Southern Spice and all things nice

Southern
Spice has been building a steady following of satisfied fans since it opened
its doors at in the Bay Town Plaza last year and I recently joined their ranks.

Since I’m a
creature of habit and almost invariably opt for saag aloo and chicken tikka
masala at Indian restaurants, this time I put my dining companion and myself in
the hands of co-owner and head chef Rajesh Srinivasan.

What
followed was a culinary tour of the best on offer at this relative newcomer to
Cayman’s dining scene.

We started
off with some delicious lassi drinks – a sweet plain one for me and a mango one
for my pal. Lassi is a popular chilled yoghurt-based drink and a wonderful
accompaniment to any Indian meal. Diners are also given complimentary chickpea
salsa to nibble on while they contemplate the menu.

Since our
menu contemplation had been averted, all we had to do was sit back, nibble our
chickpeas and sip our lassis while Chef Rajesh and his team prepared our
dinner. First up was an impressively large platter of appetisers that included
lamb vada (fried minced lamb cakes), vegetable samosas, tandoori shrimp,
tandoori chicken, lamb kebab and chicken vepudu (an Indian version of fried
chicken).

All proved
very tasty and, in hindsight, we probably should have just had a nibble of
those as well because a feast of incredible main course dishes were on their
way.

Chef Rajesh
presented us with eight ramekin-sized dishes of entrees. We gazed at the
colourful display of food before us, confident that since they looked like
small portions, we’d have no trouble finishing them off, but that was before
the bowl of rice and two huge naan breads appeared before us.

One of the
breads was a flavoursome garlic naan and the other was a sweet and tasty
surprise – a Peshwari naan, which contained a paste of almonds, coconuts, dates
and raisins. We were later taken into the kitchen to see firsthand how the naan
is cooked in just seconds on the side of the stone tandoori oven.

We started
at one end of our selection with shrimp malabar. The succulent seafood was
prepared in coconut and chili masala, which is a slightly creamy, spicy tomato
sauce, and scented with fresh lime. The piquant combination of citrus and
tomato was one highlight of a meal that had several of them.

The next
bowl featured a hearty and thick chicken jalfraisse, cooked with onions and
bell peppers. This earthy, textured dish is the kind of food you’d really
welcome on a cold winter’s day – or in an air-conditioned restaurant on a balmy
March evening in the Caribbean.

Next up was
my old favourite, the chicken tikka masala, and it did not disappoint. The
sauce was the perfect blend of creaminess and spiciness and the chicken was
wonderfully tender.

Onto the
next choice – the lamb rogan josh. This Kashmiri dish was mildly spicy, with a
heavy, brown sauce that went well with the melt-in-your-mouth lamb chunks.

Then there
was another lamb dish; this time with, as menu put it, “very healthy” saag
(spinach). It was right, it tasted pretty healthy.

By now, we
were nearing the end of our row of dishes. The remaining two were both veggie
options – a mushroom and peas kadai masala and a mutter paneer (peas and
cottage cheese). And we were glad we’d left room because both were delicious.
The mushroom and pea kadai masala had lots of vegetables in its yummy thick
sauce, while the delicately flavoured mutter paneer, in its light, yet creamy
sauce left us wanting more, but unable to fit in anymore.

We sat back
and surveyed the damage, and realised we had utterly failed to do this meal
justice. We were entirely full, but had barely made a dent in the dishes. 

So, when the
chef emerged from the kitchen to chat about the food and offered us dessert, we
politely declined. And then he started going through the list of desserts on
offer – sticky toffee pudding with ginger and cardamom, coconut cheese cake,
kulfi… We buckled and agreed to try the kulfi, a frozen, milky ice-cream
flavoured with cardamom. It’s the perfect dessert for when you simply don’t
think you can fit in another bite, because even though it looks like it would
be creamy and heavy, it’s actually very light and delicate and icy.

Chef Rajesh
then recommended some very tasty cardamom masala tea that he assured us would
assist with digesting the array of superb dishes we’d just consumed.   WH

Southern
Spice is open for its $11.95 lunch buffet from 11.30am to 2.30pm daily and for dinner from 5.30pm to 10pm. Call 949-5550 for reservations or take-away.

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Stephen Clarke