Saturday, January 31, 2009

14. Indian: Spice Merchant

The Spice Merchant
18 West St,

01273 470707

Badgerman and I met a group of ten friends at this newest of the many Lewes Indian restaurants. It is housed in what was the East Sussex Music Service offices and has been very smartly remodelled with deep cinnamon walls, lovely chandeliers and opulent mirrors. We were greeted very warmly on a freezing night; many of our party were obviously known to the staff and received special hellos.

Forget what you may have experienced in other restaurants- the Spice Merchant is more chic: dishes are served in modern, white porcelain, tables are laid with rectangularly folded napkins and Italianate cutlery. Service was always attentive and friendly despite all the 70 plus seats being taken. The menu is extensive with many unfamiliar dishes. Starter prices ranged from £2.75 for Onion Bhajies to Mixed Platters for £4.95, though there is not as full range on offer as I have seen in other Indian restaurants. The choice of starters is more than made up by the huge array of main dishes ranging from many familiar names but a few surprises such as Chingre e Bahar: king prawns marinated and grilled in a tandoor for £13.99.

Bowls of papadoms with accompanying chutneys and dips arrived quickly just after the drinks order was taken. The two lovely ladies on either side of me, both regulars, chose the Chicken Karma Sutra (£9.95), hot and spicy chicken in wine, pictured right, and the Goan Fish Curry (£9.95), white fish in mustard seed , coconut milk, red chilli, turmeric, methie and curry leaf sauce. I chose the Chicken Pasanda (£7.95), chicken in mild spices, almonds cream and wine. Our dishes arrived after a bit of a wait and were all well received. My Pasanda was very tasty! The sauce was rich and thick, not too sweet and the chicken was beautifully cooked and super tender and tasty. I traded bites with the gals and was particularly impressed with the Goan fish. It was much hotter that my Passanda; not creamy but flavoursome and the fish was still large pieces- I’ll try this one next time. The Karma Sutra was a good choice too and the chicken was super tender and tasty like mine. Badgerman, far down the table, liked his onion bhaji, chicken jalffezi and lemon rice and thought them to be very flavoursome. All the table seemed to enjoy their dishes which ranged from my mild Passanda to the volcanic Ghandi's revenge.

Though we were the largest table at The Spice Merchant, there were many tables of twos and fours, all recieving good service and attention. The take-away custom was brisk but we never felt that is was taking precident over seated custom.

The drinks selection is quite good with bottles of Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon for £10.95 each, with white Zinfandel at £15.95, 640ml bottles of Tiger Beer for £4.10 and 330ml of Cobra Beer £2.95.

As the table split the bill, it's hard to determine the true cost of our food, but Badgerman and I estimate our bill, excluding tip, would have been £35.00

Ambiance: 3
Food Presentation: 3
Food Quality: 3.5
Service: 3
Value for Money: 2

Friday, January 30, 2009

13. European and Polish: Artisan

Artisan Cafe,
Wine Bar and Gallery
197 High Street,
Lewes, East Sussex, BN7 2NS
01273 479713

Rising Phoenix-like from the ashes, Artisan is located where the fire-damaged Si was on School Hill in Lewes. On friends’ recommendations we ventured in and were met with polite, professionalism and seated immediately. The restaurant is quite large with 70+ seats and is divided into a lounging dining area with arm chairs, sofas and incidental furniture at the front, the usual chairs and table dining area in the middle, main section with the kitchen on view at the rear. The walls in the main section are hung with a variety of artwork for sale by local and Polish artists and make for an interesting, changing atmosphere.

The fare is mainly British/European but some welcome Polish dishes creep into the specials board and many dishes, like the Artisan Salad a filling plate of a variety of salad items, freshly cooked beets, medium boiled eggs and other tasties for £6.50 have definite Polish influences. I adore beets so chose the beet soup and Little Will and I shared a Deli Board- £10.50. Badgerman and Little Will chose Chicken Club sandwiches.

