A quick dip just outside our Bedfordshire borders was in order this month as we checked out one of the most recent additions to the Harpenden dining scene, which fuses two popular dining styles to make a real point of difference for its customers. Right in the hub of Harpenden’s main Station Road, Spice Rack blends contemporary chic Indian dining’s traditional aromas and flavours with the classy, contemporary and social style of Tapas to create a modern dining ambience which is buzzy and sociable, yet still satisfying and full of flavour.
The tapas concept, at its roots, is based on the idea of more dishes, smaller portions, and the sharing of food amongst guests at the table. Presented in many restaurants as a more casual way to dine, it encourages interaction between diners, sociability in sharing and gets the table talking. Originating in Spanish cuisine, the style has now been adopted by other dining styles, creating this fantastic hybrid of flavourful dishes in punchy portions. It takes the formality out of eating out – order as a group, mix up your flavours or order as little or as much as you like.
Opening at the beginning of June this year, Spice Rack is a relatively new addition to the local culinary landscape. It’s rich contemporary décor of warm deep colours, textured slate feature walls and warm grainy wood furniture make for a very stylish ambience. The booth-style seating again adds to the casual vibe. Diners can pick from the extensive tapas menu – including chicken, lamb, seafood and vegetarian options – plus the more traditional Indian-style dishes that include house specialties, traditional dishes, Biryani and Balti options too.
Like many diners on our visit, we focussed on the plentiful options available from the tapas menu – and, although it was tempting to mix and match some of favourites with some new flavours and oddities from the extensive menu, in the end we went for the obvious choice of the combo platter for a mix of flavours and samples of various dishes to share between us. Served in a long, thin contemporary serving platter, it comes with various dishes to sample – a great way to get stuck into tapas dining.
Flavourful meaty and slowly cooked Massala Chops, cubed Chicken Chat, Spicy Prawns, Fish Manchurian and Onion Bajhis made up just some of the dishes we grazed through on this platter. It was, in truth, plenty for two, however, we couldn’t resist trying a couple of dishes from the tapas menu – namely the Chicken Cocktail – chicken cooked with onion, peppers and halloumi cheese – and also Vegetable Manchurian – soft, dark and sweet vegetable balls served in a really aromatic sticky Chinese-Indo style sauce.
The last dish mentioned there is a great example of everything that’s great about tapas – the small portions and lowers costs means it’s less of a ‘commitment’ to try something new, and if you do you are likely to be pleasantly surprised. If you’re not sure what to try, ask the staff to make recommendations on your tastes – they all had great knowledge of the menu and despite being exceptionally busy on our visit, had plenty of time to help when needed.
If you have room for a dessert there’s a selection available, including the more traditional Indian style such as ‘Gluba Jamun’ a super sweet dough ball simply delivered in the sweetest light thin syrup. It’s exceptionally sweet, a real sugar hit but it was great to sample something a little more in keeping with tradition. Taking a much more fruity stance was the Passion Pot, a pot of mango ice cream with papaya pieces.
Spice Rack prides itself on using fresh dishes and cooking fresh to order. No frozen meat is used and there is an air of care and authenticity delivered in the food delivered. Not only does it look the part, but also the wafts of rich herbs and spaces coming from the dishes were just one indicator of the care that had gone into every dish. With the fundamentals of flavour in place, for me the real point of difference and the thing that ‘makes’ Spice Rack is the tapas style dining. It’s casual, modern, fun and encourages a good old gossip round the table – what’s not to love?
Spice Rack dose wonders in not only fusing two dining styles together almost seamlessly, but also breaking up the flavour scene in Harpdenden. Well worth crossing the Bedfordshire border for – a tasty treat just outside of town.