12 January 2012: Spice Village - ...or curry city?
Click here to read our more up to date review of Spice Village from 2019
Spice Village; don't be fooled. Despite its diminutive name in the relative terms for population settlement sizes, this truly is a bastion of curry induced pleasure.
Our decision to go to Spice Village was one taken whilst still firmly within the curry coma that was the initial euphoria surrounding this blog. Whilst spice-infused, this certainly was not a rash decision. We decided to invite our friend and colleague Louise Hitchen AKA 'The Penguin' to join us in this experience (congrats for being the first name drop on the blog, unlucky for being compared to an Antarctic flightless bird on account of your waddling).
Sadly, and I'm sure to her endless regret, The Penguin stitched us up - she met with her sister and sister's friend instead. Despite the obvious embarrassment of being stood up by, not one, but three young females, we soldiered on. However, by the end, the joke was firmly on the birds, who ventured independently out on their own hunt for nourishment, but who could not compete with the indulgent males who chilled together and nursed an infinitely rewarding egg i.e. the curry (for any readers who didn't get this analogy, look no further than Sir David Attenborough's recent series Frozen Planet).
WBA Heavyweight champion, David Haye said of Spice Village (see the website) - 'Great food and exceptional service, will definitely return’. Although an intrepid reviewer is only right to take Haye's sound bite with a pinch of cumin, after polishing off a fair amount of food at this south east Asian embassy, it's hard to disagree - after Kebabs, curry, rice and the like we were left like beached orcas after feasting on some helpless seal pups (apologies for the second, and even more tenuous Frozen Planet reference).
We arrived and were met by a tall confident waiter who looked as though he would be equally at home providing high level security in Kashmir as working the pass, or so his in ear comms set would suggest. Thankfully he showed us to our table in the heart of the bustling eatery and not a war zone.
We were placed just near a raised area which, although not labelled VIP, housed clients who had an air of ‘haves’ whilst we very much felt like the ‘have-nots’ in our lower-tiered seating. However, after a long day at work and a pre-curry tipple in the ‘Sheaf we weren’t fazed, but rather excited about the prospect of sampling what the ‘2009 Tiffin Cup winner’ had to offer (subsequent validation of this bold title claim has proved difficult).
Here’s the breakdown...
This curry house dominates the local geography. Despite the bold red signage of Chicken Cottage next door (rumoured to be Europe’s largest), the chameleon-like, ever-changing neon sign of Spice Village draws local residents like moths to a flame.
After a recent re-fit, Spice Village has added to its strength in size with plush furniture and a nice chrome finish to the kitchen area. As the largest of the canteen-style restaurants in the area, one expects a lively atmosphere on entering, and we weren’t disappointed with the curry-buzz that welcomed us. There is no danger of over-crowding or falling over other customers’ feet either - a credit to both the efficient staff and the decision not to cram tables in, but rather allow space for the punters’ enjoyment.
Adorning the wall is an ornate clock which is a nice touch, but also a timely reminder (see what I did there?!) of the relative luxury enjoyed here compared to other establishments.
However, whilst we are always respectful of other cultures, beliefs and lifestyles, there is one huge drawback to dinner at ‘The Village’, and that is the no alcohol policy. So, for those of you who want to combine two of Britain’s biggest loves, eating and drinking, you will be left feeling a little thirsty. Whilst we were happy to tuck into a mango lassi on a Thursday, on another night this may have led us to do an about-turn at the door.
In general, though, the positives far outweigh the negatives and, as a venue, Spice Village is pleasant and spacious, and really sets the benchmark for contemporary curry dining on the Upper Tooting Road. 7/10.
Sides and starters
Bottle of table water
2 Mango Lassi
1 Pilao rice
1 Peshwari Chapli Kebab
1 Keema Naan
2 Onion Bhajis
We started with the standard poppadoms and dip to warm the palette - they were faultless. How wrong can you go with poppadoms?, you might ask – I don’t know (yet), but you’ll struggle to top these at Spice Village. Crispiness and gram taste were at optimal levels and the sides were a different gravy (so to speak). The mango chutney was exquisite with minimal lumps; the raita, mint yoghurt dip was perfectly mixed and the chili was of equal standard – and all three complimentary (take note Mirch Masala).
Whilst waiting for our poppadoms a waiter provided us with a litre bottle of table water – we rightly suspected this was not complimentary, but cracked it open anyway. It was ultimately £1.99, so, take it or leave it as you wish; I’m sure tap water could be provided on request. As mentioned, this restaurant is dry, so, along with the water we ordered a mango lassi each.
The mango lassi tasted like the rich creamy (albeit not that mango-y) tears of an angel. Beautiful though it was, we would have liked to have seen a wider selection on the menu and get a little more bang from our lassi (please note bhang lassi is unavailable).
In addition to the poppadoms and lassi we ordered pilao rice, a keema naan, a peshwari chapli kebab and one portion of onion bhajis (two in a portion).
The rice was standard – nothing to report here, but the naan was delightful. At Spice Village, the naan’s are freshly prepared in a tandoor like in most Tooting establishments, but size-wise come out as some of the largest. The Keema contains a rich minced lamb filling and a sprinkling of sesame seeds on top really lifts the flavours – a lovely touch. A meal in itself, the Keema is ideal for a man who likes his stodge.
