Obviously it's been far too long since the last review.
We got a bit lax, but are hoping to pick things up again, whilst also widening our reach to cover more restaurants in and around the Tooting area.
This first review back is for Ale and Spice in Balham.
Ale and Spice is a Sri Lankan restaurant situated just up from The Bedford pub on Bedford Hill, no more than half a mile from the top end of Tooting Common.
This rather unimaginatively named restaurant sounds more like a port-based pub than a curry house, but the rather prosaic, 'say what you see' naming convention has a slighter deeper meaning. Ale and Spice was born from the ashes of Hop and Spice by some of its former employees so the name is seemingly a nod to this earlier incarnation.
We didn't visit the Hop and Spice ourselves but believe it was on the site of what is now Franca Manca which, like Ale and Spice, contributes to a rich row of restaurant revelry along Bedford Hill. However, these neighbours offer some stiff competition for Ale and Spice, especially as it assumes a less than prominent position in this line up.
Nevertheless, you've got to be in it to win it, and there was certainly a lively atmosphere when we visited on a Friday night (not to mention the particularly rowdy group of girls having a few glasses at the front of shop). Inside, the decor is not quite up to the standard of nearby establishments, but would not be out of place in Tooting - Ikea-style tables and chairs in an open plan layout, surrounded by burgundy red walls and some questionable wall art - sound familiar? At least here there's a little more room to move and there's even a few tables outside offering the opportunity for some al fresco dining.
So, a pleasant surround, but nothing special. 6/10
We opted for thali as our main course so pretty much rolled the starters, sides and curries into one. We did however tuck into a few poppadoms to kick things off. They were fresh, but quite greasy as a result, so a bit hit and miss.
The thali came with mountains of rice in true, South Asian style, but rising to the peak was the paratha which was excellent; good enough to bump our rating up to a 7 for starters and sides.
Vegetarian Thali (Set menu for two)
Seafood and Veg Thali (Set menu for two)
Between four of us we shared two set thalis - the vegetarian and the seafood and veg.
The vegetarian came with pea and paneer, spinach and coconut, masala potato, aubergine salad, vara, dahl, spinach rice, paratha and chapati.
The seafood and veg came with prawn kulumbu, jack fish, squid, mushroom, mixed varuval, steamed basmati, paratha and chapati.
Firstly, yes they were thalis, but at £14 per person they were a little small. A hungry diner could easily manage one on their own and, whilst I understand rice is quite literally central to a thali, the amount was disproportionate to the other components.
Nevertheless, some of the individual components were a real treat, particularly on the seafood plate -the squid and jack fish were delicious. However, apart from the paratha the rest failed to excite despite being of a decent quality.
Average would be the word and, whilst thalis offer variety, between four we could probably have got a better value mix from the rest of the menu. We shall have to visit again for a broader perspective but on this visit a 6 seems fair. 6/10
I hate Deliveroo. Just putting that out there. Apart from the black and green jacketed men that seemingly haunt my every waking step, they piss me off for two reasons:
1) You're in central London, get off your lazy arse and go to the restaurant yourself! No one lives more than 5mins walk from decent food!
2) Deliveroo orders seem to take priority over orders being placed in person, in the bloody restaurant!
On this occasion at least a pair of be-helmeted couriers were present at all times and I've no doubt it affected our service, not least in terms of time but also in terms of distracting our hosts with idle chatter. I exaggerate a little, but it did have a slightly adverse effect on our experience.
Beyond Deliveroo's influence, our service was a little slow and unfriendly anyway. This was summed up when our request for dessert, that came as part of the thali set, was very reluctantly met. They did seem a little short staffed but a smile wouldn't have gone amiss.
(The irony of this site hosting a Deliveroo ad as I publish this post is not lost on me - thanks Google Ads/Deliveroo ;) )
Value for money
As I said, quality wasn't an issue, but the quantity in the thalis for £14 per head certainly was and, whilst Ale & Spice is BYO (always a positive), corkage is still charged.
The other mains on the menu were also a bit pricey compared to Tooting equivalents but in fairness this was in Balham, hardly London's bargain basement! Still it did generally feel a little overpriced on this occasion. 5/10
Sri Lanka seems to be the place to be on the tourist trail at the moment and I certainly hope to visit in the near future. Nevertheless, so far on our South London curry travels the Sri Lankan dishes have yet to get us waxing lyrically.
Seafood is an obvious strength and Ale and Spice didn't disappoint in this respect, but offered little in terms of price and quantity. The quality of the food was generally good to be fair, and we'll have to sample some other mains for a more comprehensive view, but the thalis may not be your best option.
Good to know there's a another dinner choice in Balham, but it may still be worth staying in Tooting for your curry as price and quantity lowered our overall score on this occasion.