THERE are no new ideas,” according to the American poet Audre Lorde. “Only new ways of making them felt.”
And so it is with Spice Grill Kitchen, a new restaurant in Newcastle that’s managed to fuse two old ideas – the Spanish tradition of Tapas and top notch Indian food – to come up with what feels like a new concept.
When I first heard of ‘Tandoori Tapas’, it instantly seemed like a good idea. Us Brits love Indian food even more than fish and chips and we’re rather fond of sharing too. Marrying the two was a no-brainer. How come nobody’s thought of this before?
Well actually, they have – Cafe India in Glasgow for one – but it’s a concept that hasn’t really caught on in the North East yet. Manager Rasel Ahmed wants it to be “like an Indian home kitchen” and having sampled the delights of the Spice Grill Kitchen, I think they could well be on to a winner.
The restaurant was formerly Spice Cube but is now under new management with a completely new menu. Although I’m not a huge fan of The Gate – dining in a mall somehow doesn’t feel as special as stumbling across an old building off a cobbled street – the light, bright modern decor sits well with the sociable aspect of the Tapas concept.
While many Indian restaurants are dark and dated affairs with flock wallpaper, patterned carpets and crackly Sitar music, Spice Grill Kitchen is all vibrant oranges, pinks, reds and blues.
Although it took a while to work out the menu (that could’ve been the three glasses of wine I’d already had beforehand) once you’ve dined here and got to grips with the portion sizes, it’s easy peasy.
Rather than the traditional starters, main courses and side dishes, the menu is split into several sections. The Street Food section includes classics bites like onion bhajis, chicken pakora dippers, salads and chaats such as vegetable samosa. The Grill section features dishes like the SGK mixed grill and Masala lamb chops while the Curry section has 12 classic dishes, with spicier ones marked with a illustrated chilli.
Dishes from both the Grill and Curry sections can be chosen as either Tapas or Big Eat, which is ideal if you’ve got a fussy eater amongst your party who’ll only eat one thing and has an aversion to sharing.
There’s also a small section of Bombay Burgers, Bollywood Biryanis and more pricey Signature Dishes at around £12.95. You can even hang your head in shame and ‘Go English’ with fried scampi or fried chicken, although I suspect this option is for parents with fussy children.
The extras – naans, rice and chapatti – are as you would expect, although poppadoms aren’t free as in many Indian restaurants.
Gauging how much to order is the tricky part. Although the service was excellent and the staff tried their best to help us navigate the menu, we still ended up ordering too much.
From the Street Food section, it was the moreish sweet potato chaat that really stood out. Roasted to perfection, the yoghurt and tamarind chutney really offset the flavour of the sweet potato, as did the pomegranate seeds sprinkled on top. It made the onion bhaji next to it seem unmemorable.
Our Grill choices arrived next – big chunks of prime quality salmon in a honey tikka, dill and saffron marinade along with citrus king prawns, which were huge, juicy and doused in a fine lemongrass, honey, ginger and garlic marinade.
By this point we were starting to feel full, even though the mushroom rice, garlic naan and two curry choices had yet to arrive. We resisted the urge to polish off our grill choices and left some room for the remaining dishes.
Although a big bloke with a big appetite might be able to devour a Big Eat portion, we’d ordered two tapas-sized curries and they were certainly big enough for us.
The North Indian garlic chicken with divine caramelised onions was the best while the creamy lamb badami pasanda came a close second.
Despite being quite full, we thought we’d better sample a dessert. Choosing the most Indian sounding option, we shared some sweet cardomom-flavoured dough balls with ice cream, known as gulab jamon. It was surprisingly light and the perfect end to our meal.
All of this was nicely washed down with a smooth and rich plummy bottle of Chilean Montevista Valle Maule Merlot. As the tapas tradition began when King Alfonso X of Castile recovered from an illness by drinking wine with small dishes between meals, it seemed apt that we were drinking the red stuff.
At £39.50 for a considerable amount of food and £13.95 for the wine, it seemed reasonable too.
If you’re thinking of trying Spice Grill Kitchen, gather together as many friends as you can. The more of you in the group, the better it is, as you’ll get to sample an even bigger variety of different dishes.
Address: Spice Grill Kitchen, The Gate, Newgate Street, Newcastle, NE1 5TG, tel 0191 222 1181, www.spicegrillkitchen.com.
Open: Noon till 11pm.
First impressions: The glass frontage makes it quite open to the mall, but once ensconced in a corner it’s relaxed and private.
Welcome: Instantly escorted to our table with beaming smiles.
Style: Bright, colourful and contemporary.
Cuisine: Tandoori tapas
Service: Impeccable with a home-from-home welcoming feel.
Value: Good value if your eyes aren’t bigger than your belly, and even better value from noon till 6.30pm when selected Street Food and Grill items are just £6.50 for two or £9.75 for three.
Disabled facilities: Lifts in The Gate make this accessible.