Spice Market: Have a few cocktails, but skip the meal

Jean-Georges Vongerichten is kind of a big deal. His name is attached to projects all over the world, the most famous of which is his 3* namesake restaurant, Jean Georges, in New York City. One of his newest restaurants opened in the summer of 2011 and is situated in the W Hotel, just off of Leicester Square. A good friend of mine, S, was visiting London from her native Singapore and wanted to test out its authenticity.

The restaurant was nearly empty when we arrived for our Tuesday evening dinner, so we were seated immediately. That should have been a telltale sign, but I was optimistic, even having read several scathing reviews of the place. The decor was beautiful; opulent, but not over the top. It was reminiscent of the temples I have visited throughout Southeast Asia with rich hues of red and gold accents. The floor-to-ceiling shelves filled with various exotic spices were impressive to look at.

Our waiter took our drinks orders (Lychee Raspberry Bellini for me, Spice Market Sangria for S) and brought us some poppadom with chutney. The chutney was deliciously sweet and spicy. Any fears I may have had were assuaged, if only temporarily. He explained to us that the dishes at the restaurant were “family-style” and we were best off choosing a few things to share. For starters, we went with Spiced Chicken Samosas with Coriander Yoghurt (the only dish Jay Rayner enjoyed) and the Salt and Pepper Squid with Yuzu Dip and Pickled Chilli.

I preferred the samosas, while S preferred the squid, but neither were particularly standout. I thought that the pastry on the samosas was just right, but the filling wasn’t seasoned nearly well enough for a restaurant that markets itself on its usage of spices from around the world. I tasted minced chicken, but not much else. To me, the squid simply had no taste.

It was at this point, the waitstaff decided to sit a pair of loud men right next to, unabashedly discussing the various women they were each seeing. Oh, and that Tim, who I gather is/was a co-worker, has moved back to Australia.

In. an. almost. completely. empty. restaurant. It was at this point that I realised that it was highly possible that dinner had peaked with the poppadom.

For mains, we decided on Lobster Pad Thai and Cod with Malaysian Chilli Sauce.

The Lobster Pad Thai arrived first. Now, making a bad pad thai is quite a difficult feat to achieve, so the pad thai, though below par, was edible. The chunks of lobster were dry and flavourless and could have easily come from a bag of freezer-friendly mixed seafood. The dish was also a tad too tangy.

Finally, the lowlight of the night arrived; Cod with Malaysian Chilli Sauce and Thai Basil. It was a great solid mound of cod swimming in some sort radioactive green goo. We each chiseled off a piece with our forks to have a taste. It was, in a word, chewy. In six words, yet another piece of frozen seafood. The Malaysian Chilli Sauce was underwhelming, without the kick you would expect to accompany a chilli sauce.

When the manager came by to check up on us,I looked at him, looked down at the cod, and then looked back up at him, not really knowing what to say.

“Is it… supposed to be this hard?”

He promptly took the dish away and removed it from our bill. We picked at the remaining Lobster Pad Thai.

The night was not lost. Unable to even consider sticking around for dessert, S and I wandered to Soho for some dessert at Fornata. Their Caprese Chocolate Cake, a rich molten chocolate cake with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, with was definitely the highlight of my meal that night. Apparently, Jean Georges claims to have invented molten chocolate cake, so I guess this means I can’t totally hate him for paying little to no attention to at least one of “his” projects.

I would go back in a heartbeat to sit in the bar area, take in the scenery, and have another lychee raspberry bellini. The food, however, was just plain bad. The flavours, when apparent, were unbalanced and the food just did not do the cuisine of Southeast Asia justice. I will echo the hoards before me who have stated this restaurant is all style and no substance.

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One Comment on “Spice Market: Have a few cocktails, but skip the meal”

  1. greg@urbanspoon says:

    Thanks, Sarah! I just approved your blog claim. Now your Urbanspoon profile picture is displayed on your blog page. You can upload a blog-specific photo if you prefer, and can change a few other blog settings there. Also, if you vote for a restaurant that you’ve reviewed on your blog, we now show your vote next to your post everywhere on our site.




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