Indian cuisine at its very best. crack
Indian restaurants have changed a lot over recent years. They have moved on and some now rank alongside leading mainstream restaurants. Out went the red flock wall-paper and pictures of the Taj Mahal by moonlight and in came subtle décor, subdued lighting and nouvelle cuisine à l’indienne.
The Spice Lodge though, is in a class of its own. Nestling in the shadow of the Eagle Star building it occupies a whole, typically Cheltenham villa. When you approach its imposing façade and enter the elegant entrance hall you could be in a grand restaurant of any type, anywhere. The main dining room is majestic by any standards with high, moulded ceilings, large windows, linen tablecloths and modern paintings. The service is impeccable and discrete.
We were greeted by Mohammed who showed us into the comfortable bar for an aperitif. The Spice Lodge describes itself as pan Asian and the menu is about half and half, Indian and Thai. To ensure authenticity Mohammed employs Thai, Indian Bangladeshi and Nepalese chefs.
On the night we went, the restaurant was full but the general ambiance of the main dining room is free of the hard, echoing clutter of some other ‘trendy’ places and the tables are sufficiently spaced so that conversations are not shared with other diners.
My starter, a shallow fried sea bass marinated with Indian herbs with sweet chilli sauce arrived, beautifully crisp and curled around some thin slithers of salad, peppers and carrots. My companion had a succulent Chicken Tikka.
For the main dish, he asked Mohammed to surprise him with something special and was brought a beautifully presented Murgh Masala which was a attractive to the eye as it was to the taste buds. I chose the Kali Mirch, duck breast fillet with caramelised onions and tomato, flavoured with garlic fenugreek and a black pepper sauce. The flavours in all our dishes were finely balanced so as not to dominate the fish or the chicken. As side dishes we treated ourselves to a subtle Dall of assorted lentils with spices and garlic and a small, very delicate Sag Aloo.
When reviewing a restaurant we obviously can’t try the whole menu but thumbing through the extensive menu we found some other tempting dishes. The du Jour menu offers a roasted cumin marinated Aubergine which I shall keep in mind for our next visit. We ate from the Indian menu but on the Thai side there is Tempura, Satay as well as a selection of Thai curries and Stir Frys.
We always try the house wine and chose the house red, a Carignan by the name of Le Sanglier Montagne (wild boar of the mountain) which is very presentable, not too heavy on tannin but with a nice, red fruit and blackcurrant undertone. There is an excellent choice of rosés such as a Hungarian Pinot Grigio or a Californian Dusty Creek Zinfandel. The white wines include a good Chablis, as well as an Alsatian Gewürtztraminer from Turckheim, a wine particularly suited to this type of Indian cuisine.
We ended our meal with some delicious Mövenpick ice cream and an espresso.
For mid-day eating The Spice Lodge also offers an Indian or Thai lunch box for £5 and a weekday special 2-course lunch for £9.95.
After our meal Mohammed showed us round the rest of the building. The house retains all the period features including a magnificent staircase with a lovingly polished curved banister. There are private dining rooms on the first floor which are perfect for weddings or special occasions. There is an impressive conference room which can have a flexible table arrangement to suit individual needs. Companies can hire all the dining rooms, the conference rooms and audio visual equipment and projector screens. Rates are by the hour, the half day or by a full day. All the rooms have a wonderful view and the light pours in through the huge windows framed by greenery. The optional catering ranges from mineral water and tea/coffee, to sandwiches, buffet at lunch or in the evening or a full formal dinner. Discounts are also available when the conference room is booked together with catering. The rental of the rooms is, to my mind, incredibly reasonable. For really large occasions the entire building can be hired.
Anyone wanting to impress clients from home or abroad could not choose a better venue than The Spice Lodge.