My Ayre Digonto was a dish of distinction

Spice Village in Havant Road, Drayton.''Picture: Sarah Standing (1317-421)

Spice Village in Havant Road, Drayton.''Picture: Sarah Standing (1317-421)

Friendly Phil's

FOOD REVIEW: Friendly Phil’s, Port Solent

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Spice Village

Havant Road, Drayton

Once the New Inn, this imposing building on Drayton’s Havant Road has been taken over and become Spice Village. The new Indian-Bangladeshi restaurant had been under wraps for many months until opening in late November last year.

A local architect has done wonders with the space, giving two interior decorators plenty of scope to work with. Glitz was on order by Mr Ahad and his wife, and the result is very glamorous and striking.

Step on to a very smart swirling red and lime carpet, and the walls are either painted a rich lime or are home to recesses sporting silver on white patterns.

Sit on patterned banquettes or green wood upholstered chairs or curved ones. Tables are dressed with excellent glasses and modern cutlery.

Rarely have I seen so many staff, both Asian and English, but some form of training seems to be absent. Guests are greeted pleasantly at first by the glass entrance, but some disarray is in evidence afterwards. Orders are taken slowly and without much knowledge and food is slow to arrive.

Tightening this aspect up is essential for a restaurant of this calibre. On the plus side, they’re friendly and well-meaning.

Start with maybe sheek kebab; tandoori chicken; chicken pakora; prawn puri; onion bhaji; lamb chop; aloo chat and many others. Cox Bazar Fish, called after the name of the Bangladeshi port, is joined by Ayre Digonto, local fish cooked with special Bangladeshi lemons and Assam King Prawns with diced pumpkin and spices.

Shahi Duck is given almonds with spiced boiled egg, Gujerati Chicken comes with spinach and chillies while Balti Shobuz Murgh Tikka, chicken, is married with pureed coriander, tamarind and mint. Prices range from around £7 to £14.95, most mains around £8. Starters are from £2.95 to £4.95.

The kitchen was straining to get the orders out and take orders (the wait for my first course over 40 minutes). Was it worth it? I’d happily book a return for the mixed kebabs, a sheek kebab one of chicken also joining a fine example of a bhaji. The downside? It was crammed too tightly on a small plate with a dull salad of cucumber, poor-quality tomato and cos. This starter needed to stretch on to a presentable plate.

My main made its way after another wait, Ayre Digonto flavoured with those Bangladeshi lemons, onions and tomatoes and spices. This sauce, mixed into the fried Bangladeshi fish, was masterful, judicious, medium spicing not detracting from key ingredients. Spooned over some of the best rice to be found west of eastern paddy fields, this was a dish of distinction and finely served in smart china bowls kept warm on a heater.

The naan bread was equally fine, the freshly-baked thin, bubbled and slightly charred bread used to scoop up the moreish sauce. I drank a small cold draught Cobra and Hildon water, the latter served in a glass resembling a Michelin man.

Indian restaurants have been under siege for several years now due to government restrictions on south Asian chefs who must earn over £28,000 a year to qualify for admission.

Fortunately Spice Village seems to have deep pockets to pay those in the kitchen. My bill came to a very reasonable £21.50.

Spice Village, 165 Havant Road, Drayton, (023)9237 7780. Open 5.30pm-11.30pm Sun–Thurs & 5pm-midnight Fri–Sat.

Disabled access: Fine.

How to get there: Exit at Cosham on the M27, and follow the A3 to Havant Road on the right. The restaurant is a way down on the left before Eastern Avenue. There is on-street parking.

Ratings (maximum *****)

FOOD ****

SERVICE ***

ATMOSPHERE ****

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