Tel: +44 (0)20 7488 4051
Address: 83-85 Wapping Lane, E1W 2RW
Cuisine Type: Indian fusion
At first sight, River Spice seems out of place, a modern restaurant serving “pan-Asian” food at the end of a dreary parade of shops that serves as Wapping’s high street. The décor – bold colours and unfussy minimalism – is like a welcoming beacon, an oasis in this relative desert of upmarket venues.
But look closer and you realise that River Spice is actually perfectly located, albeit a little ahead of its time. The Canary Wharf effect has already spread to Wapping, its riverside location making it a prime candidate for gentrification, as the banker bonuses fuel re-development of old warehouses into luxury flats and penthouse apartments. I reckon that in less than a year – if it hasn’t already – Wapping will have joined the ranks of the vertiginously unaffordable locations in London (at least to the average working minion like me), and River Spice will be ideally placed to tap into the inevitable demand for smart eateries in the area.
A cursory glance at the almost encyclopaedic menu suggests Indian cuisine, but though there are obvious Indian influences, the food is more widely inspired by both Thai and European ingredients and cooking styles. Eclectic dishes such as hash phura, charcoal oven-baked duck breast marinated in yoghurt, served with orange and aniseed sauce; murgh paapiya, seasoned chicken breast coated with breadcrumbs and deep-fried or North Sea mussels, cooked with herbs and white wine in a turmeric broth, sit rather awkwardly amongst the more “traditional” dishes (tandoori chicken, chicken tikka masala, saag aloo).
We started with chingri thetul (£5.75) – marinated king prawns, sautéed with peppers, in a flavoursome tamarind and honey sauce, and gaausha murgh (£4.25) – steamed courgette filled with finely chopped chicken, seasoned with nutmeg, green chilli and accompanied by a tomato salad. Both were beautifully presented, the Thai influence on the former unexpectedly satisfying and moreish, but the latter dish less successful in combining the numerous competing flavours into a cohesive whole.
Our choice of main courses materialised as Indian dishes with a twist. Dhania gausht (£7.25) – gorgeously tender slow-cooked lamb seasoned with roasted coriander and garlic – was delicious. Monk tawa (£12.95) – chargrilled monkfish with nutmeg and mustard seeds – came with a tasty medley of vegetables. A side order of kodu (£4.25) was a real treat – sweet pumpkin slow-cooked with cumin and fennel seeds until it literally melted in the mouth, whilst bangla salad (£3.95) – raw salad vegetables with fresh green chilli, mustard oil and lime juice – provided a crisp, if somewhat incongruous, contrast with a kick. Even the rice and bread here is executed to a high standard, the Motor rice (£2.75) – basmati with fried onion and peas – and Peshwari naan (£2.95) from the extensive selection some of the best I have tasted.
If you’re not in the mood for beer, there is a reasonably priced wine list mixing old and new world, but only the house red and white are available by the glass (£2.50/glass).
We couldn’t resist “home-made” dessert to finish. We tried Banana Bay (£4.95), a decadent mixture of banana halves in their skins, cooked in butter and topped with a warm caramel sauce, and the waiter’s recommendation of Tropical Treat (£5.95), an impressively arranged mixture of mango, kiwi, strawberry and melon with passion fruit juice, perfect for the health conscious, or those wanting a lighter end to their meal.
Throughout, the service was unaffectedly charming, with owner Forid Miah presiding over a well-run operation. The leisurely pace is a refreshing change from the rushed freneticism of many London restaurants, and we realised, to our surprise, that our relaxed three hour meal had flown by.
– Tracy Yam, 2/2004
Editor’s note – since this review was written River Spice is under new management and is now takeaway only – see website for details