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Working in Milton Keynes I had driven past the recently opened 'Spice Merchants' restaurant ,which occupies the premises of the former George IV pub on the Buckingham Road, on numerous occasions. It looks quite inviting from the outside and when the opportunity arose for me to eventually drop in en route to an appointment in Bedford with an hour or so kill I was looking forward to sampling the cuisine.
Once inside, the restaurant is well presented having a central bar area flanked on either side by dining areas painted white with brown high backed chairs and crisp white linen tableware. Very tasteful, apart from the slightly gaudy multi-coloured lighting.
After the waiting staffs initial surprise at having a diner (rather than a takeaway customer) at 6:50 on a Monday evening, I was invited to choose a table to sit at rather than being ordered to a lonely table for one in the darkest recess, as sometimes happens to the lone diner in other establishments.
The service was friendly and attentive, and I ordered popadoms and pickles whilst perusing the very interesting menu which contained many dishes I had not encountered before.
The pops (50p) & pickles (50p) (mango chutney, kachumber salad & raita) were very good. The mango chutney was very fresh tasting and the raita very flavoursome with a slight kick.
I ordered the Merchant Special Starter (£4.50) described as a Bay of Bengal Jumbo Prawn cooked in the chef's 'Royal Sauce'. Oh dear! The prawns were not exactly jumbo (which is fine) but the sauce was truly vile; thick gloopy yellowish synthetic tasting yuck - I really can't emphasise how bad this was! I picked the 2 medium prawns out of the 'royal mess' and struggled to eat them before I could progress no further.
The waiter looked genuinely dismayed that I could not eat this dish and returned it to the kitchen. He returned with a complimentary 'Chotpot' of chickpea and egg! (£2.50 on the menu I think). This was better than expected (after the prawns) although the portion was huge and I felt obliged to eat it out of courtesy even though I didn't really want it.
There was then a long, long wait for my main course (Chicken Tikka Jalfezi - £6.50, Garlic naan £2, Tarka Dal £3 & steamed rice £2) which was eased somewhat by the good quality Indian music.
When the meal eventually arrived (I had mentioned I was a little pushed for time on my arrival - it made no difference) it looked interesting.
The naan was light rather than stodgy and the Tarka Dal was superb - smokey and spicy. The Jalfrezi unfortunately was a different story - a few pieces of OK'ish Chicken Tikka with an abundance of onion in a horrible greasy sauce with a bitter aftertaste and an acrid vinegar ness to it. Vile - couldn't eat it, so picked out the chicken and carried on with the Tarka Dal and naan. Oh almost forgot ... the rice, cold - waste of time!
It seems that the chef here is good with vegetables but not much cop at anything else. The dal and naan saved this from being the absolute worst dining experience and the unwanted chickpea 'chotpot' was ok.
I requested the bill - long wait again, no surprise. So when it was not forthcoming I approached the bar to pay. £18.95 in total - yes I had been charged for the inedible prawn thing but just wanted to get out of this place so much I couldn't be bothered to quibble. Handed over a £20 and waited for the change - no tip I'm afraid even though the waiter tried hard; when the food is this bad they can't expect a tip in my opinion.
Very, very disappointing overall, but please go and visit for yourself (I dare you!) and write a review. I'd be interested to see what others think. In my opinion this place will not survive if it continues to serve food like I had last night - we'll see!!
Rating 2/10 - saved by the dal!
Philip rated this 2 out of 10.