of the day, dhal and a yoghurt raita. It all comes in little dishes on a giant tray and you mix it together in another dish. The portions were far larger than we expected (I had to give half of my rice to my husband). The whole Thali is priced at £7.95 per person for the whole meal, unless you go for one of the specials such as Lemony Lamb with mint and coriander at £8.95 or the tempting Maldives Tuna fish curry which is still better value at £11.95 as it is for the whole meal. In other restaurants a seafood curry alone is over £13!

You don’t take your own drinks, but with lager at £2.75 a pint and wine from £2.95 a glass, you know the drinks won’t push the bill up too much. We enjoyed the food and the whole Thali experience.

Masala Bites has still more to differentiate itself from other restaurants in Cheltenham. A ‘Tiffin’ service will operate each day during lunchtimes serving commercial premises and residences in the area. All the Tiffin lunches are cooked fresh and the menu varies each day. In Mumbai, 5,000 Tiffin Wallahs, also known as Dabbawala, serve 200,000 Tiffin boxes filled with home cooked food each day to office workers across the city. Masala Bites hope to do the same, though probably not 200,000 quite yet!

Finally Masala Bites do not used Ghee, unhealthy cooking oils or artificial colourings. Ingredients are sourced from well known suppliers and vegetables are locally sourced.

Masala Bites is located in 22-24 Albion Street, Cheltenham GL52 2LP. Tel: 01242 530531 and the website is at http://www.masala-bites.com. It is open 7 days a week 11.30am to 2.30pm lunchtimes and 5.30pm till midnight evenings (last orders 11.30pm).