Southern spice

Spice, Wexford, Ireland

Good. Indian. Restaurant. Wexford. These are not four words you’re likely to see in the same sentence too often. But here it is: Spice, a beautiful restaurant buzzing with diners enjoying excellent Indian dishes. Well, well, what a find this is.

Wexford, a small, pretty town with a population of just 20,000, sits on the east coast of Ireland, about 90 miles from Dublin. What would the Vikings, who founded the town in about 800AD make of this spicy food one wonders.

The decor in Spice is smart and classy with modern sharp lines and thoughtful lighting creating a relaxed and atmosphere. It belies the exterior, which doesn’t promise much.

The chefs are from South India (Kerala) and the menu reveals their regional influences. There is a section of traditional South Indian curries (Lamb €12.50, Vegetable €9.50), a Fish Curry from Goa, the neighbouring region to Kerala (€12.95), and interestingly Kolhapuri, a delicious dish you’d struggle to find on the menus of many restaurants in London, let alone Dublin. Kolhapuri originates from the town of Kolhapur, in Maharashtra to the north of Goa.

Following a generous portion of a delicious squid starter (€9), it was time for a Lamb Madras (€12.50). Madras is, of course, the colonial name for the town of Chennai in south India, but although this is a well-known and popular dish it certainly doesn’t originate from that part of India. In fact, Madras was a name coined in the restaurants of the UK for a curry of a certain heat level (think Curry to Madras to Vindaloo to Phaal). Nevertheless it is a delicious dish and cooked excellently in Spice.

Fresh cream was used to achieve a nice, thick consistency (other restaurants use yoghurt or coconut cream for the same effect) and there was not a trace of oiliness. Those curry lovers who don’t like that film of oil on the top of their dishes will be pleased to know the only thing floating on the top was black mustard seeds.

Finally, worth a mention, is the clever way the menu provides info for people with allergies. Every dish contains a few letters next to it and there is a key at the back (PN = peanuts, S = soya, G = gluten, etc). It’s clever, helpful, and unobtrusive.

* The exchange rate at the time of the visit was £1 = €1.15

Spice, Monck Street, Wexford, Ireland. Tel: +353 (0)53 912-2011. E-mail: info@spicerestaurant.net. Open: Sun–Thurs 5.30pm to 11pm, Fri–Sat 5pm to 11pm.

Scores on the Tandoors
Food 8.5
Decor 9
Service and friendliness 7
Vibe (Saturday night) 7.5
Value 7.5

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Food lessons from Goa

1. If you have fish curry go for fresh not frozen. Getting fresh fish in your curry at home is not easy, of course, especially in restaurants. For cost and convenience most fish we get while out will be frozen (there is a bizarre fad to import tilapia, a Bangladeshi freshwater fish!) so if you find a restaurant that uses fresh, locally caught produce then treasure it. The difference is huge. Or you can always visit the fishmonger and cook your own.

2. Kolhapuri is a dish worth searching out. This dish, originating from a city called Kolhapur in Mahatashtra, is all over Goa, but I’ve never seen it on a menu here for some reason. As hot as a Vindaloo, as tasty as a Tikka Masala and as fresh as a Balti, this is the best dish I have ever tasted. Needless to say, I’d recommend you try it if you find it. Or better still ask the chef from your local curry house (especially if he’s from Maharashtra) to whip one up.

3. Vegetables don’t need to be consigned to side dishes. Most of us order our curry, rice and nan and, then, almost like an afterthought, we add some vegetables. Goa, like most of India, has a lot of veg-only restaurants, and they make you realise that veg doesn’t have to be an afterthought. Veg (make sure it’s fresh) is great for absorbing the spices and because the dishes are not as filling as meat equivalents you can eat more curry. What’s not to like?

4. Vindaloo is a Goan dish. Vindaloo is normally associated with six pints of lager and a metaphorical arm wrestle among friends to eat the hottest curry. It is, in fact, a dish that was born from Goa, when local spices were added to a vinegar-based dish brought to the area from the Portuguese. The most likely explanation for the name is that it is a cross between Vin (vinegar) and aloo (Hindi word for potato). The traditional meat used is pork, this being one of the few areas in the country where this meat is used extensively. While our restaurants still use a bit of vinegar the original recipe soaked the meat heavily in it.

5. A spicy omelette makes a great snack. Bored with your usual cheese omelettes? Masala omelettes can be whipped up in a couple of minutes. One egg, a chopped chilli, some chopped onion and a bit of salt and pepper. Cook, fold over in tissue and eat on the move.

Curry is not just for dinner. Parathas, stuffed with paneer, cauliflower and potato, plus pickles and raita, make a fine alternative to a fry up. I’m sure your local greasy spoon will oblige if you ask them nicely…