For almost a year I’ve been hearing from friends in the catering equipment trade, and others of sub-continental descent, that what they called a “brilliant new Indian restaurant” was due to open in Milton Park shortly.
Eating Out with Dusty Miller
Well “shortly” didn’t quite stretch to 12 months but it wasn’t far off when Spice Lounge opened for business in spacious premises (yes, another former Colonial-era single-storey dwelling) in Lezard Avenue, opposite the Boy Scouts headquarters about a month ago.
It is the most brilliantly-designed, spotless, easy to keep clean and hygienic medium-sized professional kitchen I’ve been invited to inspect for some time.
Talented executive chef, Rakesh Porkriyal, has been imported from New Delhi, India, The Department of Immigration finally accepting there were no unemployed Indian cuisine professionals available here. He is ably supported by locally-born chef Kashmira Nagar.
All that proprietor Darmesh Parbhoo is left to do is to secure a licence to sell grog and then stock up the very attractive cocktail bar. For the present it’s a BYOB operation and although the initial menu indicates a US$5 corkage fee, Darmesh, who’s 33 and was at St George’s College, told me he’d already decided to waive that charge until after the liquor license is awarded.
Had I known no hooch was available, I’d have taken a six-pack cooler bag filled with Golden Pilsener lagers from home. I suppose I could have popped up to the supermarket at Kensington and bought a bottle of wine, but I decided that cans of Sprite — what I always think of as an adult-themed lemonade — would do nicely.
Sitting on the verandah in dappled sunshine on the warmest day of the week (but I still wore a light jersey and longs) a “freebie” of eight ice-cream cornet shaped poppadums arrived with a piquant coriander-flavoured dip. They were delightfully more-ish and everyone likes something for nothing!
I was supposed to lunch at Spice Lounge with my Hindu pal JR Ranchod, who owns the Mazvikadia holiday resort complex near Banket and is treasurer of the Greendale Good Food & Wine Appreciation Society, but he sent his apologies for a second time, so I had to find my own way through the menu as I was running out of free lunch times, before a five- week working holiday in the UK and Persian Gulf.
I was a bit intrigued as to how sweetcorn auk palak ki seekh could be described underneath as a spinach kebab prepared in the tandoor (US$5) but most of the other starters sounded delicious. Paneer tikka til wala is Indian cottage cheese deep-fried and coated in sesame seeds (US$6); fish tikka Ajwani fillets marinated in carom seeds and cooked in the tandoor at US$$7.
There are also prawn malai, the crustaceans are prepared in black pepper and ginger marmalade at US$7 and prawn pakora (marinated and deep fried) at a dollar less.
Murg tikka Lashooni is marinated garlic chicken; chicken tikka Lahori is an appetiser created in Lahore during the British Raj: Lahore is now in Pakistan; lamb shish kebab and tandoori lamb chop are all US$7 each.
For just US$4 there are chicken samoosas or the vegetarian Punjabi samoosas, stuffed with potato and peas, I opted for. This was three good-sized samoosas, jam-packed with tasty, delicately seasoned veggies in a tempura batter “case”, still hot and without a trace of grease or oil. They came with coriander chutney. With the possible exception of mint, coriander must be my favourite herb.
Darmesh is a Hindu (he’s a great-nephew of Solly Parbhoo, who owns Liberty Tailors, and has dressed half the cabinet ministers of this country for the past 50 or 60 years, well the better-dressed half); the restaurant serves neither beef nor pork.
Chicken dishes include tandoori: a half huku served with spicy cumin potatoes, chicken tikka masala, allegedly Britain’s favourite meal, jeera chicken, a Gujarati favourite featuring cumin and everyone’s most popular Indian chicken meal: butter chicken. All these are priced at either US$16 or US$17 apiece.
Lamb nihari (a rich lamb curry braised in yellow spices) and lamb kahari (prepared in a thick red gravy) are US$17 each and lamb vindaloo, a very hot Goan curry, not for the faint-hearted, is a dollar more.
Prawn masala, a thick prawn curry costs US$17, Madras fish curry, US$16 and Goan prawns (it says “Goanese” on the menu, tut, tut) which are butter prawns cooked in a fragrant coconut sauce are also US$17.
For US$16 I plumped for prawn biriyani, which is basically a hell of a lot of spicy fragrant rice with six curried king prawns folded in among a whole shelf full of herbs and spices. It came with cucumber raita (with tomatoes in plain yoghurt).
My only complaint was that the prawns were still in the shell and it’s a mucky, sticky job to shuck them once cooked. Darmesh says he’ll re-visit that one!
If eating team-handed at an Indian restaurant you should always order a vegetarian dish or two, because Indian and Indian-trained chefs know how to make these mundane ingredients sparkle and shine with flavour and texture.
Aloo Gobi sounded good: a potato and cauliflower curry at US$13, which was the same price as channa masala classic chickpea curry. Dhal dishes are US$4 each.
Indian and Pakistani puddings (US$4-US$6 each) can be tooth-achingly sweet but, at Darmesh’s suggestion, I tried a subtly flavoured mango and jeera (cumin) ice-cream, which was delightful and helped tame a slight lingering after-burn on the palate from the mild prawn curry dish.
Spice Lounge is at 23, Lezard Avenue, Milton Park (turn left going out of town). They open lunch and supper Tuesday-to-Saturday and Sunday lunch only.
Dining on the stoep or indoors (no smoking inside). Safe on-site parking for about 20 cars. Additional guarded parking on the grass verge. Child and handicapped friendly. Not currently licensed to sell alcohol. BYOB (no corkage fee).