AMONG the most popular restaurants right across the world are dining venues where the cuisine of the Indian subcontinent is available, often described simply — but erroneously — as “Indian food,” without taking into consideration that the food styles of India are vast and varied, not to mention that there are food styles from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, too.
By The Epicurean
In Harare, people have always had access to this “Indian food” through various restaurants — existing or departed — and today one can choose from such places as Delhi Palace (now in Borrowdale), The Sitar or even the occasional dining venue called The Spice Trader. A relatively new addition to the scene is The Spice Lounge in Kensington, which has in fact been operational for a while, but has come under new management in recent months and has been undergoing a range of upgrades and refurbishments that now seem completed or close to completion.
Under the personal management of Gita Ranchod, and with help from her very capable and charming manager, Janice Connolly, the restaurant has turned into one of the most welcoming dining venues in Harare, with a consistent quality and fascinating variety that could make this one of the most successful Indian restaurants in Harare’s history. It’s open daily for lunch and hosts supper all week, with the exception of Mondays. One of the restaurant’s many claims to fame is tandoor oven, a traditional clay cooking facility that is the only one of its kind in Harare.
The menu is a large one, with eight vegetarian, seven chicken, one lamb and four seafood starters — additional to a soup of the day. Portions of these are very reasonable and some folk find their meals restricted to a starter and dessert because quantity is satisfying without choosing a main course. Main courses include 14 vegetarian options (some of them seasonal), six chicken dishes, five lamb offerings and three seafood dishes. Additional to that are a selection of biriyani rice-based meals.
As can be expected, there’s also a fine selection of desserts — seven in all.
Accompaniments are plentiful, from rice to naan and roti, noodles, papdoms and other tantalising options that are hard to turn down.
I am often told: “I cannot do Indian as I don’t like my food hot.” At The Spice Lounge, I would be surprised to hear that every palate is not catered for, since choice is between mild, medium and hot — or even extra hot, and chilli can be withheld altogether if requested. Spices and herbs are used aplenty, but the heat of the dish can be controlled and this must suit just about all guests.
I have had some memorable main dishes in three recent visits, highlights being the goan prawns, superbly tasty in a coconut and cashew sauce; the lamb nihari, slow cooked in yellow spices and extremely tender and juicy; the chicken sagwala, breast meat in a flavoursome spinach gravy and with generous amounts of cinnamon and turmeric. Each time, the food was wonderfully prepared and well-cooked, with an exciting colour variety and clever use of spices to ensure tastiness without overwhelming the meats.
When I visited during winter, we sat on the verandah or indoors, where design is simple and tasteful. Most recently, with glorious spring weather, we sat in the attractive garden in the shade of trees. On each occasion we popped into the bar, which is large and friendly and which some people find difficult to leave!
On my last visit we had splendid service from head waiter, Michael Nyatondo, but we have always had room for satisfaction in terms of welcome and service standards from whoever has been on duty. Janice has been particularly good about explaining dishes and letting people know what to expect. While there are a great many ‘India hands’ who can handle all heats and styles, some guests will no doubt benefit from a clear understanding of what each dish is all about, so that choices do not conflict with allergies or dislikes.
I have not yet been on a Friday evening, but I understand there is often live entertainment in the bar or adjacent function room, giving the bar a very jaunty and buzzy feel, so my next visit is going to be timed around just such an entertainment offering.
Prices are extremely competitive: starters range from $5 to $12, while mains are on offer from $10 to $20 and desserts are $5 or $6. Accompaniments are in the $2 region. Parking is good — there are spaces within the premises or in a guarded park just outside the perimeter wall. The Milton Park area is very busy these days, with most of the houses now under business management, but on my visits to The Spice Lounge the traffic has never been a problem. Proximity to surrounding suburbs and ease of access into the CBD makes it a good choice for folk who like being regulars in their neighbourhoods of work or residence.
The restaurateurs and hoteliers informal group will be dining out at The Spice Lounge in the next month or two and I am sure they are going to enjoy what the restaurant has to offer, from service and variety, to quality and portion sizes, as well as a general atmosphere of relaxation and calm, the latter being essential to a great dining experience.
*For reservations and enquiries contact cell 0779 581000 or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Status: highly enjoyable speciality restaurant, suitable for families, parties and business dining.