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Restaurant review: The Spice Lounge

AA Grill goes to Albert Dock's Spice Lounge, hungry for curry

Published on June 6th 2008.


Restaurant review: The Spice Lounge

ONE might expect that if someone has saved your life, you would at least have the good grace to remember it. As it is, I have no recollection of the evening a one-time colleague found me tottering, glassy-eyed along the waterside at Albert Dock, before guiding me to the (relative) safety of a nearby bar.

These monsters of the sea, worthy kings of crustacea and the undisputed stars of the night, were presented in regal fashion, lined up on a long rectangular plate: shell-on, marinated in garlic, ginger and mustard oil, and cooked in a blinding sweet and sour sauce.

Or so he has always claimed. All I remember is, next morning, slowly, slowly coming to consciousness. A dead man waking. Wearing my socks and a heady perfume of stale beer mixed with John Player Specials.

That was in the days of Fred’s floating weather map, and Hartley’s wine bar whose atmosphere and ability to harness the splendour of Britain’s biggest collection of Grade I listed buildings has never quite been matched since.

Still, in the intervening years, Albert Dock has become one of the UK’s leading tourist attractions by combining a waterfront location and great architecture with a place to eat, drink, shop, sleep, enjoy great art, learn more about the city’s chief claims to fame (slavery, The Beatles) and, if you are young and foolish and the sun is shining, plunge in to the water at great personal risk (but who am I to criticise?).

By day, the war zone of traffic barriers, cones and craters outside the dock entrance seems not to have deterred the thousands of trippers (most of them from Chorley, if I am any judge of an accent). But a dripping wet Thursday night told a different story. The Blue Bar was conspicuous by its absentees. The Pan American Club wasn’t faring much better, the lack of illumination failing to disguise its want of a makeover.

The Spice Lounge, around the corner in Atlantic Pavilion, at least looked busy-ish, aided in part by its neat, compact shape. A striking glass entrance leads into a snug bar, with dining space at mezzanine level and more atop a spiral staircase. The smartly done-out interior sits well with the original brick and cast iron. Initially, we took a seat in the bar, at a table that doubled as a fish tank, which is a talking point for the punters but if I were the orange-lined cardinal fish I wouldn’t fancy full pints of lager being thumped down on the top of my tank all night. (What do you call a fish with a sore head? A haddock).

The editor of Liverpool Confidential returned from a visit to the Spice Lounge a few of months back, going crazy for the jalfrezi (see Best of Three: Chicken Jalfrezi, elsewhere on this site), so it was with something approaching excitement that me and a pal awaited our food.

Mini papads each came with their own mini oil slick. But a bigger, green chilli variety was much better and accompaniments included a multi-coloured, stunningly good hot pickle, with all sorts in it, and a mango chutney they bother to take three months to make in here (with specially imported mangoes).

Hara kebabs (£6.90), spinach and paneer cheese finely minced and deep fried, were nicely spiced, with a good, light texture.

Only the price – £12.90 as a starter – gave any indication that anari jhinga (king prawn) was going to be anything out of the ordinary.

These monsters of the sea, worthy kings of crustacea and the undisputed stars of the night, were presented in regal fashion, lined up on a long rectangular plate: shell-on, marinated in garlic, ginger and mustard oil, and cooked in a blinding sweet and sour sauce.

Chandni chowk (£12.40) was lamb cooked in the Delhi style, with tomato, onion, fennel and ginger contributing to a dark, fresh-tasting sauce. Which, unfortunately, is more than could be said for the chicken jalfrezi (£15.90).

The aforementioned editor enjoyed hers at lunchtime, which may or may not be significant, but this version, ordered a lot closer to closing time, was bland and past its prime. Frankly, its zing had long since slinged its hook. It was also a vast quantity and felt like a job lot – not a generous portion so much as a daunting prospect.

Thus we are left with a tale of two sittings. I checked back with the Confidential boss and she confirmed her chicken jalfrezi good. Indeed, just to be sure, she went back yesterday and tried it again – for lunch, and to take these pictures – and returned with a similar tale.

Plain naan bread (£2.80), baked inhouse, and Jeera rice (£3.90) were, however, exemplary. Bottles of Tiger beer were as they ought to be – gently chilled, and open. Ditto an excellent Gerwurtztraminer. They don’t do desserts, but as most British patrons of Indian restaurants don’t do desserts either, that’s probably no great loss.

The Spice Lounge does a business lunch for £7.95 a head, which is great value. But we paid close to a hundred quid for two and at those prices in an Indian restaurant you should expect high standards from start to finish.

One thing in certain; when they do it well, they do it very well, like those spectacular prawns. “They’re size 16” the waiter told us later. I wouldn’t know, but other than in the queue for a double cheeseburger at McDonalds, you won’t see shell-suited giants like these anywhere else in the city.

Rating:13/20
Breakdown:6/10 Food
4/5 Service
3/5 Ambience
Address: Spice Lounge
North Quay
Atlantic Pavilion
Albert Dock
Liverpool
L3 4AE
0151 707 2202

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15 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

culle62June 6th 2008.

Try Maharaja, London Rd. Southern Indian, different and healthier than most Indian restaurants. Mayur, Duke St is also a good Indian Restaurant.

Gulshan GeetaJune 6th 2008.

Do the management write publicity material and emails to all these clients they wine and dine, or do they, like John F, just throw all the letters up in the air when they are posing as real punters?

AnonymousJune 6th 2008.

the sultan's palace has just re-opened. its by far the best indian in this city

Claudia OutlookJune 6th 2008.

Sorry - nothing of any interest to say - just testing my log-in!

Gulshan GaryJune 6th 2008.

The management aren't very good at disguising themselves as ordinary "ranters" though, are they?

Curry queenJune 6th 2008.

Grill is correct as ever in his assessment of Spice Lounge. You would expect a lot from any restaurant charging £100 without even a dessert and just one bottle of wine. There aren't many high end Indian restaurants in the city but the good curry places that there are do not charge these prices.

john fJune 6th 2008.

I have to all the indian restaurent's in this city as im often wining and dining my client's on a daily basis.The standard has improved but 1 which never dissapoints on all fronts' is the sultans and now i believe it's back open i will be back there next week.

Scattered ShahsJune 6th 2008.

Micturating in adverse meteorological conditions.

Mike HomfrayJune 6th 2008.

Yesm the food is good - buut the prices? I think they are simply well over the top for what you get, and there are better examples of Indian food to be had

The Confidential teamJune 6th 2008.

Thanks for the tip, Mike. The Maharaja in London Road is always worth a look, Anonymous.

AnonymousJune 6th 2008.

the clients that go to the sultan's are real quality individuals who will pay that litle extra for the best

Curry MuncherJune 6th 2008.

Love the Spice Lounge restaurant, I strongly recommend the lunch specials at only £7.95, the word must be getting around as lunches seems very busy lately, well worth a visit.

AnonymousJune 6th 2008.

went to gulshan on the weekend, was told it was liverpool's best indian, was very dissapointed it was not indian food that i was expecting .any 1 else knows a better place?

Mike HomfrayJune 6th 2008.

Yes: try the new Indian in Formby, Zyka. Really excellent

Claudia OutlookJune 6th 2008.

Sorry - nothing of any interest to say - just testing my log-in!

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