Talk about wrong first impressions. And second ones. Situated just an onion bhaji’s throw from Westferry DLR station in Docklands, the Spice Merchants has long been on my curry radar. After all, how can you see a place so often and not be tempted to visit?
At first I thought it was shop selling raw spices – the word merchants threw me. Then when I jumped off the DLR to replenish my spice pots at home I realised it was a restaurant. And because of its size it was now a huge restaurant in my head.
In fact the Spice Merchants is not the cavernous size I’d imagined. It’s like walking into a Tardis in reverse. Whoever designed this circular, brick-faced building certainly wasn’t thinking of utilising space to its full. Downstairs there are a couple of overflow tables but this is essentially used as a waiting area for takeaways. There is also a superb bar. The main seated area, of about 50 covers, is upstairs via a winding staircase. Due to the layout the tables are nicely spaced. Add in the airy contemporary design and it feels more intimate than other spaces of similar size.
But enough of my audition for Grand Designs. This is a classy contemporary Indian. A great menu, with a few interesting specials, but without ditching the old-school classics we all love, plus staff that know how to achieve just the right balance between service and friendliness.
Classics like Sheek Kebab (£3.45) taste as you expect (why do some chefs in contemporary places try to prove their worth by messing with proven classics?) but with a nice flourish in the presentation. If you want something different it’ll be hard to resist the wonderfully named Magic Mushrooms (£3.95). Think spicy scotch egg stuffed with mushrooms. Delivery again was fun and clever – each ball was placed on a raw onion ring. Nice one.
The King Prawn Jalfreizi (£9.95) was probably the best I’ve ever eaten with juicy, good-sized prawns and very fresh strips of peppers and onions coated in a thick sauce. The waiter hardly blinked an eye when asked if we could order a dish not on the menu (‘No problem. We can cook anything you want.”) so an order for Keema Madras was dispatched to the chef.
Bet Doctor Who never gets service like that in his Tardis.