SWAD, Sandown SWAD, Sandown
Love and marriage, they say, go together like a horse and carriage. Or maybe like Peters and Lee, the interchangeable Ant and Dec, Matt... SWAD, Sandown

Love and marriage, they say, go together like a horse and carriage. Or maybe like Peters and Lee, the interchangeable Ant and Dec, Matt and Cat, and Indian tapas… Whoah there! Indian and tapas?

SWAD

Both spicy, perhaps, but a good combination? The new owners of Sandown’s latest restaurant, SWAD Indian Tapas, seem to think so. Matt and Cat, initially sceptical about this cross-cultural culinary collision, decided on reflection that actually, the idea of Indian tapas sounded pretty good. After all, who hasn’t looked at some bizarre item on the bottom of the menu and wondered if they’d like it. With tapas one can speculate a modest amount of money on a small dish and try new food experiences. M and C skipped to the seaside town one evening to find out what SWAD was all about…

SWAD occupies a very ornate building on the corner of Sandown’s High Street and the exotically-named Guadeloupe Road. Its filigree-framed fenestration oozes purple light, inviting the passer-by to enter the clean interior. The restaurant conforms to the now ubiquitous style of Indian restaurants as documented more than once on this website. And, to save you the trouble of browsing reviews of Monsoon, Cinnamon, Purple Mango, etc, let’s recap – coloured lighting, leather chairs, restaurant’s name etched in the window – all present and correct. So far, so nice. In fact, Matt was moved to remark on the way in which the design of Indian restaurants and dentists’ waiting rooms was converging: it’s getting to the stage where one might almost yearn for the simple comfort of heavy red flock wallpaper and fretwork screens.

Both dishes were like nothing your reviewers had eaten before

In keeping with the contemporary livery, SWAD also has big TVs set high up the walls. As Matt and Cat entered the venue, the warbling tellies were beaming huge images and frantic commentary of some weeping child being pulled from the bloody wreckage of what looked like the aftermath of the Mumbai terrorist attacks. M & C strongly dislike television in restaurants at the best of times, but this was particularly off-putting.

Swad saag meat and spinach bhajee

Matt and Cat positioned themselves at a table where they could see as little television as possible and settled down with the menus. The menu was rather cryptic and confusing in parts. Furthermore, the prices did not suggest a tapas-style meal. Enquiries with the waitress revealed an unexpected development: there is no tapas at SWAD. In India the term ‘tapas’ simply means ‘selection’ and so was chosen as a good name for a restaurant, rather than as a description of the food. Similarly, the rather clunky ‘SWAD’ is not an acronym, but an Indian term for ‘tasty’. Not surprisingly, your reviewers were far from the first to have made this enquiry as they discovered when the waitress offered her well-rehearsed definitions. Once the tapas issue was cleared up, M & C were able to order food without confusion. But they couldn’t help feeling a twinge of disappointment: actually, an Indian tapas restaurant is a really good idea. Surely SWAD could take advantage of this inadvertent confusion and have a small tapas selection to encourage diners to try new dishes? Given the unusual and interesting menu – more of which shortly – that could be a real winner.

At first glance, the menu at SWAD seemed like regular Indian fare; chicken tikka masala, lamb jalfrezi and vegetable biryani can all be found. However, amongst the expected dishes were a few surprises. Salmon curry, chilli squid and ‘chicken loly pop’ were all new to Matt and Cat. Helpfully, some of the dishes had an explanatory text, as one might expect. But others did not, and some were opaque to the point of head-scratching mystery. Even Google can’t offer definitions for ‘patra chat‘, ‘mogo pancer‘ and ‘reshmi parantha‘. The waitress was well-informed and happy to explain when asked, but it didn’t seem reasonable to ask her to talk through the entire range so Matt and Cat chose dishes that they figured they might like.

The food is very good, and the menu is innovative if confusingly-presented

Cat was tempted by the chicken palak bahar (£6.50), described as succulent pieces of boneless chicken simmered in a tomato-rich spinach gravy with a touch of fenugreek. She was offered the option of how strong the spices should be – a nice touch. Matthew requested swad saag meat (£7.50) – lamb pieces mixed with spinach and methi, garnished to perfection. It was Matt’s turn to choose one of side dishes, which curiously are labelled ‘main course – vegetables‘ on the menu. The waitress encouragingly tried to promote ‘shani paneer‘ which turned out to be cottage cheese. Matt rejected her enthusiastic sales patter and lumped for the rather safe saag bhajee (£5.50).

The poppadums arrived with three unusual chutneys: raw onion in some sort of red paste, a very spicy yoghurt, and garlicky mango. They were perhaps a preview of the main course – kind of the same yet distinctly different to the usual Indian experience.

