“ Address: 44 Osborne Road / Southsea / P05 3LT / England „
On a Monday evening I sometimes go for a meal out with a friend, and although there are restaurants in Southsea that close on Mondays since it's the quietest day, we still have a fair amount of choice. This is despite the fact that she is a non-meat eater; her love of fish alongside vegetarian dishes makes it fairly easy to find a suitable menu. Having already visited several restaurants within half a mile of my home, we decided one evening in November 2008 to have a stroll along Osborne Road (which runs from Southsea common along to Palmerston Road shopping precinct) to see what was on offer.
After looking at a few menus in the windows we passed, we decided on a curry at the Spice Merchants, an Indian restaurant that I had heard good things about. On entering, we found that it was not a particularly spacious place. To the left was a bar, and beyond were a number of tables but not a huge number. It was about 8pm and one or two tables were occupied; just one couple were there when we left about an hour and a half later. Some of the tables are round to accommodate about six people. My son has been for a works do on more than one occasion, so large parties can be catered for if a reservation is made in advance. We took our seats at a table for four.
The interior decoration is very stylish, with polished, light wood tables, matching chairs with deep red velvet seats and backs, and a carpet in the same deep red. The walls are cream, and a large mirror at one end gives the illusion of the restaurant being somewhat larger than it actually is. On the table were pink linen napkins as well as a vase of flowers, candles and the cruet, which were moved to one of the spare place settings by the waiter. We each ordered a glass of house red wine which was a smooth, very palatable one served in cut-glass wine glasses. Not wishing to spoil our appetites for the main course, we just asked for two poppadoms which were served with sliced onions, raita, mango chutney and an excellent lime pickle. Had we wanted a more filling starter, we could have chosen mulligatawny soup at £2.95, tiger prawns for £4.50, or stuffed peppers, also at £4.50. These are just a few examples.
The main course menu starts off with the Chef's Specials, ranging from chicken or lamb tikka massala at £6.95 to Raj Chingri Delight at £11.95, which is king prawns with 'dozens of delicate spices'. Duck also features in this section. After the specials come the chicken and lamb dishes in various strengths from mild korma to fiery vindaloo. The seafood section consists of either king prawns or tiger prawns, with a similar range of mild, medium and hot curries. There are biryanis and then a choice of fourteen vegetarian dishes, which are all either £5.45 or £5.95. Tandoori dishes round off the Indian menu, but if you are not a curry fan you can choose from sirloin steak, chicken and chips or an omelette. I can't imagine anyone going here if they didn't like Indian food, but perhaps amongst a large group of people there might be one or two who still want their steak and chips. Side dishes such as bhajis are mostly priced at £2.95. Various kinds of rice and Indian breads are listed, and lastly chutney and pickles, which can be ordered by the portion or by the tray.
What had really enticed us into the Spice Merchants, however, were one or two unusual sounding fish dishes. There was Rup Chanda Jall at £10.95 as well as Ayre Jalfrezi at £8.95. We both decided that the third possibility, Ayre Delight at £8.95, was the ideal one as it was a reasonable price and not quite as hot as the jalfrezi. The Ayre Delight consisted of chunks of fish, large pieces of tomato, green pepper, onion, ginger, and garlic. The medium hot sauce sounded just right. We each also ordered plain rice at £1.40 a portion.
We didn't have to wait long for our two Ayre Delight dishes, which were served on a hot plate with the bowls of rice on the table. The portions were so generous that I couldn't finish mine, but this was only because of the quantity as we both really enjoyed our first taste of ayre. I must admit that I didn't really notice a taste of ginger, but the fish was delicious as were the vegetables. The sauce, as I mentioned, was medium hot and just right for me. If you like the sound of ayre but prefer a hotter curry, I would go for the jalfrezi.
We both felt we had eaten more than enough but asked to see the dessert menu purely out of curiosity. It consisted of photos on a menu card, almost identical to one I had seen before in a Thai restaurant. Most of the choices seemed to be straight out of the freezer, and neither of us felt inclined to order anything. We asked for the bill, which came to £27.40 altogether.
The restaurant has LCD televisions playing Bollywood music videos continuously; this might be an added attraction for some but is not to my personal taste. I could not fault the service, as the waiters were extremely polite and professional. The Spice Merchants cannot surpass the Tiffin Room (not far away on Great Southsea Street) on cuisine, but the service is more efficient and the surroundings more stylish. The Tiffin Room has more atmosphere, but the service is erratic and it is more rough and ready in terms of décor and furniture.
The Spice Merchants is in a particularly good location: it is just round the corner from Palmerston Road shopping precinct and also close to the sea front and Southsea common. Lunch is served at the Spice Merchants from noon to 2pm every day except Friday. Dinner is from 6pm until midnight (Fridays and Saturdays until 12.30am). I would certainly recommend it.
The Spice Merchants
44 Osborne Road
Tel. 023 9282 8900
Also posted on Ciao UK under my username denella.
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