OK, off the bat, let's get this clear - I LIKE this restaurant! I often visit with my wife, and sometimes with a small group of friends. The Spice Merchant is tucked away at one end of Walton High Street, with a popular pub (The George) just across the road.
On arrival, the staff are always friendly and welcoming, and will seat you wherever you fancy sitting. The restaurant is quite wide, with three distinct dining areas (there is a small step down to one of these), and a long drinks bar which seems to only be used by the staff. There is a small smoking area to the rear of the restaurant as well, for those who do.
One of the things important to me in an Indian restaurant is the ability to be able to order 'off menu'. The staff here are always ready to try and help. In fact, they do a lovely Reshmi Kebab starter for me regularly. Why it's not on the menu is a mystery to me.
Poppadums are delivered 'pre-broken' which is unusual, but are accompanied by the standard chutneys, plus a mild onion one which is both unusual, and pleasant.
The menu itself contains all of the favourite dishes, and I have always found the food here to be of a high quality, well presented, and served hot (as opposed to lukewarm). Nonetheless, I would prefer to have hotplates on the table, and here, like many Indian restaurants these days, their omission is a slight shame.
On to the food. For a mild, creamy curry, their Lamb Passanda is simply superb. The onion bhajees are crispy and tasty, and ball shaped rather than flat. I have had various other dishes at this restaurant, and all have been of high quality.
Price-wise, if having starters, main course and coffees, expect a bill of around £60-70 for a couple (including a couple of alcoholic drinks). This places the price point around average for the area.
OK, here are the bad bits! Some of the tables appear to be nothing more than a lump of chip board under all those table cloths. The toilets are clean, but beware when flushing the gents, as this will sound like an elephant being strangled to those dining outside as it refills! In the winter, the place can become a little chilly. (Heaters are then placed strategically about the place.) Finally, try not to look at the carpet! I really do not understand why no effort has been made to clean it at some point.
As I said, I like this restaurant, and have eaten there many times. It's friendly, but let down by the décor.
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