Spinach

Despite the burbling TVs, Matt and Cat couldn’t avoid listening in on a conversation between a member of staff and some other chap who was lounging at the bar. A rather indiscreet discussion was being had about wages and, frankly, it did not seem appropriate to have the debate in such an open forum. There was a certain casualness about the place that was a bit slack. Usually, one is overwhelmed by smart handsome waiters in a venue like SWAD. In this case, there was the one waitress and a man in jeans wearing a jumper that Giles Brandreth may have discarded. Again, like an Indian restaurant, yet not…

When the food arrived in beautiful beaten-silver bowls, Matt and Cat were impressed. But they soon realised that they hadn’t thought it through! Three dishes of lumpy green stuff were presented to them. Why, oh why had they ordered a spinach side dish to go with two spinachy main courses? Doh! However, despite the similarity in appearance, the dishes each had their own flavour. The chicken saag, although not overwhelmed with the promised ‘tomato-rich sauce’ was extremely tasty and, as Cat had requested, nice and mild. The meat itself was chunky and soft and there was a drizzle of cream on the top to relieve the monotony of its appearance.

Matt and Cat’s bill
SWAD saag meat £7.50
Chicken palak bahar £6.50
Saag bhajee £5.50
2 x pillau rice £5.00
2 x papadums £1.00
Chutneys £1.50
Cobra beer (660ml) £4.50

Matt’s lamb saag did not seem to be garnished to perfection, as the menu boasted – in fact it wasn’t garnished at all. However, it tasted excellent; rich with plenty of big bits of lamb. Fresh coriander and a chilli kick lurked within, making it quite different to the gentler chicken saag. Both dishes were like nothing your reviewers had eaten before. The pillau rice was also different from the norm, being soft and much less dry than usual. Matt wasn’t even sure it was basmati rice – perhaps it was round-grain rice? It had an enjoyable, slightly sweet taste and none of the usual lurid red and green grains one would expect prettying up the dish.

All three spinach dishes were a bit textureless (apart from the meat) and would have benefited from food of another colour, eg tomato. But this may just have been poor and unimaginative choice on Matt and Cat’s part.

So what to make of SWAD? It’s early days for the new establishment, but it’s a bit like experiencing Indian cuisine in a parallel universe. The food is very good, and the menu is innovative if confusingly-presented. The décor is typical and the intrusive TVs show Bollywood-style dancing (when not broadcasting disaster news). However, SWAD needs to think carefully about presenting a more professional image to diners. Staff discussing personal matters in public cannot ever be a good thing. And tapas? Well, the name is lost in translation which is a wasted opportunity. Tapas is an established ‘brand’ in Europe and Matt and Cat were expecting lots of small dishes of a variety of Indian food. English people know where they are with ‘Taste of the East’ and ‘Taj Mahal’ and, sorry to say, are not particularly adventurous diners so it’s probably going to be easier to spell this sort of thing out very clearly.

It’s a great idea to try to encourage Island diners to try a slightly different Indian experience, and SWAD provides a very welcome bit of diversity in an increasingly homogeneous curry market. Matt and Cat really want to see SWAD succeed: it certainly deserves to prevail and with a few tweaks it surely will.

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  • Gurdeep

    2nd August 2017 #1 Author

    Matt and Cat, your review is still so relevant 9 years later. We walked past SWAD during the day and decided to try it out, much like you, expecting Tapas ( as we had done at Roti in Edinburgh) Upon arrival we were informed the food would take an hour and then our chosen starter/Tandoori roti were not available. Disappointed to say the least. Can’t comment on the food yet as we are still waiting.

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  • Sophie

    15th June 2012 #2 Author

    Love the food here (and I’m a huge curry fan). Highly recommend the mixed grill starter- delicious. My only complaint would be the TV; played MTV dance throughout our meal and it totally ruins a good curry night. Please Swad, play some Indian music. If I go out for a Mexican meal, I want to hear Mexican music, same goes for Greek, Spanish etc. Change just this one thing and you will become my most favourite restaurant.

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  • valerie

    12th February 2012 #3 Author

    We went to the Shad on Friday for our son`s birthday. The food was absolutely fabulous, best indian meal I have tasted. The chef came and explained the different foods to us. The service was excellent and the staff very friendly and welcoming. No problems with the TV. We all agreed we couldn`t have had better and can`t wait to go again. Thank you The Shad.

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  • julian

    17th September 2011 #4 Author

    had a fantastic meal really nice staff well done will be going back

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  • Maddie

    13th February 2011 #5 Author

    Excellent food, attentive staff and a lovely ambiance, we would definately recommend the Swad for an evening out.
    Certainly a well done to all at the Swad !! and look forward to returning soon for another enjoyable meal.

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  • Donna

    16th December 2010 #6 Author

    After reading reviews about swad, i was a little dubious about going there. My man and I decided to bite the bullet n give it a go. No camplaints at all, great welcome, attentive staff willing to answer any questions – very friendly and good sense of humour. Food was delicious. Defo going again …………………….

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  • Chief Wiggam

    26th September 2010 #7 Author

    Went to SWAD for the first time this weekend – food was excellent with good recommendations made by knowledgable staff and service was polite but not overpowering. Will go again very soon and would recommend it as a venue.

