Friday, July 11, 2008

Food review - Spice Market

Despite many opportunities I’ve mostly shied away from doing food reviews, the chief reason being that I like to be able to simply enjoy a good meal without having to analyse or make mental notes about it (it’s bad enough that reading books and watching films is no longer as relaxed as it used to be). But recently I did a restaurant review for Time Out magazine. The place was the Spice Market, situated behind the Select mall in Saket; to reach it by car, you have to negotiate a rough and bumpy road alongside the Marriott hotel. It’s a homely restaurant that makes a spirited if obvious effort to live up to its name. Sacks of spices line its interiors, there are red chillies and coriander seeds (or convincing facsimiles of red chillies and coriander seeds) in the decorative glass bowls on the tables, and even the artwork and photos on the walls have a spice theme. There is a nouveau-Indian cuisine feel about the extensive menu, which includes pungent dishes from around the country.

For starters, we ordered the intriguingly named ganne ka kebab and the dal pakodi. The former turned out to be flavourful chicken seekhs wrapped around sugarcane sticks; it’s a nice idea, and if you’re willing to forgo mundane rules of etiquette and chew hard and noisily on a cane stick at a restaurant table, the warm juice nicely offsets the dryness of the meat. The dal pakodi – compact little balls filled with moong daal – passed muster, though they were a little too tough for my taste. We washed this down with rose lassi – rich, creamy, very sweet – and a pungent and invigorating strawberry cinnamon mojito, which my wife insisted was the highlight of the meal.

Next, we ordered a Parsi chicken biryani main course: I'm not sure there was anything notably Parsi about the preparation, but the dish was greatly enhanced by the accompanying Burani raita, which had a garlic base and a distinct, pleasing tinge of mustard. The big disappointment though was the boatman’s prawn curry, which is listed on the “chef’s special” page on the menu – it was an unremarkable onion-and-tomato curry, not too different from standard dhaba fare and soaked much too generously in oil. Definitely didn’t justify the price (Rs 625). Since we already had a rice dish at hand, we opted to have the curry with tandoori phulka, soft and warm like a homemade chapati.

The food had been more than filling, especially for a summer afternoon, but in journalistic interests we ploughed on. Our dessert choices were a very interesting blackcurrant phirni and a sampler that conveniently provided miniature versions of five items on the dessert menu, including a gulab jamun dunked in chocolate sauce and a mango shrikand. It was a decent way to wrap up the meal, even though we weren’t especially hungry at this point.

Spice Market tries hard and the service is polite, efficient and well-informed, but based on our experience I wouldn’t say the food is good value for money. However, one has to make allowances for the limitations of the food-review format (we visited anonymously and could only order a meal for two - couldn't sample a variety of dishes) and it probably isn’t fair to judge the place on a single visit. There’s a lot of variety on the menu - from Rajasthani laal maas to Goan fish curry to Bengali kosha mangsho - though this can also be indicative of trying to cater to too many different tastes and not doing full justice to any of them. On the whole, I’d say it’s a pleasant place to visit if you’re in the mood for appetizers and a couple of cool drinks rather than a full-fledged meal. Or if you’re looking to escape the hurly-burly of the Select mall, which has its giant behind turned disdainfully to the restaurant.

Meal for two (including a non-alcoholic drink, starter, main course and dessert each): Rs 3,000. 12 noon till midnight. Liquor license awaited. For reservations, call 9958453636.

[Some earlier food-related posts here, here and here]

12 comments:

  1. "Despite many opportunities I’ve mostly shied away from doing food reviews, the chief reason being that I like to be able to simply enjoy a good meal without having to analyse or make mental notes about it (it’s bad enough that reading books and watching films is no longer as relaxed as it used to be). "
    Interesting! I love to talk about food/movies/books etc.,but I guess at the time of the experience, one should be able to switch off the critical faculties to enjoy it fully.In my house it was forbidden to criticize food while eating,at the dining table.You could do it after finishing though.
    By the way,have you had good Thai in Delhi?

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  2. Rahul: oh yes, at lots of places - among them Thai Wok (in Mehrauli, not sure if it's still open though) and Ego Thai (New Friend's Colony). My favourite is probably Chilli Seasson (that's how it's spelt) in the Lodhi market, but it isn't a particularly cheerful place these days and seems to be perpetually empty. Superb Nasi Goreng though (yes, I know that isn't Thai technically). Then there's the Bangkok Degree One in Sainik Farms, very close to where I live - they do an excellent Khai Yudd Sai (omelette containing minced chicken and vegetables) and fish cakes.

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  3. forgive my ignorance - isn't Rs. 3000 outrageously expensive for 2 people - considering no alcoholic drinks?

    sorry again - but is the food/experience really worth it?

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  4. Hi- please delete my earlier comment on whether it is really worth Rs. 3000 - just reread the article and found that you had already mentioned that food is not value for money.

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  5. Wow you get to go out for doing food/restaurant reviews with your spouse?? Lucky man, I want a job like that!

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  6. isn't Rs. 3000 outrageously expensive for 2 people - considering no alcoholic drinks?

    Anon 1: I should have clarified something. The review format was such that we were required to order 2 appetizers, 2 main courses, 2 drinks and 2 desserts. In practice, this was way too much for us to cope with and we couldn't finish everything (even though we had been fairly hungry going in). So the Rs 3000 for two people is actually misleading - that's why I've clarified the food quantities at the end. Most people I know wouldn't elect to have 1 solid appetizer + 1 main course + 1 dessert each at a restaurant.

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  7. Wow you get to go out for doing food/restaurant reviews with your spouse??

    Anon 2: well, actually, as I've mentioned at the beginning of the post, I don't do restaurant reviews normally - thus missing out on many of the perks of the food beat. But I do get loads of free books, if that makes up for anything!

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  8. That ganne ka kabab is intriguing. I cannot think of any dish similar to this in Indian cuisine.

    However, there's a fairly well-known Vietnamese dish exactly like this called chao tom, which is shrimp paste wrapped around sugarcane sticks and grilled. Did your kabab look like this?

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/noodlepie/98152150/

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  9. thalassa_mikra: well, the ganna looked like that (but then it would, wouldn't it!) but the kebab wasn't as brown, and more seekh-ish in appearance.

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  10. OMG! 3K for a meal for two with no alcohol to boot! This is as expensive as Olive kitchen and bar! :P

    BTW the initial description reminded me of visuals of Mistress of Spices.

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  11. Hi,

    The Spice market is too expensive and the service terrible. You can read my review here

    http://delhi.burrp.com/establishment/review/9yi_6l9

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