Rebecca Fry tucks into some fiendishly messy and moreish Indian dishes and chats to owner Ali
The Spice Lounge, as it was formerly known, has been a staple part of Liverpool’s dining history for as long as I can remember.
It was a name that I recognised way back in my early teens as a fancy dining option for ‘special’ birthdays and a place my parents would sneak off to when they didn’t have to look after my brother and me.
Proper Indian food isn’t about being hot... it’s about the flavour
With 16 long and successful years under their belt at their Albert Dock residence, The Spice Lounge will be a name familiar to most across the city, though the events of their more recent timeline may come as some surprise.
Early last year, in a time when Corona was still just a beer, the owners of The Spice Lounge shut up shop at The Docks and were forced to find a new home. This certainly wasn’t the plan. When we phone him for a chat, Ali tells us he felt as if they had been playing games with him, saying, “They agreed to give me the contract, then down the line, they cancelled it for no reason.”
A new location and a new name: The Spice Lounge Bar and Grill
Whilst it may not have been in the most amicable of circumstances, the restaurant eventually found just the place over on Duke Street, seizing the opportunity as a fresh start and revamping all areas of the business with a new name, (they’re The Spice Lounge Bar and Grill now), new branding and a completely overhauled menu.
Sadly just a month after opening the restaurant, it was forced to close on government orders due to the pandemic. It has been serving take-out orders since. You can order via Deliveroo.
Owner Ali understandably describes the whole situation as a "nightmare" but insists he isn’t done fighting for his business just yet. “This place has been a long time coming,” he explains, "I just don’t want to give up, y’know?”
Ali readily admits he has been picky choosing the next location for his restaurant but seems to have found a good spot at the top of Duke Street on the former Mayur site and is in good company next to big city centre names including Il Forno, Sapporo and, more recently, Christakis Greek Taverna.
What's on the menu?
The menu is a fusion of Indian Cuisine and aims to cater to a more varied customer base. Ali speaks passionately about the changes he has implemented and is confident that people will love it.
“I’ve changed the whole menu to represent real Indian food,” he explains, “proper Indian food isn’t about being hot... it’s about the flavour”.
The large restaurant space boasts two kitchens with familiar Indian favourites being taken care of downstairs and its namesake grill ‘with an Indian twist’ upstairs.
Ali also hopes to introduce some street food style options to their lunchtime offering, a lighter choice that has seen a huge surge in popularity in other restaurants across the city.
What did we think of the dishes we tried?
Hungry for some of that signature flavour and wanting to try the best of the best, we ask Ali what he’d recommend. “Everything!" he laughs, and as tempting as that is, with a bit more persuasion he points us in the direction of some of their best-selling dishes.
One of those, unsurprisingly, is the Chicken 65 (£6.90), a fiery, fried chicken dish coated in a sticky, ginger and chilli sauce - an unfamiliar sight for some on an Indian restaurant menu but this kind of Indo-Chinese is hugely popular in the motherland and cropping up more and more over here too.
We take on some of the classics including a fluffy vegetable pilau (£3.90), a blackened, smoky mixed grill platter (£14.50), and the mandatory over-order of poppadoms and chutneys (£7).
Spice Bar’s take on butter chicken, Makhanwala (£12.90) is up there with one of my favourites. Their garlic naan (£3.50) is good enough to get a standing ovation from the Italians (probably) and Kesari Jheenga (£7.90) - mammoth tiger prawns bursting out of their shells in a thick, lime and coriander yoghurt - are as fiendishly messy and moreish as they sound.
There’s no doubt it’s a long, difficult road ahead for restaurants across the city but with a menu as good as this and a name that people can trust, there’s no doubt that The Spice Bar and Grill will be back to business in no time.
The Spice Lounge Bar and Grill, 103 Duke Street, Liverpool, L1 5AG.
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