New Delhi, India
October 1, 2011
We first discovered Spice Market – it stands right behind Select Citywalk Mall (you can walk right through the mall, in the front door and out the back, near the KFC outlet, and a brief walk to the right will bring you to Spice Market). Back then, we’d wanted to eat here, but as it happened, we were in a hurry, and were told by a regretful captain at the door that the restaurant would open for dinner in half an hour’s time. This time, many months later, we suddenly remembered Spice Market again, and decided to go check it out. A quick phone call revealed that it’s now open all day long for à la carte orders, though the (obviously very popular, as we discovered) buffet is open only for a few hours each at lunch and dinner.
The interiors are pretty much what you’d expect of most mid-range and upscale restaurants in Delhi: off-white, textured walls; large glass windows looking onto the street outside; a show kitchen; and a row of glass shelves dotted with showy glass jars of spices and so on. We had reserved a table for two, and were duly guided to the table – which shared a long upholstered bench on either side, with the tables next to it. All very well, but not too convenient, as we realised when people occupied the table next to ours. Every time someone wanted to sit down or get up at the next table (and they were doing that a lot, having opted for the buffet), the bench would be pushed back or forward, and I’d have my elbow jiggled.
Our glass-topped table had two large plates made of beaten copper, each with a napkin on it. Once we’d had a look at the menu (a hotchpotch, with dishes from all across India, though the North Indian restaurant staples like daal makhani and kababs seemed to dominate it), we placed our orders. Our drinks – fresh lemonade – arrived soon after, and with them came some complimentaries: thinly sliced raw onions; pickled onions; four types of chutneys; and a long boat-like dish of assorted papads. We were ravenous, and the milder, spice-free papads, with a dollop of what tasted like a tomato and garlic chutney, were delicious. By the way, we were never told what the chutneys were – one was definitely tamarind, and one was a pale green one, probably a mix of yoghurt, fresh mint, fresh coriander and green chillies. The others, including the one we liked, remained a mystery.
Our starter arrived shortly after: sarson murgh (literally, ‘mustard chicken’). This was wonderful: succulent, juicy bits of chicken, marinated in a gentle mix of spices, with a predominance of mustard (even that, though, was very mild), and cooked in a tandoor or clay oven, basted with mustard oil. Mustard oil, if you’ve never had it before, can ‘hit your nose’ with a wallop that can be pretty lethal if you aren’t used to it! This was fabulous, and raised our expectations very high.
Which was sad, because the main course was awful. We’d ordered laal maas (literally, ‘red meat’), paneer papad ki sabzi, and missi roti. The missi roti, a thickish flatbread made from gramflour mixed with chopped onions, green coriander and salt, with a lavish sprinkle of ghee, was hot and delicious; the laal maas was merely hot – chilli hot. Laal maas is a traditional dish of the western state of Rajasthan. It’s made by cooking goat’s meat with (among other ingredients) dried red chillies. I’ve had well-cooked laal maas, and while it can be very fiery, it can also be delectably so. Not swimming in oil or liable to give you indigestion, both of which the laal maas at Spice Market can lay claim to.
The paneer papad ki sabzi – pieces of papad (poppadums) cooked in a thick (no gravy) dish of the local Indian cottage cheese known as paneer was slightly better. It had strips of green capsicum (bell pepper) in it, and plenty of both fresh green chillies and red chilli powder, but the oil content was a little lower.
We ended up eating only about half of what we’d been served – and eating even that quantity required a lot of fortitude! We were feeling so full (mainly, I think, a result of the vast amount of oil in the laal maas) that we decided to pass up the dessert – though the array of phirni, shrikhand etc on the menu looked inviting. Still, our bill came to a steep Rs 1,969. Not a place I’d consider going back to.
From journal Getting Your Spice Fix in Delhi