Monday, 28 February 2011

Spice Market, Covent Garden

Jean-Georges Vongerichten has brought the concept behind his fantabulously fitted out Spice Market in New York's trendy Meatpacking district to London's new W Hotel. It's all there, albeit on a less jaw dropping scale. Think less soaring ceilings, more views across the back streets of Leicester Square.

There's a geographically diverse array of spicy South-East Asian dishes - not so much authentic as interesting - in a setting that has an appealing blend of swanky modern and exotica - colourful spice jars line the walls, and there's a long, funky sushi bar, striking fittings and dark wooden furnishings. Something about it still feels a little bit clinical (that lurking London "chain" feel that never seems to be a problem for New York restaurants), but perhaps it depends on where you're sitting and how much it's buzzing.

A group of 6 of us with much to celebrate found ourselves working through the "family style" sharing plates this weekend. There were hits, there were misses.

One thing Spice Market does well is its sauces. An endless onslaught of light and crispy papadoms is brought to our table and continuously refreshed as we dip enthusiastically into a seriously addictive kasundi - the sweet chilli jam giving serious oomph to the light tomatoey sauce.

We splatter charred chilli rubbed minced beef, tender and rare, with the accompanying lime before dipping into a mildly tangy Thai basil dipping sauce (£11).

Warm salmon spring rolls taste overly fishy but there's a generous piece of salmon in each bite and the accompanying 5 spice emulsion is a treat (£9.50). The lobster summer roll with a light Thai sriracha emulsion is bland for your £15 (I wouldn't bother with it again), even if the tart lime jelly gave it some lift.

My favourite of the starters is the refreshing and spicy Thai slaw, with Asian pear, crispy shallots and mint (£8).

The presence of pineapple in the sweet duck curry divided the troops, like all Hawaiian pizzas before it, but the plentiful strips of moist and meaty duck were excellent (£19).

Crispy salt and pepper brill with Thai basil and lime is like an exotic fish and chips, but is lacking some zing (£18). Pork vindaloo is terrific - a dry and spicy mix of satisfyingly juicy, porky chunks with fragrant basil and garlic (£14). However, best of the lot is the char grilled chicken, wonderously tender and moist, with a zesty Kumquat lemongrass dressing (£19).

Service is friendly and aims to please.

At the end, there was some confusion over the tip. The receipt had a 12.5% service charge in the usual place, which we paid, only to be informed later by our waiter that the charge does not go to the waiters as a tip - it covers the fee for the room, the use of the credit card facilities and all the other stuff that you presume is covered by the not insubstantial price of the food. A tip, we were informed, would be extra.

We left thinking this was outrageous, although the PR for the the restaurant has since informed me that 85% of the service charge does go to the front of house staff (an amount which they say is standard across the industry). Seems some communication wrinkles to the staff are still being ironed out in these early days.

Spice Market is good, although at these prices it does feel a little bit like style over substance (with the exception of the pork vindaloo and the char grilled chicken). Being at least £35 per head (with minimal drinks) + service, I want to be just that little bit more impressed.

Spice Market, W London, 10 Wardour St, W1D 6QF (Tel: 020 7588 1088)

Spice Market on Urbanspoon


  1. I can't but help have an instant dislike for places like these. It's akin to the kudos that the likes of Paul Simon and Peter Gabriel got in the 1980's for introducing African influences to their music, whilst the guys whose music it actually was didn't get the credit they deserved.

    And don't get me started on the service charge/tip thing. Can't help but feel the waiter was trying it on.

  2. Your review is most timely as my left ear is still ringing from a friend who kept mentioning spice market. It does seem a tad expensive though.

  3. I went to the NY location of Spice Market when it first opened (must have been six or seven years ago?) and back then, Pan-Asian was still exciting and new. And even then, Spice Market was not impressive.

    It seems kind of lame that it's now opening here. The food you described, while including some good dishes, still doesn't sound that exciting or good. And your experience with the service charge/tip confusion makes a trip to Spice Market sound even less appealing. Would you go again? Your review suggests not.

  4. this looks delicious!

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  5. I found this review after doing a quick search for "Spice Market" and "service charge". A friend who is a waiter there informed me that they don't see a single penny of the 12.5% charge and I was totally shocked. Although it sounds like the waitstaff are fishing for more tips, they don't see any of it.

  6. Mr Noodles - Well, that's an analogy I never expected! Yep, I'm in no hurry to go back. Thinking about it, I probably prefer Busaba (for a trendy, pan Asian type place).

    Kay - Yes, I think the overall meal was overpriced.

    An American in London - No, I can't see myself going back. It wasn't terrible, but had nothing special to lure me back.

    Thanks Milly.

    Anon - Interesting. I'm still confused.


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