Spices Take The Sensual Route

Updated: May 26 2002, 05:30am hrs
Spice Route really doesn’t need much of an introduction. Yes, I can tell you that it has been declared one of the top 10 restaurants in the world by Conde Nast Traveler. I can type reams on its overwhelmingly exquisite interiors, which quite take your breath away, so much so that you might even forget to eat!

But why bother when the first mouthful that you take is sufficient testimony to the visual experience provided by this restaurant at The Imperial in Delhi and the genius of its chef, Veena Arora. It’s a symbiotic relationship. I strongly believe that the food would not taste as good in any other ambience, and that the interiors would cease to appeal if the food were not so good.

Spice Route offers a culinary journey through the regions from which spices sailed to Europe in olden times—the Malabar Coast in Kerala, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam. We started with the inevitable Som Tum Chae (Rs 225), which, despite its penchant for popping up at all places, remains a favourite of mine. The green papaya was crisp and the peanuts crunchy. The Laab Kai (Rs 270), minced chicken with roasted ground rice and lemon grass, which was pretty tasty otherwise, paled in comparison.

The soup was Tum Yung Kai (Rs 290), chicken soup flavoured with lemon grass, lemon leaves and galangal, and perfect for a cold, winter evening. Don’t make the mistake of throwing away the kaffir lemon leaves in the soup. Their delicate citrus flavour is tough to match, and they act as an excellent breath freshener.

From Thai, we moved closer home to try the Chemeen Vevichathu (Rs 685), fresh prawns in Kerala styled red curry, flavoured with black tamarind, then to Sri Lanka for the Mas Miris Temparadu (Rs 250), devilled roasted tenderloin slices and then back to Thailand for Kaeog Kheow Waan Kai (Rs 385), chicken and pea aubergines in green curry.

The Sri Lankan tenderloin won hands down, it was even better than the Phad Phak Ruam Mitr (Rs 290), Thai style stirfried mixed veggies in garlic and soy and the Hed Phad Metmamuang (Rs 290), button mushrooms and cashewnuts cooked with a Thai stirfry sauce. If you’ve trying the green curry, ask for some flat rice noodles with it, they go better with it than the usual steamed rice.

Dessert was Caramen Dua (Rs 185), a deceptively simple looking caramel custard with coconut cream. The taste of it simply exploded my tastebuds.

And when you’ve finished your meal, don’t hurry to ask for l’addition. Order some coffee and settle down in your chair to soak in the rich surroundings. Better still, ask the restaurant staff for a guided tour of the eight sections of the restaurant — I guarantee you will go back with your appetite and your mind sated pleasurably.