Once a night club now a contemporary Indian eatery, The Spice Oven sits like a permanent red beacon amongst the traffic lights on the exclusive north side of the Caversham bridge. Either of two entrances at the front (possibly to confuse tradesmen) bring you to the front of house bar and what appears to be a first fusion experiment of blending Indian food with Polish waitresses. ‘Velcoom to the Spice Ovenski’, Infact I was a bit disappointed as having seen the website I had assumed it would be forever Christmas 2007, but the lack of a fake fir or any baubles (there might’ve been a fairy on one of the other tables) led me to thinking that perhaps the site just needed a bit of updating.
Anyway, beyond the bar we were swiftly taken over a fish pond via a small bridge to the seating area. Again mild disappointment as I thought we might be on our way to see some Caversham miniature village hopefully complete with tiny kebab van. The seats were comfortable, table smartly decked out and the music definitely bollywood blockbuster rather than a rag and tal style of sitar and those tinny tablar drums that blokes with dreadlocks think they can play but generally can't. Checking out the other punters I thought it had the definite feel of the sort of place a slightly disappointed looking Glenn Hoddle might frequent.
The second of the polish fusion girls came to our table and gave us the good looking easy clean menu advertising “unbelievable flavours”. We managed to hold on to her just long enough to get three beers and the popadoms and chutneys rolling. Pints of Cobra and then the urad flour crisps arrived with what can be best described as a “Sharwoods selection” of chutneys. At least the onions were well chopped.
Starters came in good time, but not before an Indian waiter who was clearly not part of the fusion experiment, tried to take our food order too. Chicken tikka was served on a bed of chopped ice-berg lettuce but with no sizzler. Probably my fault for not reading the menu properly as it seems a sizzler came as an optional extra (although that’s a bit like calling a steering wheel or a rear axel on a car an option extra). Very highly regarded bhaji’s, among the best ever reviewed. The “seehk” kebab worried me slightly and not just because it made me think the overly keen turban headed waiter of earlier might have been cruelly mutilated by the management for compounded misdemeanours, but also because it was sphincter twitching hot. Truly an ‘unbelievable flavour’.
As this was, strictly speaking, not our first visit we thought it worthy to bring along a trusty guest reviewer (RR) who could go wild and try something a bit off-piste to test the depth and breadth of the chef’s abilities. So he ordered chicken tikka masala. It wasn’t very nice. The lamb rogan wasn’t bad, perhaps again a tad on the side of overly spiced in the oven. The chicken tikka biriani on the other hand was judged to be top notch, although the chicken looked a bit burned rather than gently oven charred – a flavour the intrepid taster rather favoured anyway. Breads weren’t great and more fusion techniques were on hand as the roti’s were more like naan, or perhaps it was another menu malfunction on my part and I’d really ordered “Noti’s”.
The deserts seemed fair to middling although at this stage in the meal the fusion experiment broke down with the ordering of a glass of port. Even helpful bi-lingual prompting of “portski” didn’t seem to allay the confusion although five minutes later a small red glass of Cockburns arrived. We didn’t bother to correct her mispronunciation.
Moderate bill paid, and with that the three of us went back over the rickety bridge, avoided the troll, had a final look for Glenn and then found ourselves back in cosmopolitan Caversham.
All in all we felt it a bit of a mixed bag with some very good and some very bad depending on expectation and what was actually ordered. The pot-pouri of scores reflect that fact. Certainly not a bad restaurant and it does have a very nice feel about the place and is worthy of a visit – but chose carefully. And if you leave hungry then you can always get a kebab from the van parked just down the road.
Randdy Dogoe gave this restaurant 63
Bret Myri scored this establishment 73
Rich Rebrys (Guest Reviewer) rated this restaurant 55