After receiving three guest reviews which gave this restaurant very low scores, we figured we'd better check it our ourselves and see if it's as bad as people say. First impressions weren't good when we entered the building into a featureless lobby with a strong smell of disinfectant. Upstairs on the first floor is the Spice Lounge itself. As you go in, on the left is the bar and stage area, and up some more stairs took us to the restaurant on the mezzanine level, which overlooks the stage area. Disabled diners are catered for with a Stannah stairlift.
We hadn't booked, but since we've never had a problem getting a table on a Thursday night anywhere else before we didn't think we needed to. That was almost a fatal mistake since most tables were reserved, but fortunately for us they had a couple left. Tables of 4 were arranged along the balcony itself, whilst larger tables were lined against the wall, and with very little room separating them. The lighting was fairly dim, but each table had a small candle. Also on the tables were copies of the "who's on" guide, with a form on the back so you can be placed on their mailing list to receive copies in the future. Alternatively their web site provides the same information.
Within a couple of minutes after sitting down the waiter took our drinks order, so we ordered 3 pints of Stella. Surprisingly this was the only draught lager available, but at £2.80 at least they charged bar prices rather than restaurant prices. We ordered our food and shortly afterwards our starters arrived. The onion bhajis were 4 small balls that had good flavour and consistency. Sheek kebabs were slightly spicy and not too "tight" and very good indeed overall. The starters were accompanied with a teaspoon of spicy red splatter, a tiny salad, and a large red chilli hot enough to blow even PhilS's head off! Almost as soon as we'd finished, a waiter whisked our plates away.
There was quite an interval before the main courses arrived, but certainly not overly long. The restaurant was almost full by now, with three large groups in, and I could certainly imagine any orders now taking a lot longer to arrive. Similarly for drinks, there was just one bar waitress for the whole restaurant which seemed very inadequate considering the numbers.
PhilS ordered the balti chicken dansak which had obviously been sitting for a while as the top of the sauce had started to congeal and was cold, although it was warmer further down. The sauce was good, thick and tasty. IanD had the chicken korai which was extremely hot (temperature) and remained that way throughout. The sauce was very thick and rammed full of onions and green peppers. SteveB went for the chicken rogon, again a very tasty thick sauce full of finely chopped tomatoes. All three dishes came with plenty of chicken pieces, which although tender were also very dry. Had that not been the case the dishes would have been all but perfect. We all ordered keema nans that were excellent and packed with meat, or at least IanD's was until he picked it up and the meat fell out!
What really makes this restaurant unique is the live music, and they have acts on most nights of the week. On our visit it was a local acoustic band called RPM who did various covers. They sound checked for almost an hour before starting properly shortly after 9pm. Most acts listed are either jazz or "world music", so if you're keen on a particular genre it's well worth researching who's on and when.
Our starters, main courses, and drinks came to £16 a head, which is above average for a curry house but then you are getting live entertainment thrown in. We were disappointed not to receive hot towels or chocolates at the end.
Even before the music started it was a particularly noisy restaurant just from the sheer number of people, more akin to a busy bar. Its appeal comes from the live music, and if you reserve a table by the balcony the combination of good food and entertainment makes this place well worth a visit. If however you're just after a good curry with quiet conversation then its probably best eating elsewhere.
Which gives an overall rating of 4 bhajis.