Spice Lodge in Cheltenham, located in the former old mansion house on Montpellier Drive, is a pan-Asian restaurant offering both Indian and Thai cuisine.
Satisfying fans of both Indian and Thai cuisine under one roof was never going to be easy. SoGlos.com dined at Spice Lodge in Cheltenham to see if it really can be done – uncovering the remarkably popular restaurant’s secret once and for all.
India and Thailand are two nations undoubtedly renowned for their unique, unctuous and unbelievably popular culinary concoctions. But with almost 2,000 miles of land and sea dividing Mumbai and Bangkok, scepticism that a Cheltenham restaurant can produce the very best cuisine from both countries under one roof can be easily forgiven.
Having never failed to drive past the restaurant’s illuminated position on Bath Road to see a car park swarming with hungry diners however, it seemed Spice Lodge must be doing something right – and we were stomach-rumblingly keen to find out its secret formula.
Stepping into the grand regency building, you can’t fail to be instantly taken aback by Spice Lodge’s striking interior – with a maze of individual dining rooms, each boasting classic architectural charm, tastefully adorned by pieces of modern art and carefully-arranged vases of fresh flowers for a splash of colour and an up-to-date twist.
On a mid-week visit, our dining room included a party of eight celebrating a birthday, four regulars who didn’t even glance at the menu before ordering their favourite choices, a couple enjoying a romantic evening out and our table for two.
Following what seemed to be a trend with other diners, we opted to mix and match from the Indian and Thai sections of the menu – soaking up the relaxed ambience and nibbling on popadams and prawn crackers, while anxiously awaiting to see if the kitchen could deliver on its dual promise.
The classic Thai starter of skewered satay chicken was always going to be an easy crowd-pleaser and certainly satisfied my dining partner’s appetite with the moist hunks of meat, greedily laden with sweet peanut sauce. My Indian starter – sea bass marinated with herbs and shallow-fried with a sweet chilli sauce – triumphed however. Delivering on texture, flavour and in the originality stakes too, it left little doubt why it was touted as a house special.
While Spice Lodge’s owner Mohammed and the restaurant’s staff warmly attended to chattering diners, our table was laden with a feast of pan-Asian cuisine. A good judge of any Thai restaurant, the green curry with Thai aubergine, bamboo shoots, sweet basil and coconut milk as well as more succulent chicken hunks was an instant hit – accompanied by simple coconut rice, the curry made for an excellent dish with just enough fiery kick.
Heading west in the world, my tikka bhuna boasted tender pieces of lamb in a rich tomato and onion sauce – with the blend of turmeric, cumin, coriander and other spices individually singing out to make this classic dish a true success. Jealously-eyed from across the table – it would have been a step too far in the fusion stakes, after all – my stuffed Peshwari naan was used to mop up the last of the sauce, while a dish of sag aloo proved a fresh, subtly-flavoured, addition to my side of the table.
Indian choices had been favoured over far-eastern counterparts on the compact dessert menu, reflected by our selections of pistachio kulfi and a cardamom-infused carrot cake. The former was a milky treat – perfect after a rich curry – and while the moist carrot cake wasn’t to my dining partner’s taste, it was nonetheless an interesting talking point at the end of a very enjoyable evening out.
With Indian and Thai cuisine being juxtaposed against this archetypal British setting on the edge of stylish Montpellier, Spice Lodge is a restaurant unlike any other in the county. And while the Indian choices may have just pipped the Thai options to the post, the not-too-secret combination of quality ingredients, warm service and a stunning setting mean fans of either nation’s food won’t be disappointed at this highly recommended restaurant.
The average price of a three-course meal for two at Spice Lodge, excluding drinks, is around £45.
By James Fyrne
Tuesday 14 April 2009
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