Time to shake things up! Smaller and smaller crowd every time I go back.
There was a time when it was hard to get a table at Spice Merchant – even during the week! It was THE place in Henley for a delicious Indian meal in a slick atmosphere. Not an easy feat in any town! But there IS something stiff and uncool about this place. I think it might actually lack a soul!
While I’m not exactly sure what’s changed, and whether “soul” has anything to do with it, something definitely HAS. Is it the food? Is it the service?
Or is it that NOTHING has changed, and that’s the problem? Is it the fact that the menu hasn’t changed in ages? Is it the management?
I think a restaurant has to mix things up – don’t fix what’s working for the sake of change, but improve what isn’t. Make the menu seasonal – it tells your patrons that you cook the freshest food according to the time of year. It’s the done thing!
Also, I think the waiters shouldn’t wear those performing monkey jackets. This is 2014 – it’s time to loosen up! What’s wrong with black pants and a black dress shirt?
And play some cool Indian music – loud enough for diners to hear! Introduce a smart but concise cocktail list – with drinks made by a seasoned bartender, not some poor bloke who got stuck behind the bar that night.
Food-wise, what’s most curious is why the food isn’t consistent. Our starters were luke warm, and there’s no reason for that.
Sometimes I’m there and the bengun bharta is made with butter or ghee, and other times it is make with vegetable oil. Sometimes the vindaloo is vegan, other times it’s had dairy. I know this, because every time I go, I ask, and the answer.
This time, however, the eggplant was dairy-free, and it tasted great. I called in advance to find out if it would actually BE dairy free this time, and I was assured that it would be, so I was glad to arrive and find that this was still the case.
The wine list is still one of the best I’ve seen at an Indian menu, but expect a steep mark-up, and maybe stick to beer.
This is not an inexpensive restaurant overall. Starters are more than mains at most other Indian restaurants. Spice Merchant has to set itself apart, if it’s going to ask for that kind of cash.
Not sure what’s going on here, but if they don’t improve things soon, I think the crowds will get smaller and smaller, and it will lose its place in Henley’s sun. I know I won’t go back for a few years now, and this used to be somewhere I’d go about six times per year.
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