Newly-opened Spice Master has unwrapped its door next to two other Indian-Bangladeshi restaurants, and there are three neon signs now reaching out for custom.
In this age of austerity, the owners of Spice Master are taking a gamble. But, according to the charismatic waiter running the service alongside one of the owners the evening I went, the chef is a teacher of this genre of cooking, a bonus for the business.
They have spent considerable sums on the space, which is a narrow one with tables closely-knitted together, burgundy their colour of choice for the high-backed chairs, napkins and napery.
A single red rose on each table does help, as does the Indian-Bangladeshi music.
The menu does touch briefly on Western ways via prawn cocktail, steaks and Southern fried chicken, but the other 256 dishes are firmly sub-continent ones.
Starters on the inexpensive menu include bhajis; samosas, chot poti (potatoes and peas with spice, herbs, egg); halim (beef with lentils); vegetable platter; prawn cocktail and many more choices from £2.10 to £3.95.
The tandoori oven offers malai kebab (chicken with cream, almonds, cheese and salad); mixed grill (lamb and chicken tikka, chicken, seekh kebab, king prawn and naan); paneer or tikka shashlik, prices from £5.50 to £7.95.
The extensive menu has a plethora of vegetarian dishes, balti, curries, biryani, fish and house specials, including knuckle of lamb from Nepal with herbs and chick peas; chicken Kama Sutra (‘Lovers be aware this is an aphrodisiac’ says the blurb hopefully) – a hot chicken dish cooked, unusually for this type of restaurant, with wine.
Roast duck is given a spicy orange flavour, Ghurka’s Revenge also going down the hot chilli route with lamb or chicken.The priciest dishes on the menu are still under £10, many around the £6–£7 mark for a main course.
Zafrani fish kicked off my meal. This is an excellent dish of tilapia, a very soft choice of fish which could easily break up in the transition from raw to tandoor-cooked.
Red-tinged onion added a sweetness as did cooked tomato and pepper, a spicy sauce of the moreish kind. Why it had to be squeezed on a small plate with a dull salad is baffling.
Lamb chops, marinated in yoghurt with spices and herbs on a bed of cooked, sliced onion and tomato, confirmed the chef’s prowess with judicious spicing. This also came with a salad which I pepped up with some mint sauce, a decided bonus.A fabulous, puffy naan bread, fresh from the oven, rounded off this admirable main course. At £5.50, this was outstanding value.
The wine list is an oddity. None of the wines is actually named, their provenance merely ‘pinot grigio, rioja’ et al.
So I played safe with a small Cobra beer.
Although billed as a ‘new concept, new dining experience in Portsmouth,’ I am unconvinced of its novelty but ‘tasty food at reasonable prices’ gets my vote. But waiting for a main course for half an hour in a mainly quiet restaurant is something that needs changing.
The service is very caring and professional.
I left with a sense of being a valued customer, a good warm feeling.
Good luck, Spice Master. My bill came to just over £13, not including a tip.
Spice Master, 245 London Road, North End, Portsmouth, PO2 6HA, (023) 9266 9636. Open from 5pm to midnight.
Disabled access: Fine.
How to get there: The restaurant is on London Road between Wadham Road and North End Avenue. There is parking on the street.
FOOD: Four stars (out of Five)
SERVICE: Four stars
ATMOSPHERE: Three stars