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  • Dave

    29th August 2010 #8 Author

    Staying in a Sandown guesthouse we were always looking for somewhere to eat out in the evenings. After reading the reviews on this and other sites we decided to give the SWAD a miss and try the Purple Mango Indian restaurant in Shanklin instead. “BIG MISTAKE”. Although the place was full it was no excuse for poor standards. After ordering our food for a family of four I noticed a Asian family of about Eight adults and children all looking over at the waiters every time food was being served. Eventually one of them asked when their food, would arrive as they had waited for quite a while. This is when alarm bells began to ring. Forty minutes later our food eventually arrived. I must admit the food was very nice alyhough I couldn’t remember what we ate. During our meal one of the waiters was having an argument regarding getting his wages from the manager. Around the same time, as we were sitting next to the counter we could over hear another member of staff having a conversation with a customer on the phone regarding an order that hadn’t been delivered. When we got our bill we had been charged for drinks we didn’t order and full price for one of our orders although it should have been priced as a starter. We were given an apology and told they were busy. Well tough if they were busy, we were paying customers and to be given a feeble excuse for poor standards is a disgrace. This kind of standard semed to be the norm right across the Isle of Wight and the only meal we were happy with was at the Royal China in Sandown although i’m sure we were overcharged but couldn’t be 100% certain as the bill was in chinese.

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  • Anita

    26th June 2010 #9 Author

    RUBBISH!!! we were 5 people dining of Indian origin order Manchurian for starter and koft for main and they were both the same!!!
    The king Prawn dish was priced over £8 but had 4 king prawns – RUBBISH place wasted my money

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  • bobby4

    2nd May 2010 #10 Author

    they also do meat fish and pasta.. don’t watch TV, its bad for your health, I think they finally scraped enough to get a proper sign aswell.

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  • Sean

    1st May 2010 #11 Author

    If mama mias did curry then perhaps they would. As it is it’s only a pizza parlour in a different town that can’t even afford a proper sign outside: if we want to see to adverts bobby we’ll watch the TV thank you.

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  • bobby4

    1st May 2010 #12 Author

    next time try mamma mias in shanklin, the food is good the staff are happy and the chef is always smiling.

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  • Unsatisfied group of customers

    29th April 2010 #13 Author

    We went to this restaurant as a family of 7.The ambience was very good.Menu was also good.We tried the tandoori chicken which was good.As main course we tried chicken,lamb and prawn briyani.All three was not up to Indian cuisine standards. The incident was the waiter brought us a curry which we did not order. We thought it was for briyani. He server the curry even after confirming that we didn’t order the curry.Then he included it in the bill. We said we didn’t order the curry and we thought it is for briyani. The chef was so rude to us and did not accept the mistake. Even during taking the orders he was just very rude and was not cooperative enough. It was a attitude problem he had. I strongly do not recommend this restaurant.

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  • dan and aneke

    3rd August 2009 #14 Author

    Can’t recommend highly enough.. so if you need a curry fix get yourself to SWAD.

    Having just moved to the Island from the main land one of my first tasks was to find a good curry house. After 4 attempts at other restaurants in the Shanklin / Sandown area we tried SWAD and need look no further.

    The menu is authentic Indian – although like you we were thrown by the tapas bit – and very well prepared.

    The staff were very helpful (accomodating a 2 year old and 2 others as well) and even prepared some off menu orders.

    Can’t recommend highly enough.. so if you need a curry fix get yourself to SWAD.

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  • Dasher-Dasher

    24th June 2009 #15 Author

    We recently visited Sandown (my husband, my year old daughter and me). It was 7:00 pm and we found Swad. We were intially greeted in the restaurant but then strangely refused a place after having noticed a push chair. This was even when the restaurant hardly had any customers. In a tourist friendly place like Sandown such an incident is not called for and has left a bitter taste in our minds.

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  • tim

    11th April 2009 #16 Author

    Just returned from a great meal at Swad. Shared a mixed grill starter, generous portion, well presented. nice chutneys with the poppadums. main course of lamb chops very good too. sauces maybe a little thick, but with properly cooked naans, crispy and a bit burnt, SWAD really stands head and shoulders above the rest of the island’s curry houses and deserves to do well. very satisfied customer.

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  • Laurie

    28th March 2009 #17 Author

    I suspect that quite a number of us are cheering the SWAD on. It’s certainly having a go and the menu is remarkably different.

    My wife and I have eaten there twice now and I’d say the jury is out. Specifically, the better half loves it and I find the food to be a bit rich and salty.

    But I write from a vegetarian perspective and, again, I do think that the SWAD is an audacious enterprise. Along with the (excellent) Royal China, it is certainly bringing some class to Sandown High Street – incongruous ski jumpers and moonlighting Estate Agents, notwithstanding.

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  • Two Veggies

    19th December 2008 #18 Author

    We agree, its rather unusual food and tasted like mixture of Polish and Indian food? Also, we were surprised to see the manageress of Watson Bull and Porter waiting on? And, maybe someone can ask them politely to turn the lights down, it was a sunglasses job when we visited… Good Luck Swad, bring on a Tapas banquet night

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