Westbourne is one of those sought-after villages that newcomers flock to thanks to its plethora of shops.
Come here for your shoes, scarves, sails, bread, medicines, picture framing, interiors and a haircut, plus shop at the local Co-Op.
There’s no shortage of places to eat either, with all five choices – two pubs, one café, one fish and chip shop and one Indian restaurant – fronting or adjacent to the square.
The Spice Cottage – why are so many Indian restaurants named cottages when they are obviously not? – is also known as a tandoori inn (another misnomer as an inn is, well, an inn). This green and white painted business is like a comforting relic of the past, the Indian you visited before swanky glitz became the norm.
There are two simple mirrors, the tables are black and white clothed, the chairs padded. A small raised area at the back and a bar for those takeaway collections are the sum of its parts, muzak apart. All very simple and welcoming.
The cottage was doing a roaring business in takeaways, white plastic bags disappearing out of the kitchen at a steady rate. But the restaurant was pretty empty. Its non-licensed status (‘bring your own alcohol, no corkage charge’) might be one answer. However, locals may well welcome the chance to bring their own, avoiding generous restaurant mark-ups. The menu reflects the décor of the restaurant. Nothing here will jar, surprise or confuse. Come for the tried and tested including pakoras, kebabs, aloo chaat, mulligatawny soup and duck tikka puri for starters, a prawn cocktail added as a sop to non-lovers of Indian food.
No less than 121 dishes are on offer, themes including Dansak, Dupiaza, Methi, Pathia, Rogan, Saag, Balti. The list is seemingly endless.
From the Mild Dishes comes king prawn delight (tandoor prawns with yogurt, fresh cream and butter), Illachi gosht (lamb with garlic, ginger, coriander and caromom) from the Medium Dishes and chicken tikka monipuri, with spices, orange and mint, from the Hot Dishes.
My starter, an onion bhaji, was cooked in tepid fat, the floured fritters’ coating suffering from a surfeit of oil, the onion interior barely lukewarm. It came with a vibrant yellow sauce which tried to lift the starter to some degree of success but failed.
Rajeshwari, my chosen lamb dish, was medium hot and more mutton than lamb. But it had taste, the sauce sparkled with spices and diced onions and the pilau rice was exemplary.
Spice Cottage, with its pleasant, hard-working staff, is a useful neighbourhood restaurant, exactly what it sets out to be. My bill came to just under £13 including a glass of sparkling water.
Spice Cottage, East Street, Westbourne, Emsworth, West Sussex PO10 8SH 01243 377341.
Open: Noon-2.30 pm, 5.30pm–11.30pm all week. Closed Friday lunch only.
Food: Three (out of five)
Disabled access: Good
How to get there: Go east along the A27, exit at Emsworth, follow the main road, exiting first left at the main roundabout. Once past Emsworth train station, turn right at the Westbourne sign, and once in Westbourne park on the square or nearby. The restaurant is opposite the Stag’s Head pub.