Spice up your life!

We had an olympic weekend in more ways than one these past few days. Starting with an amazing trip to the Olympic stadium to witness Yorkshire’s Jessica Ennis start her heptathlon campaign we then had to rush back up north to Manchester to get our fill of Kashmir cuisine at the Spice Club. Completely overtaken with olympic fever we had not anticipated that we would actually be dining on the eve of Team GB’s biggest athletics win – oops! Fear not, the food provided more than made up for our withdrawal symptoms from the games!

The Spice Club is one of Manchester’s first ever supperclubs and is about to celebrate its second birthday. It’s something of an enigma having been featured on shows such as the Hairy Bikers. I’ve been wanting to sample it for myself for months and had to be quick to get tickets when they were released in June. It’s a family run business, hosted by Monica, cooked by her and her Mum and served by Monica’s brother. Upon arrival at an unassuming suburban cul-de-sac we were warmly welcomed by a friendly and smiley Monica. As soon as we entered the house we could hear the loud buzz of a contented crowd and were led into them to our seats. Our places were pre-allocated and I understand now that Monica tries to match people up with who she thinks will get on, based on information we provide when we book. This is a good idea as Spice Club hosts up to 28 guests so I guess the chances of sitting next to someone you are incompatible with is increased! As it happens I very much enjoyed the company of Julia, with whom I talked Olympics, London and walking holidays. I also enjoyed chatting to Amanda – a fellow NHS employee and supperclub fan, so I guess the plan works!

The dining room was huge, and had 4 large dining tables crammed in. I was amazed that so many people could be fitted into a domestic dining room and still we had lots of space to move around and chat. Indian music was playing in the background but there was no need as the chatter filled the room on its own. It was obvious that many guests were repeat bookings, which is testament to the wonderful atmosphere and great food. Our first offering was a refreshing kesar mango shake – a fruity, creamy lassi. I think there may have been some melon in it, which made it very smooth and thick. On the table were little spiced rice crackers which were great to chew on as we waited.

Monica commanded the room – which was no mean feat given the size of the crowd! She kept us informed about the feast for the night, which was Kashmiri in honour of her forefathers. Kashmiri cuisine is one that uses layers of warming spices as it is traditionally a very cold region. Our starters were little cakes of ground channa dal kebab, blended with paneer and soya. They were studded with beautiful aromatic spices and served with fresh beetroot and a tart chutney sauce. They were beautifully presented and warming to eat – a great and ample start to an exciting meal.

After a small wait our tables were cleared ready for the main event, which was served family style. It was a bit dark to take photos and to be honest, because we were serving ourselves, pictures wouldn’t do justice to the wonderful flavours we experienced. Up for grabs were big steaming bowls of Kashmiri murgh masala (chicken with fenugreek, garlic and ginger, cashews, coriander and cream); Lamb rogan josh (melt in the mouth slow cooked lamb with ginger, fennel and red chilli); Razma Dal (urad dal, chana dal and kidney beans cooked in a spicy masala); Dum aloo (potatoes with mustard seed, cumin and dried coriander); all served with fresh salad, basmati rice and fresh chappatis. Gosh what a feast, I didn’t know where to start so I had it all! The chicken and the lamb were both achingly tender and perfectly spiced. They were cooked with olive oil instead of ghee, which made such a difference to me as it made them so light. I think ghee might make me a bit poorly as I love Indian food but so often I have a bad reaction. This way of cooking was perfect for me and had me wanting more. The bean dal was comforting and thick and truly stunning. The potato dish had a brilliant gravy and was so much better than bombay potatoes. All the dishes melded together on the plate but each had their own status as a result of the clever and thoughtful spicing. Monica’s mum made her way around the tables offering up her freshly made chappatis, which were soft and fluffy and a great vehicle for scooping up the delicious curries. What’s more, as soon as our bowls were empty then they were immediately filled back up again. We were well looked after and did not want for anything – it was superb! (Although as this was all going on news was floating in about not one, not two but three Olympic gold medals at the athletics – it was all a bit too much to take in!!)

Our dessert was a kesar pista kulfi which was rose tapioca layered with kulfi that was flavoured with cardamom and saffron and topped with toasted nuts. This was very delicate with the light floral nature of the rose standing up to the subtle spices. It was creamy, refreshing and unusual. The tapioca was bright pink little balls and felt quite glamorous to eat, which was a bit ironic given tapioca’s reputation in this country! This was followed by some delicious Indian tea infused with cardamom and fennel plus some little Indian biscuits. I love Indian chai as it’s so much more interesting than British tea.

So we had a great meal, worthy of missing the Olympics for! Monica and her family were warm and generous hosts. I think it may be my favourite supperclub experience to date because they had most of the elements down to a tee. It was obvious that they put in huge attention to detail to the food they prepare and that they make sure the guests gel. As it’s based in north Manchester, it’s actually very convenient for Leeds, so if you have a car then I recommend that you take a visit. I’ll certainly be going back again when I need some more spice in my life! In the meantime I’ll be downloading the recipes on Monica’s website – http://spicediary.com/ – to make the treats for myself!

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