Address: 32 Upper Tooting Rd, London SW17 7PD
Cuisine: Indian, Pakistani, Punjabi, Gujarati and Vegetarian
Alcohol Policy: No-alcohol
Summary: No alcohol, but great food. This is a very popular restaurant with the locals, serving great quality, authentic dishes.
This is the second of our re-reviews of old Tooting favourites and this time it's a return to one of the best. Sat near the top of our leaderboard for over 6 years following our less than coherent first review, it was only right to give it another visit. On this occasion it was a family affair with my brother and Dad joining me after a day of decorating and a few pre-poppadom pints at the Kings Head. Would Spice Village still deliver?
Spice Village is hard to miss on the corner of Fircroft and Upper Tooting Road. It's classy black and gold front sets it apart from neighbouring shops and restaurants as does its continual evolution and upgrade. Indeed, Spice Village has seemingly had more face lifts than Joan Rivers.
Since our last review, the chameleon-like neon sign and lime green walls are gone and in their place are increasingly more opulent fittings and furnishings. Likewise, the kitchen area that used to be open is now boxed in with floor to ceiling glass, with the chefs scurrying around behind like human zoo exhibits.
Ornate gold facades, plush cream and magenta seating and transparent plastic railings and chandeliers all further contribute to a positively palatial setting. And, whilst a touch gaudy, the interior is a clear step above the more rustic environs of neighbouring curry houses.
On our visit the place was typically full and given the crowds and sense of style it wouldn't be a stretch to describe Spice VIllage as Tooting's answer to Tayyabs. However, whilst as legendary as the famous Whitechapel hotspot, Spice Village isn't quite as big or crazy and has a strict no alcohol policy. Sadly this will be a barrier for some (including my Dad who was given prior warning and other options), but really shouldn't be as its place as one of the best on the Tooting scene is without doubt.
Sides and starters
Special Mixed Grill
For starters we had customary poppadoms followed by a special mixed grill that really was quite special. It was presented as the usual meat pile of four chops, seekh kebabs and chicken and lamb tikka, but sat on a bed of fried onions and topped with a slice of lemon. The chops weren't the most generous but all the meat was perfectly tender and nicely spiced and the sum of the parts a cut well above the average, alongside Lahore Spices' offering nearby.
Accompanying our mains later were the pilau rice and naans. Naans have always been solid here, but the peshwari was a touch drier inside than the best, despite it's buttery glaze on top. The keema was better with the meat swirled into the bread in the less common, but often juicer and tastier style. Sesame seed sprinkles added an extra, bitter edge to an altogether decent bread and overall solid Sides and Starters offering.
Karahi Murgh Afghan Style
Whilst a big fan of the dhansak here it was straight to the specials menu on this occasion. The karahi murgh afghan style (on the bone) was reminiscent of the now (sadly) closed Rayyan's, but I'm sure something similar could equally be found at Namak Mandi. In any case, Spice Village's offering was excellent with a delicious and perfectly consistent tomato based sauce. The chicken was a touch sparing but the overall flavour was superb in this highly recommended and good looking dish.
The nihari lamb is a labour of love, with the meat and sauce cooked separately over night and then merged together into a thick, incredibly rich, gravy-like sauce. The result is melt in your mouth lamb shanks that are to die for. The oil on top shouldn't be a concern, as the slow-cooked meaty juices contribute to the fantastic flavour. This can be enhanced even further by the side masala of fresh chilli, crispy onion, lemon and coriander. This is a dish also deserving of its special label and available everyday here unlike at Mirch Masala where it's only on the weekend menu.
Top restaurant; top curry.
We rather naively turned up without booking at 8pm on a Friday night. As a result we had about a 15 minute wait - not ideal, but completely our fault. However, whilst the busy-ness means booking is advisable it doesn't mean slow service. The staff here are efficient, polite and smartly dressed, with the more junior staff sporting red waistcoats that wouldnt be out of place in the Be Sharps. Our waiter was certainly hitting all the right notes, serving with a smile and showing passion in his description of the food. On song and in tune, it's an above average 8/10 for the Village people.
Value For Money
I didn't see the bill as my Dad paid for it, which was great value in my eyes, but not how we score things here.
In reality, the mixed grill is slightly expensive at £18.95, but definitely worth it between 4. The keema naan is also a little punchy at £3.99 and the curries a pound or two extra than elsewhere in Tooting even if still below £10. However, in general the marginally higher price is justified by the quality of the food and enivronment and deserving of a high Value For Money score.
Despite the many changes to Spice Village over the years, one thing remains consistent: the quality of the food.
I'm often asked where is the best place for curry in Tooting and, whilst I've be known to give different answers, Spice Village is the one I say most often. It's the the safest bet for a guaranteed good feed and our leaderboard doesn't lie - two reviews towards the top for this Tooting legend. If you haven't been yet, why not? If you have, I'm sure you'll visit again soon!