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The Spice Lounge one of Harare’s finest dining venues

There’s nothing nicer for a food-lover than heading for a destination where there is fair certainty of enjoyment and satisfaction.

Restaurant Review with Epicurean

Chefs Rakesh (left) and Rahul at The Spice Lounge, which has large garden area in front of the terrace and indoor dining room

Chefs Rakesh (left) and Rahul at The Spice Lounge, which has large garden area in front of the terrace and indoor dining room

Sometimes even the most reliable venues can throw obstacles into one’s path, and once the shine has come off it’s hard to regain the confidence one previously had. So when I go to a restaurant that provides reliability as one of the fundamental offerings to me as a guest, I enter with very high expectations and a steadily growing need to be satisfied without blemish.

Delightful starters

Delightful starters

My first experience of the new year was at The Spice Lounge, rapidly becoming one of Harare’s genuine treasures in the field of wining and dining. I have been there on a number of occasions and never had a hint of a problem, and thought of something different to ask for in order to expand my own horizons and provide continued challenges to the hosts. I know that no venue can be perfect and that some readers out there will give their alternative opinions on any venue that I can claim to be “up there” with the best. However, I have had a lot of feedback from readers and The Spice Lounge is one of the venues that gets a thumbs-up from just about everyone.

On arriving there for lunch on the first working day of the year, my guest and I met up with the fairly new manager, Taryn Gibbons, who took up her position three months ago and has settled into the venue with what she describes as “real enjoyment and real fun.” She certainly provides the level of personal hosting and efficiency I have come to expect of this restaurant, run by the very amiable and talented Gita Ranchod. We threw the challenge at Taryn: “ask the chef to give us a vegetarian spread.” As a well-entrenched meat eater, I have often felt that vegetarian dining is a second-best option, but was told recently by a reader to become more open to novel and innovative experiences and to include all-vegetarian meals in that experimentation.

We started with tomato soup, which I felt to be a surprising choice and we asked the chef if folks in India really had tomato soup as part of their traditional cuisine. He was not 100% sure, but said modern dining was more open to influences than was previously the case, and I suppose this applies to most cuisine options from across the world. The soup was great, a long way off what I make for myself at home: spicy with a slight heat coming through, and a dash of cream for visual and taste enhancement. Starters came next: vegetable 65 (vegetable dumplings in a spicy yoghurt sauce) and paneer slices with grilled green peppers (paneer is a cream cheese that is widely enjoyed in India). These were equally delightful and very filling.

Mains were more traditional: dhal Tadka and vegetable Khola Puri. Dhal is a lentil dish that is well-known as a part of Indian cuisine while the other dish was a superb mix of vegetables and both were spicy but not hot … perfect for our tastes, which wanted subtlety but a reasonable level of heat. We enjoyed two breads with this: butter naan and amsitari kulcha, the latter a new one for me. Both were satisfying and neither of us had a need to seek out a meat accompaniment, which was something I had worried about needing, as I have always thoroughly enjoyed the flavours of various meat dishes in Indian restaurants.

Desserts stayed on the Indian theme, although there were some non-Indian offerings for folks who don’t like the spiced flavours of the genuine thing. We had kheer and kulfi — one a delicious rice pudding dish with cardamom and other flavours, the other a caramelised ice cream offering with fruit flavours. In recent months we have had these at various Indian restaurants in Harare, and they are simply superb wherever we have had them and these Spice Lounge versions did not disappoint.

The Spice Lounge menu is big and inviting and I have in the past listed the range of options for diners. I can honestly say our challenge for a vegetarian meal was met with an excellent range and with enough of a satisfaction level to cause thought to moving off meats more regularly! My high expectations were matched and bettered.

Chatting with Taryn, we heard that a big effort is being made by the restaurant to push the added attractions of the venue this year: conferencing facilities, entertainment on selected occasions, cocktail evenings in the bar, private functions for individuals and corporates, weddings, the occasional fashion show and, following a recent successful book launch on site, more unusual one-off events for specific groups. She’s keen for people to come in and throw their specialised needs at her so she, Gita and the team can mix and match and give their ideas to add value.

Taryn was originally in the jewellery trade but moved to the United States for eight years, coming home last year and moving into The Spice Lounge towards the end of the year. She is a good team player and enjoys working with Gita, the very hands-on restaurant owner. We had the chance to once again meet the two Indian chefs — Rakesh (executive chef) and Rahul (tandoori chef) — and to learn a little from them of their efforts to bring the wide variety and spicy essence of Indian cuisine to local diners, offering something, they hope, that is not offered elsewhere in town. I hope more diners will ask to chat to them, obviously not when they are hard at work in the kitchen, as their input is insightful and enjoyable.

A fine dining experience that, for me, never disappoints, and consistently offers value for money, consistent quality and flavoursome cuisine.

The Spice Lounge is at 22 Lezard Avenue in Milton Park, close to the Kensington shopping centre.
Reservations are recommended for Wednesday, Friday and Saturday nights. Call (04) 701672, 0867 7104745 or 0779 581000 to book or make enquiries, using for e-mails. The restaurant has a well-stocked bar and a good wine list, and diners can choose between mild, medium and hot for their levels of heat in the food. Takeaways are done from the main menu and are proving popular.

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