Picture a bustling marketplace of the Indian North. Ornate tapestries line the walls while traditional Indian music plays. Supremely accommodating staff move seamlessly through crowded tables. Few restaurants would appear to run so fluidly in its first month, but this well-oiled machine boasts a crew with decades of experience in India's five-star hotels. They truly know what they're doing.
Though located in Circular Quay, The Spice Room is no tandoori tourist trap. Head chef Darbyan Singh specialises in the Peshawari style cuisine of India's north-western frontier; the flavours are distinctive from other regions, heavily reliant on the use of saffron, cardamom and dried fruits. The real distinguisher lies in the unique way Singh has reimagined his dishes for high-end consumption, transforming street food into a fork and knife affair. The beautifully 'deconstructed' samosa chaat ($8.90) is a must try — the crunchy shell is smashed on the plate to reveal curried chickpeas topped with crushed pappadum, balanced by homemade date and tamarind chutney. The variety of chicken tikka options from the Tandoor menu ($12.90 – $13.90 entree; $24.90 – $25.90 mains) are impossibly tender and served with beetroot chutney, an imaginative nod to the Aussie clientele.
No need to settle for generic curry dishes here — Singh's menu is comprised of inventive choices you won't find anywhere else. The exotic chicken patiala ($22.90) is a light, dark curry delicately covered with an egg crepe. The creamy Spiced Coconut Seafood Treasure ($26.90) is a medley of fish, prawns, calamari and scallops, which lovingly spill out of a coconut shell. Served with a side of coconut rice and topped with shavings, this truly is a coconut lover's dream meal.
As a thoughtful compliment to the uniformly spicy dishes, the menu includes chai ($4.50) and lassi ($5.50 – $6.50) 'stalls'. An authentic Indian favourite, the bhang lassi ($6.50) is an unusual, salty yoghurt drink of ginger and mint. Even the cocktail menu is Indian-inspired, proving what a well-considered menu this truly is. Try the tangy Tamarind Margarita ($15) or the fresh and strong Mango Mojito ($15).
The best way to cool the palate, though, is with the extensive dessert menu. The date and walnut samosa ($9.90) is served with a housemade chilli jam and mango cardamom ice cream. The kulfi on a stick ($5.90) is gelato-like ice pop and is a sweet treat after a spicy meal.
A menu this well designed and delivered makes the restaurant a true standout among the hordes of Surry Hills joints you're used to and should be on the top of your to-eat list.