Much is made of local provenance, particularly in the food industry. The Isle of Wight’s farmers, producers and artisan bakers enjoy a justly-deserved cachet.
Steaks can be identified by their originating herd. Many restaurants serve up “a trio of Island cheeses” as a dessert. Crabs practically scuttle up the beach and into the nearest pot! Matt and Cat have seen for themselves the thoroughness with which Ryde-based butchers Island Foods ensures that each of the animals it processes is tagged and traced, ensuring explicit labelling on a restaurant’s menu.
There are some types of restaurant that don’t engage in this local food revolution. Or do they? Despite the prevalence of the generic ‘ruby’ – the mild yellow curry, the orange one and the one with the red sauce – presumably these dishes have their origins in regions beyond the Isle of Wight. Beyond Europe no less; regions unfamiliar to parochial diners like Matt and Cat.
Yet Matt and Cat have tried loads of Indian restaurants on the Island and have found the food to be pretty similar in most – often the only thing to distinguish the offering being the service, which can range from frankly slack, via friendly and helpful, to intrusively over-attentive. There are one or two places which stand out above the crowd. Monsoon in Ryde being one. And it may be that M&C have found another. On a recommendation from a colleague, Matt and Cat were advised to go west for some eastern promise. They ended up in Yarmouth and ascended the steps to Yarmouth Spice.
Well, that’s a novelty for a start. Most Indian restaurants are usually in town centre locations; very few on the Island are on the coast, unless you count the decommissioned Merlins at Blackgang and maybe Bombay Palace at Ryde. Yes, from the terrace at Yarmouth Spice is a commanding view over the harbour.
Naan bread £2.45
Poppadoms and chutney 2 @ £1.60
Lamb balti £9.95
Chicken tikka massala £9.95
Kumbi chawal £3.50
Matt and Cat and party were greeted warmly and given a choice of tables. As Cat parked herself in a seat by the radiator, the waiter clocked her disappointment that it was cool to the touch. The chill was soon sent packing as he turned on the heater without a word. Well observed!
Yarmouth Spice’s menu, which the restaurant describes as “Indian tapas”, was more diverse than expected. M&C have not seen king prawn in fresh mango and lime, or tiger prawn with honey and coconut, or even lamb and apricots on an Indian menu before. Passing over the monkfish and lobster dishes – yes, lobster – Cat, who’s a bit of a weakling when it comes to curry, had to hunt down chicken tikka masala. She found it tucked away in a section called ‘British traditional curry dishes’, from which she rather shamefacedly placed her order. Matt, also showing uncharacteristic lack of daring, followed suit and picked lamb balti.
You know the drill by now: drinks and poppadoms were soon to arrive. Even the chutneys were a step above the usual mango jam and yogurt. Another deviation from the norm was the absence of plate warmers. The ritual flicker of tealights was missing – the food only had its intrinsic heat to keep itself warm and, waddya know? Like in all other restaurants, it worked – the food was of sufficient temperature.
Cat’s chicken tikka masala was extremely mild, milder than even Cat was used to – serves her right for ignoring the chef’s specials! The creamy masala sauce had a hint of garlic and coconut, rather than an almond or cashewy base. It was red in the traditional way, but not that shocking Dyno-Rod bright, like some venues serve. No, it seemed to have been concocted from real and fresh ingredients; plenty of soft chicken, with a swirl of cream on the top. Cat’s CTM was served with kumbai chawal – basmati rice with finely chopped mushrooms and plenty of fresh coriander. She was pleased to discover this tasty variation on the standard rice dish in the sundries part of the menu. It was a pleasant change from regulation tutti-frutti pilau with its red, green and orange grains.
Matt’s lamb balti was full of meat. And the taste! This was a really good curry. With no sign of the lakes of coloured oil that sometimes ooze from Indian-style dishes, Yarmouth Spice was clearly using some decent-quality ingredients. The tastes were strong, solid and clear, and the ingredients were not boiled to a pulp – Matt was very pleased.
The party descended the stairs satiated and happy, pausing to admire the scenery. Really, on a warm evening, this would be a dining place with one of the most enjoyable views on the Island, with the busy harbour and the ferries coming and going, all backed by the great vista of the sun setting over the western Solent.
Yarmouth Spice is an unusual Indian restaurant, in an outstanding spot. Matt and Cat thought the food was a cut above the average, the service was decent and the location elevated it above its competitors.
A shorter version of this review appeared in print in the Isle of Wight County Press.
- Great location
- Service and food are good
- You might need to skip over the pricy bits of the menu