With two branches located close to Victoria Station, the Spicy World mini-franchise serves as a convenient stopgap for weary travellers with a craving for curry. A specialist in both traditional balti and Nepalese dishes, there is enough choice here to suit most fans of South Asian cuisine.
This Spicy World on Gillingham Street is the smaller of the two branches, comprised as it is of a single, tiny dining room that only avoids feeling claustrophobic thanks to its light colour scheme. The decor is definitely not anything fancy so if you’re looking for the plush, vibrant surroundings familiar to many Indian restaurants, than this is likely to disappointment.
With its backstreet location and bigger, bolder brother nearby, this branch of Spicy World is not exactly overrun with diners. The somewhat barren setting does little to enhance any mood so it is definitely up to your party to provide the entertainment. Waiters are satisfactorily attentive, but given the staff to customer ratio it's to be expected.
The menu is extensive; split first in to ‘balti’ and ‘Nepalese’ sections and then further divided in to the different regions of Nepal, and their related dishes. It certainly makes for an interesting (if time consuming) read, even if one suspects that this may be a case of a restaurant spreading itself too thin.
A starter of fish pakoras (£6.95) is pleasingly fresh and light, offering plump chunks of cod coated in a crispy golden batter, whilst prawn puree (also £6.95) – a slightly less bland option – is a pleasantly sweet dish with a well-judged ratio of prawn to spinach, offset by a smoky, garlic flavour. It is also served with satisfyingly hearty – if a touch floury - slices of paratha bread on the side.
Mayur madras (£9.95) is a suitably fiery curry that manages to translate the complexities of its spices without overpowering its meat. More impressive still – and with an increased price tag to match - is a sultani pasanda (£13.95): a mild, creamy dish with a deliciously sweet and aromatic quality. Chicken and lamb are both adequately portioned and tender.
When it comes to the side dishes, a peshwari naan (£3.45) is a true winner. Wickedly rich, with a generous coconut and sultana based filling, it still manages to be light. The okra dish (£4.95) is nicely juicy, and retains the depth of the vegetable’s flavour, whilst Bengali aloo gobi (£4.95) combines softly textured potato and cauliflower in a mild and well-seasoned curry sauce.
The dessert list mainly consists of American-style pie and cake fare (with accompanying glossy photos), but a mango kulfi (£3.95) offers a more authentic and pleasant ending to the meal: lightly creamy with a genuine fresh, fruit flavour seeping through.
As with its food menu, Spicy World certainly doesn’t shy away from offering an extensive choice when it comes to drinks. House wines are £15.75 a bottle, and an Ormer Bay Pinotage South African red is warming, rich and smooth. The beers available are standard fare for British curry houses – Cobra and Kingfisher (£3.45 per 330ml bottle) – with the slightly less common Bangla beer also available at £5.95 for a 660ml bottle. There are also unpretentious cocktails available at £8.95 a pop, if you’re willing to risk it. Amongst the soft drinks available are salty, sweet and mango lassis (£2.95) - the latter being disappointingly sickly.
The Last Word
Although let down somewhat severely by its appearance, Spicy World doesn't fail to deliver with its food, and there is obviously a true passion for South Asian cuisine in the kitchen. The main problem here is the distinctly high prices, which - albeit not completely unexpected considering the restaurant’s overtly touristy location - should justify a somewhat glossier dining experience.