“ 898 New Chester Rd, Bromborough,Wirral,Merseyside, CH62 6AU. Tel: 0151 334 5216 „
Another week brought another visit from my hungry curry-loving colleague Joep. I had no plans for the evening and asked if he wanted to have dinner. His eyes lit up; "Can we have curry?" he asked excitedly. And so at around 6.30pm we left the office to go in search of a new curry restaurant that we'd not tried before. I'd spotted the Spice Garden on my way to work that morning and decided that this time it would get our custom. The world (well the UK anyway - and India, Bangladesh, Pakistan etc.....you get what I mean) is full of curry restaurants and in the middle of a recession we should spread our pennies around and try to support a new one each time until we run out or get food poisoning.
I got lucky and found a parking space right in front of the restaurant. It's on New Chester Road in Bromborough, about a mile off the M53, close to the Shell Petrol station. To clarify that since there are two Shell stations, it's next to the expensive one - locals will now know exactly where I mean. From the outside, the Spice Garden isn't a big place and looks a bit like any 'between the wars' semi-detached house but once you're inside it's bigger than you expect. The whole of the ground floor with the exception of the kitchen has been knocked through to make one long room that extends out the back into a large, bright conservatory. So you could say that the Spice Garden built its extension on the garden and you'll not find a garden anymore - just a nice view of the Shell's car wash.
We were greeted as soon as we entered and when they realised we wanted to eat in, we were led through the room and into the conservatory. There were very few of the normal 'Look out! You're in an Indian restaurant' visual cues as we passed through the light wooden floored room with its tall leather chairs and crisp table cloths and were led to our table. There was a delicious smell of incense from a burner behind us and the window sills carried two large carved elephants, but other than that, it was quite plain. We did spot as we were leaving that the ceiling in the main area was inset with little bits of mirror in an intricate pattern which was reassuringly more in keeping with the kitsch style we'd expected.
The plastic laminated menus weren't a good sign and reminded me of many cheap restaurants in India where the 'wipe-clean' surface is so often wiped clean on the waiter's less than sanitary trousers. But there was no fear of that here. When the waiter brought our drinks and poppadoms and we'd still not even looked at the menu, Joep turned to the back page and suggested the vegetarian set meal for two and I agreed. Actually that's a short version of what happened. Joep actually asked "What's a sambar?" and wasn't impressed when I said it was a South American dance. "No, what's a sambar in India?" he asked again, getting more exasperated when I said it was a type of deer with big ears. You would think by now that he'd have learned that if I don't know the answer I'm not going to necessarily admit it. I explained that it probably didn't matter too much what it was, it was pretty sure to be good and that should be good enough for him.
The waiter headed off as we munched our way through a couple too many poppadoms. It was a mistake I make nearly every time and as a result I can never do justice to what comes later. The pickle container had an orangey-yellow yoghurt sauce, an ultrasmooth mango chutney (as if you'd taken a jar of regular chunky chutney and zapped it in blender) and a large amount of chopped onion but sadly no lime pickle. If you'd asked me what the starters would be on a vegetarian set menu, I could have bet my house on vegetable samosas and onion bhajis and I'm happy to say in this case I'd not have had to go looking for somewhere else to live. The samosas were slightly smaller than standard Indian restaurant fare but were very light and crisp if a tad on the oily side. There were three bhajis which was a bit odd since they aren't the easiest of critters to share. Each was a near perfect ball of finely shredded onion that was tasty and light without being over stodgy. Luckily the waiter had left us with the pickles so we made the most of them to accompany the starters.
By the time the main courses arrived I was already pretty stuffed and let out an audible groan as the waiter placed a plate with a mountain of rice that reminded me of Ayers Rock (OK, wrong continent, wrong colour but you get the picture - it was big and looked like it would be hard to climb). The hot metal food warmers were placed on the table with three dishes, two large and one smaller and the waiter then returned with a final plate containing a vegetable naan. The two main dishes were a radioactively bright red vegetable masala which was topped with a heap of something white and fluffy that might have been yoghurt but I feared was whipped cream, a light brown dish of vegetable sambar and the smallest brass bowl was filled with channa paneer (chickpeas and cheese). The masala was too red and too sweet for my liking so once the first dollop had been polished off I didn't bother to go back for more. The sambar, a gorgeous lentil based dish with big chunks of nicely cooked vegetables including carrots and baby corn, was absolutely yummy; quite spicy but with a nice range of textures from the sauce and the different vegetables. The channa paneer was a surprise as I adore chickpeas but have never before seen them combined with paneer (that tends to be more typical in muttar paneer - or cheesy peas). The two went together well and both the chick peas and the sambar had enough kick to keep me happy without being too offensive to my poor Belgian companion.
The only problem was that we'd just eaten far too much before we even got to the main courses. With little more than a big spoonful of each dish and the tiniest corner ripped off the naan, I sat and stared at this mass of uneaten food and felt guilty that we'd made so little impact on it. Knowing that it would most likely be going straight in the bin, I put aside my normal 'far too polite by half' British reticence and asked if I could take some of the left overs home. The waiter brought two take-away containers and ladled the sambar into the larger one and the chickpeas into the smaller. I couldn't bring myself to take the masala because I hadn't liked it much and could imagine it doing untold damage to my kitchen counters if I'd spilt any. The two containers were then popped in a brown paper carrier bag and presented to me to take home.
The waiter offered us free glasses of Baileys and we didn't want to offend so we forced them down. Yeah, that's my story and I'm sticking to it!. Getting the attention of the waiter when we wanted the bill was proving tricky as they were in no hurry to rush us out of the conservatory so we took my goodie-bag to the counter to pay. Dinner for two with drinks came to just over £26 of which the food was £20. According to the take away menu which I (appropriately) took away, you can get this meal as a take away for the bargain price of just £15 which is rather tempting. My left-over dinner fed my husband and I for dinner the next night and was even better a day older than it had been on the night.