A week last Wednesday was one year since my partner and I met. I can clearly remember waiting somewhat nervously at Leicester train station for him to arrive for our first date, in fact our first ever meeting thanks for the world of online dating.
The online dating journey had been a strange one full of unsuitable and disappointing men who never lived up to their profiles in the flesh before J appeared that day. There was the military intelligence officer who spoke five languages fluently and (like me) loved The West Wing, yet drove his car into my neighbour’s house and purred at me like a cat. The narcissist drug addict who was lost in a world of his own lies and delusions oh and not to forget the surprise racist. Yep finding a partner online was pretty tricky stuff but it turns out it was nothing compared to choosing a place to go and eat out for our first anniversary.
The search began a month ahead of time, yes really. I wanted to find the perfect mix of casual dining, good cocktails and excellent food so began the quest in earnest back in February. I was absolutely gutted to discover that 2 of my favourite places to go had closed down last year – farewell Grillstock and Boneyard, your sticky, smoked meats and potent cocktails will be sadly missed.
Whilst searching for a new smokehouse in Leicester, a Google search turned up a new place called Smoke and Spice on Granby Street, not far from the train station. Serving up “Indian street food, Indian BBQ, pan Indian curries, sides and hand crafted desserts” my interest was piqued.
The online dinner menu looked like there was something to suit both of us, 4 à la carte courses and a Thali buffet selection for the main course and all for just £9.99, PLUS some kickass sounding cocktails, there must be some kind of catch right?
I checked out their Twitter account: 2 followers, Facebook: 65. Tripadvisor was mixed: 3 reviews, 2 good, one bad, hmmm worth a punt? Yeah why not. I loved the sound of their menu and their cocktails sounded great and the last thing I wanted was for us to go somewhere pricey and leave disappointed which happens way more often than not unfortunately. It was decided, Smoke and Spice was a go.
Their lunchtime menu swaps to their larger evening offering from 5pm so we idled away a couple of hours drinking some lovely Tiny Rebel beers at The Parcel Yard, where a year ago we’d spent hours chatting away on our first meeting. Come 5:30pm off we headed down Granby street, past plenty of busy chicken restaurants, takeaways and noodle bars until we found Smoke and Spice. Empty. Hmm, not the best advertisement.
We were greeted warmly by a lovely lady who showed us to a booth. She explained that we order our first 2 courses off the à la carte menu (poppadums and chutneys would be on their way as a first course) and then head up to the buffet for a Thali style selection for our main, then if we had room there was the dessert menu to explore. There were 3 beers on the menu and J was looking forward to trying the Brooklyn Scorcher (£4.99) but sadly only the pilsner (£3.99) was on today so J opted for that and I went for a Darjeeling Iced Tea (£6.99).
The chef brought out our poppadums and chutneys whilst our drinks were made. I was intrigued by the sound of mine, “Gin, Vodka, Rum, Tequila, Indian Chai Syrup, Lemonade, Midori. Party time in the foothills”, I could hear the cocktail shaker being used and my mouth was watering in anticipation of an über boozy delight.
The poppadoms were nice and crisp with just the right amount of tart pickle and mint and coriander chutney garnish to make them interesting without being overpowering. The drinks arrived, mine garnished with dried flower petals looked pretty, sadly it just tasted like lime cordial and lemonade. I mean it was nice, it just wasn’t what I was expecting at all. I couldn’t taste the gin, tequila, rum, chai syrup or Midori but it was pretty pleasant so I happily drank it as it was complimenting the food. Should I have said something? Probably, but I wasn’t annoyed about it, I’m a pretty easy going diner and I was having a fab time.
Our second courses arrived as we were polishing off the poppadums. J had the Palak pyaz pakoras – tender spinach, onion and potatoes coated in spiced chickpea flour batter and fried into fritters with herbal yogurt, mint coriander, tamarind and date chutney, J was more than pleased with it. He was raving about them so I tried half of one of his, he was right, they really were pretty good. I plumped for the Bombay bhel papdi as I’d never tried it before. I wasn’t to be disappointed either, this dish was a bit of a highlight for me – puffed, toasted rice with crisps ,mint chutney, date and tamarind chutney. It was fab – salty and crispy with a nice kick from the chutneys and pickles, a winner.
Next up were the BBQ firebowls. I’m a bit of a wing addict so it came as no surprise to J that I opted for the Himalayan salt and pepper wings, damn they were good too. Smoky and crispy on the outside having been marinated in ginger, garlic ,soy and black pepper, the crisp skin giving way to juicy and succulent meat, I licked the bones clean. J had the Dhabi chicken tikka, I think he was a little disappointed over the small portion size but enjoyed the tender pieces of spiced chicken and the accompanying chutneys and pickles (they feature a lot).
It was at this point that we ordered our naan breads to accompany the Thali buffet. They arrived within a few minutes, light and crispy, fresh from the tandoor, mine generously slathered in garlic butter, J’s plain. Up we went to explore the many dishes on offer at the buffet. By this point 2 other diners had arrived, they’d just doubled the dining figures.
Traditional Thali trays were provided instead of plates, it’s a shame that these weren’t warmed as it did mean the food went cold pretty quickly. There were 20 dishes to choose from, everything I tried was pretty mild and unremarkable unfortunately, nothing heavily spiced or flavoured. J and I both agreed that we couldn’t have gotten through a regular serving of any one of them by itself, but small amounts of dishes were OK, probably the best dish was the lamb rogan josh or chicken biriyani. It was a bit of a shame that the buffet lacked the punchy flavours of the previous courses, nothing was particularly bad, just rather dull and lacklustre in comparison.
I definitely got overexcited about serving myself and wanted to try as many dishes as possible – eyes bigger than my belly, and that’s saying something! Our very helpful waitress came up to check on us a couple of times, she was lovely, really knowledgeable. She was surprised we weren’t going up for more but I couldn’t finish what I already had and she was already telling us that the desserts are pretty special. She makes the desserts you see and was determined we try them, in a nice way nothing pushy at all.
So we had a look at the desserts menu, I spotted tiramisu, my favourite and J was sold on the pistachio and rose cheesecake. The tiramisu was heavily spiked with green cardamon with was a lovely surprise, although the pods were still in the mascarpone which was a rather unpleasant one, still despite this it was rich without being heavy and was a good end to the meal. J loved his cheesecake which was incredibly light and left him feeling refreshed and in fact ready for more!
All in all we had a really good time, the a la carte food was great, shame about the buffet being a bit disappointing but for £9.99 it’s an absolute bargain, would we go again? Absolutely. It’s pocket friendly, cheerful, relaxed and the a la carte options really are very good. Will they still be around in a year’s time? Well I hope so, although they’re going to need a few more customers.
Value for money: 9/10
Smoke and Spice: 32 Granby Street, Leicester, Leicestershire, LE1 1DE Tel: 0116 262 5620