There is an interesting Chidren's Menu, pictures right, with good value, tempting meals. Young'uns can choose from items such as: pasta, cod goujons, chicken breast, sausages all served with fries, veggies and salad or mashed potatoes and finish with vanilla ice-cream with raspberry or chocolate sauce for £4.50.

My generous bowl of clear beet soup arrived in good time and was very tasty, well seasoned and good and hot. The Deli Board, pictured left, was a real treat! Little Will and I happily munched our way through the well-presented selection of homuos, tadziki, taramasalata, crudités, dried fruit, stuffed peppers, sundried tomatoes, melted goat’s cheese and toasted baguette slices. This would make a filling lunch for one. Badgerman and Little Will enjoyed their hearty club sandwiched and very good in-house cut chips, pictured below.

Little Will with his 30” waist
and hollow legs ordered a Chocolate Fondant pudding, pictured right, that was a real treat. The cakey outer was light and strongly chocolatey and gave way to the velvety smooth dark chocolate sauce inside. It was served with a very good vanilla ice-cream and I must say, I'd have been very proud of myself if I had made it!

Will had a beer, Badgerman a glass of house red, I had tap water, charmingly served in a large cut-glass decanter and we all had coffees. Our bill, excluding tip, was £44.00.

Lewesians have appreciated this newest arrival to the town’s range of good eateries judging by the number of customers and I would book during busy times. This double-fronted restaurant beckons you in with its interesting, stylish décor but the service and excellent food will keep you coming back!

Ambience: 3
Food Presentation: 4
Food Quality: 3.5
Service: 3
Value for Money: 2.5

12. China: Dragon Inn

Dragon Inn
204-206 High St
Uckfield, TN22 1RD
01825 764009

After visiting the the Uckfield Picture House, (www.­picturehouseuckf­ield.­com) one of the few family owned cinemas in the south-east, we wandered over to the Dragon Inn for our dinner. We were met with true Asian, brisk hospitality and seated imediately. We had booked as this was a Saturday night near the Lunar New Year.

From the good selection of starters, priced from £1.40 for Prawn Crackers to £6.00 for Thai Squid, I chose Hot and Sour Soup- £3.00, (pictured left), Badgerman and Little Will had Tom Yum Prawn Soup and Blim, his favourite Sesame Prawn Toast- £4.00. Despite it being a busy time, these arrive quickly and piping hot. The soups lived up to the menu’s ‘spicy’ warning, but were wonderfully tasty and stuffed full of veggies and meat. I really, really enjoyed mine!

From the traditionally huge range of choices of mains priced from £4.00 to £11.00, we chose to share: Chicken with Green Peppers and Black Bean Sauce (pictured above), Kung Po Bean Curd, Crispy Chilli Beef, (both pictured below), Chicken in Yellow Bean Sauce, Sizzling Mixed Seafood, Seasonal Greens and rice. All arrived in good time and again, piping hot. We are great fans of Chinese food and found all these dishes to be excellent: well-cooked, cleanly seasoned and just plain yummy! The Sizzling Seafood that arrived dramatically on a cast-iron plate was particularly noteworthy. Conversation flagged as we tucked in. The portions were sufficient and reasonable for the money.

Unusually for me, I had wisely left enough room for dessert and had the Toffee Banana (pictured right). I really enjoyed it. The caramel coating was thin but
solid and the batter was fluffy and not too sweet, I can’t remember having a better one ever. Blim chose the ice-cream bombe ‘Croquant’ a pleasing, brought-in dessert and thoroughly enjoyed it. We swapped ‘bites’ and the two went together very well. Little Will enjoyed his Lycees, while Badgerman just had coffee.

We had quite a few beers, and of course pots of Jasmin Tea. The bill, excluding alcoholic drinks and tip, came to £66.00- good value for how full we hearty eaters were!

Ambiance: 3
Food Presentation: 2
Food Quality: 4
Service: 2
Value for money: 2.5