Hands up if you consider an Indian restaurant menu as a challenge.
Are you the kind of diner who sees three chilli logos or the word ‘Hot’ alongside a dish and want to prove to your party that you can handle it?
I haven’t quite graduated to that lofty status nor that level of bravery, but when I read ‘lots of garlic and black pepper’ on the menu at the Spice House, it was enough of a temptation for me.
My better half, on the other hand, always plays it safe faced with spicy food – she is not at all adventurous.
This week, we were back in Seahouses, having visited a recent Italian addition to the village last week. We were there because we had tried to eat at a north Northumberland pub but arrived 10 minutes before food service was due to stop only to find the kitchen had closed early.
Some quick thinking was required. Where would be open and still serving in midweek at around 9pm?
The answer had to be an Indian restaurant, so we headed for the seaside. Our saviour came in the form of the Spice House, which boasts incredible opening hours – seven days a week and from 5pm to 11pm.
The only day it closes is Christmas Day – for that commitment alone, it is worth a visit.
The restaurant serves an extensive range of Bangladeshi and Indian cuisine. It is appealing from the outside and immaculate inside.
You’ll not find whiter tablecloths anywhere and the place settings were pristine and professional.
Some background Indian music lifted the atmosphere, as we became the only ones left eating.
The menu itself takes a good while to digest. In common with many subcontinent-style restaurants, the choice is mind-blowing. There are dozens of options, with various combinations of masala, zalfrezi, korai, balti, sagwala, biryani and tandoori dishes, which range in price from £6.95 for the vegetable choice to £12.90 for the king prawn flavour, as well as ‘traditional’ curries – kurma, Malayan, Kashmiri, dansak, pathia, bhuna, dupiaza, rogan josh, Madras, Sri Lankan and vindaloo – which will set you back between £6.90 and £10.90.
Then, of course, you need to add a rice (£2.75 to £3.90) and side dishes, if they take your fancy. It’s both an art and a science!
The takeaway offering is the same but a little cheaper.
By the time we had landed, we were both ravenous, so kicked off with a delightful pickle tray (£2.90) and a couple of papadoms (80p each).
On to starters. I went for king prawn bhaji on puri (£4.95). It’s a curry house favourite and absolutely irresistible. It is hard to find the words to describe such a tasty little dish.
Three split giant prawns in a heavenly garlic, onions and capsicum sauce, and a lemon and coriander garnish, all on a small puri bread.
The authentic flavours were so delicate and moreish, this dish could be my staple diet.
Across the way landed another familiar choice, onion bhajis (£3.50), which came with a crisp lettuce and cucumber salad. The bhajis were externally crunchy, light, but a tad dry. A mint sauce from the pickle tray solved that one.
I chose from the house specialities for my main course, and the aforementioned lashings of garlic and pepper in the roshon kora dish (£8.75), with chicken, caught my eye.
I selected mushroom pilau rice (£3.50) as an accompaniment and we shared a garlic nan bread (£2.90).
They were not kidding, there was plenty of garlic in the curry, whole cloves in fact, and a more-than-generous sprinkling of pepper that gave the dish a sharpness that grabbed the back of my throat and made my lips tingle.
The cubes of chicken were fresh and plentiful.
It did not have the subtlety of my starter and could be described as quite harsh.
The chicken tikka masala (£8.75), with onion pilau (£3.50), selected by my wife was, by contrast, mild, sweet and heavily flavoured with coconut.
But it suited her delicate palate down to the ground.
Washed down with a bottle of fine Rioja wine, we had eventually landed on our feet and decided to return for another stab at that colossal menu.
Our waiter was extremely polite and attentive, making it such a pleasant experience.
REASONABLE COST FOR A FILLING MEAL
Our bill at the Spice House came to £57.25 (two people, three courses, plus wine), which we didn’t think was too pricey.
We left full to the gunwales and couldn’t eat another thing and didn’t even consider inquiring about desserts.
There are a couple of English dishes for youngsters or those who do not like Indian cuisine. Chicken (£7.90), prawn (£7.90) or mushroom (£6.90) omelettes or fried chicken and chips (£7.90) are the options.
SELECTION FROM THE MENU
Pakura (mixed vegetables)......£3.50
Chicken chat masala......£4.50
Dhai begun (aubergines)......£3.90
Podina zhall murgh......£7.90
Zhall jhull (hot)......£8.75
Kakri bahar (fairly hot)......£9.95
Bengal macher jull (white fish)......£11.50
Salmon special bhuna......£9.90
Chilli chingri masala......£11.90
STAR RATINGS (out of 10)
Quality of food......8
Use of local food (no details)......0
Disabled access......7 (small step and two doors - tricky)
Toilet for disabled......Yes (in ladies’ loo)
Cater for kids......no special menu
Verdict: Tasty, well-cooked food in a friendly, spotless environment.
Contact: 01665 720345 or http://www.spicehouse-seahouses.co.uk
The previous Northumberland Gazette Eating Out column reviewed Insieme Italian Restaurant, Seahouses. And if you missed it, here is a link to the Gazette’s top tips of 2014.