The choice of the Peshwari Chapli Kebab was made after following the advice of Umar Gul, Pakistani fast bowler, who says the Chapli Kebab is the best he’s ever had (see website). It’s our belief, Gul should’ve stuck to spin, as this is arguably a gross exaggeration. It has to be said that both the bhaji and kebab tasted quite dry, almost as if they had been left on display for some time, only to be warmed and served up when ordered - one can only speculate. Still, the kebab had a nice kick and the bhajis were perfectly adequate – the two in the portion being a definite plus.
On this occasion we’re going to give the sides and starters here 8/10.
Lamb Makhni Ghost
The menu read well with both the chef’s recommendations and specials highlighted - we opted for a fish and a lamb dish.
As the Fish Tikka arrived on a sizzling platter, heads turned and big things were expected. On first taste our expectations seemed to have been met, but on further investigation it was a little over-cooked and the tikka lacked that cutting edged that would have elevated it to food rosette level. Also, we found it strange that to accompany the delicate flavour of fish the chef elected to serve it with more onions than a Frenchman’s fruit bowl. Although cod is a meaty fish ideal for such recipes we would have like to have been served one of its more sustainable underwater neighbours. This also raises the point that although it was branded fish tikka it was in fact cod tikka. In order to help set future expectations, and for further menu clarity, our recommendation would be to insert - (singular) - between the word fish and tikka, however, that’s being picky. These points aside, it did have good flavour and the sense of theatre from the sizzling is always a plus point. But, maybe next time we’ll go for the Masala fish that, none other than, Ainsley Harriot boldly claims is ‘the best in the country’ (see website).
As for the Lamb Makhni Ghost, there was certainly something heavenly about this. The lamb was very tender and the onion, tomato and herb curry had a sweet piquancy to it. The ratio of meat to sauce was consummate and the latter’s consistency was similarly well measured. Nothing to fault on portion size either, whilst certainly not the largest it was certainly ample, especially if, like us, you like to go a bit trigger-happy on the sides. A sublime curry.
All in all it’s an 8/10 for the mains.
The staff here are certainly no disservice to the exquisite food. As mentioned already, whilst some have the appearance of bodyguards, don’t be too hasty in assuming they have a cool demeanour as they’re actually thoroughly warm and friendly chaps. Not only are the staff numerous and welcoming, but smartly turned out in shirts and ties. Whilst our waiter changed a few times to start with we weren’t phased as each comported himself professionally and with efficiency. However, there was one luddite, who seemed single-handedly determined to throw a spanner in the works. We clocked him trying to give us a second bottle of table water when there was already one unopened on the table and he (we’re assuming mistakenly) gave us two extra unordered poppadoms – rooky behaviour. Luckily his colleague covered for him and gave us, not only the extra poppadoms, but the originals, for free. This same colleague also competently answered our questions on the fish and made a cheeky joke about the poppadoms (although, I have to confess I personally didn’t hear the joke, but Tom, as a Teessider was more than adequately equipped to deal with the mumbly accent and thoroughly enjoyed the banter, either that or he was being suitably polite).
In addition to good service from the staff it was nice (as both professional market researchers) to see a questionnaire offered alongside the bill. However, this positive sentiment didn’t stop us critiquing it (something we are duty bound to do given our professional capacity).
Whilst the customer details on the back gave us the opportunity for some cheeky marketing by popping down firstname.lastname@example.org, there were some obvious flaws in the survey. There was a good breadth of questions covering most, if not all customer experience touchpoints, and the card it was delivered on was finished professionally. However, the English in places was suspect, for example the use of ‘U’ instead of ‘You’ , and the uniform rating scale was inappropriate for some of the attributes being rated. This said, we were thoroughly impressed with the curry and scored Excellent for everything, and the commitment to stakeholder management and customer retention shown by asking for feedback can only be applauded. It’s an 8/10 for Service from us.
Value For Money
Our meal came to just over £33 for the two of us, including drinks and a tip, and we were absolutely stuffed. Value For Money? I bloody think so. And we got the best in poppadum cuisine for free. Enough said - 9/10.
Jahangir Kan, World Squash Champion, says ‘Spice village is the only place I visit every time I come to UK’ (see website). Given he lives in Karachi, Pakistan, this might seem like a hell of a trip each time, but it’s hard to question his motives behind it. Spice Village is a truly great curry experience and a real ambassador for the Tooting scene. The number of people that can be seen inside each night speaks volumes for the standard of food and service, and leads us to question the choice of name for this esteemed curry emporium. Spice Village? - more like Spice Capital or Curry City or any other augmentative combination of curry and settlement size would probably be more apt. However, perhaps Village is actually quite apt given the relatively understated feel of this curry house given the treasures it holds within.
In summary, a great meal and a great experience, one that I’m sure will keep us and the locals coming back again and again.
With one X Factor point being awarded for the post-meal market research, but quickly removed again for the flaws in the survey (harsh but fair), we are left with a staggering grand total of 40/50, a score that will no doubt prove hard to beat.
Click here to read our later review of Spice Village from 2019
Address: 32 Upper Tooting Rd, London SW17 7PD
Alcohol Policy: No-alcohol
Summary: No alcohol, but great food. This is a very popular restaurant with the locals, serving great quality, authentic dishes. Now called Royal Mahal