Matt and Cat\'s Isle of Wight Eating Out Guide
The Spice Lounge has closed down, and a new venue has opened under the same name nearby. This review is an archive review referring...

The Spice Lounge has closed down, and a new venue has opened under the same name nearby. This review is an archive review referring to the former venue.

2010 saw a relaunch for one of Shanklin’s most enduring eating-places: since 1983 known as the Maharaja, the latest name for this High Street stalwart is the Spice Lounge.

Spice Lounge, Shanklin, chutneys

This place has for many years been a great favourite of Matt and Cat’s. Back in the day, before the idea of this website occurred to them, they regularly enjoyed a night of good food and friendly service around the Maharaja’s tables. It wasn’t too long before M & C felt the need to see whether the Spice Lounge was as good as its respected progenitor, so they treated junior reviewers Bill and Jack to a curry feast in Shanklin.

The Isle of Wight is well provided with Indian food – pretty much anywhere on the Island you’re not too far from a curry or the like, and even some pubs make laudable efforts. But the problem with this – if it can be called a problem – is distinguishing one from another. Similar menus, similar décor, similar service and even similar names can sometimes cause one Indian offering to seem all too much like the next. This is often unfair – Matt and Cat can attest that some curry houses on the Island are a lot better than others. It also militates in favour of the new: a freshly launched establishment can draw custom, at least in the short term, by novelty value alone. Older, more established venues, however good, might find themselves falling behind the race, and then maybe be tempted to reinvent themselves. Was this what happened here? Was this just a fresh coat of paint on the same old Maharaja, or was there something genuinely new going on?

Spice Lounge, Shanklin, chicken badami

The Spice Lounge certainly looked the part – plenty of work has gone into rebranding the place, although, to be honest, it wasn’t that bad before, having had a major refurbishment following a fire in 2009.

This was Indian food as it should be

When the diners walked in they were immediately given a warm greeting, and were seated with the cheery chat that has always characterised the Maharaja. Anyone who’s not comfortable with the slickly impersonal, silent service that some Indian restaurants employ will be pleased with the professional but laid-back atmosphere at the Spice Lounge.

The menu was next for scrutiny, and it certainly looked different. Some new dishes were on display, plus a good few ‘old favourites’ and some entire new sections including a fish selection and thali. Cat was interested in the new special dishes, and picked out chicken badami, which looked similar to her old favourite moglai chicken: mild, creamy and nutty. Jack, fond of the familiar, chose a chicken balti; Matt and Bill were both keen to try the new thali menu, and chose a korai thali each.

Matt and Cat’s bill
Poppudums and chutneys £1.20
2 x korai thali (offer price) £20.00
Chicken badami £9.50
Murgh balti ( inc pilau rice) £8.50
Garlic mushroom side £3.25
1 x Pilau rice £2.50
Dessert £3.75
2 x coffee £2.40
Cobra (pint) £4.15
Coke £1.75
Total £57.00

After poppadums and a decent tray of chutneys to whet their palettes, the diners were looking forward to the main dishes. Some interestingly hi-tech plate warmers arrived, all stainless steel and glass, and shortly afterwards a trolley rolled up and the dishes were deftly unloaded. Bill and Matt were both very impressed by the presentation of the thali trays. Each one had freshly-cut tomato and onion at the centre, in the shape of a rosebud no less. A tempting range of meat and vegetables surrounded the centrepiece, and proved to be as good as they looked.

Cat too was pleased with her rich badami sauce, which was filled with chunks of chicken, just as she liked it. A special mention must be made of the garlic mushroom side dish; it was particularly scrummy. The diners enjoyed a good meal, and by the end of it everyone had eaten their fill. This was Indian eating as it should be: freshly cooked, tasty food, from an enticing menu, well-presented and served.

Spice Lounge, Shanklin

Matt and Cat sat back and relaxed with some coffee, and as Jack had gorged himself to satiation on the delicious chicken balti it was left to Bill to essay a pudding from the dreaded photo-dessert menu. Although his first choice was not available, he was very happy with its substitute. During the choosing, a minor calamity occurred: a drink was spilled, a glass broke and a lap got wet. However, the wreckage was cleared away commendably efficiently and quickly, leaving the diners to continue their meal.

When the bill arrived, this was a pleasant surprise at less then £15 per head, including drinks. So yes, Matt and Cat conclude, Spice Lounge is different, and better. The best bits of the Maharaja have prevailed – the friendly service, decent food and lack of TV. The transformation to Maharaja Spice Lounge is subtle; the family behind the restaurant has built on its success making it a candidate for one of the best sit-down Indian restaurants on the Island. Highly recommended and well worth the trip to Shanklin.

The Spice Lounge has closed down, and a new venue has opened under the same name nearby. This review is an archive review referring to the former venue.