Dining Out: The Spice Lounge

A fresh and unique approach to Indian cooking impresses our reviewer in Derby's Friar Gate

It’s small wonder that The Spice Lounge has made a big impact on the county dining scene since it opened in Derby two years ago – it has won back to back best Indian restaurant awards for its exotic Bangladeshi and Southern Asian cuisine, and it was with some keen anticipation that we arrived at its convenient Friar Gate location on a Saturday evening.

Friendly manager Shah Rahman and his team have over a decade of experience in running successful restaurants in both Derbyshire and the West Midlands, and have managed to create a relaxing oasis in which to enjoy delicious food in one of Derby’s most renowned ‘dining districts’.

The d�cor is neither too ostentatious nor minimally contrived: polished dark oak tables were clutter free but sported candles and colourful flowers, and despite the rush we were swiftly seated in one of the cosy booths that line one side of the dining room – opposite the glistening bar area.

Having ordered a glass of Ros� and cobra beer from the extensive wine list, our instinctive reaction on viewing the food menu was one of pleasant surprise. Forget any preconception about Indian cuisine – the sheer variety of tastes and flavours on offer is enticing and the menu focuses on complete flexibility.

A tempting after-work choice, diners eating before 8pm are eligible for the Early Bird menu which includes poppadoms and pickles, a main dish, rice or naan bread and a drink for just �13.50, and the menu itself is divided into more than a dozen sections.

Starters, priced between �4.50 and �7.50, include breaded rice balls with spiced tomato and raisin chutney, a machli biran of fresh salmon and cod fillets or chicken tikka chaat served on crispy chapatti bread. Chicken fried on an Indian tava, coriander ceyloni, curried cod loin or a deluxe tandoori feast are just a handful of the main choices priced from �9.95 to �16.95.

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We settled for the two course option and were promptly presented with a pickle tray of chopped onion, mango chutney, hot lime pickle and mint yoghurt. A welcome change from traditional Indian restaurant fayre, instead of serving one poppadom per person The Spice Lounge served a bowl filled to the top with smaller portions of the crispy appetiser.

I started with the vegetable platter (�5.75) of crispy samosa, deep fried onion bhaji, stuffed mushroom and aloo tikki – an aromatic croquette of potato and herbs. The contrasting components looked as pretty as a picture and the herby fillings in pastry and batter were a unique way to begin.

There were similar plaudits coming from the other side of the table as my partner enjoyed a slightly spicier dish of Tandoori King Prawns served on sweet mango chunks (�7.50). A chat with Shah revealed that the succulent prawns had been marinated in chilli, garlic, fresh ginger and coriander to create a winning – and very fiery – combination of flavours.

Big delicious flavours – this time redolent of more traditional Asian cuisine – were also keynotes of my partner’s main course. The hearty akhni fulab (�14.95) of exotic meats compromised grilled chicken and shish kebab with a generous helping of steamed basmati rice. The fresh and locally-sourced ingredients were enhanced – not overwhelmed – by sensitive spicing and the accompanying jug of vegetable curry sauce was a treat.

In the mood for something lighter, I chose the clay pot spring chicken (�11.95). Simple and uncomplicated, slow roasting the meat in a clay oven had maximised juiciness and the plum-coloured bhuna sauce was rich and sweet, adding just a mild level of heat to the thick and creamy composition.

Our side order of mushroom pilau rice was skilfully seasoned and the peshwari naan, cut into quarters and stuffed with coconut and raisins, quickly disappeared – a tribute to its excellence.

We rounded off a flawless meal with a strong coffee. The Spice Lounge’s chefs have cooked in some of the country’s finest Bangladeshi restaurants - an explanation for their expert skill and thoughtful presentation - and this convivial restaurant, with its vibrant atmosphere and superb food, is the perfect place to be dined and dazzled.

The Spice Lounge, 10 Friar Gate, Derby, DE1 1BU. Tel: 01332 346 145; www.spicelounge-friargate.co.uk

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