Jean-Georges Vongerichten is considered by many to be one of the foremost movers and shakers in the culinary arena these days …on both sides of the pond. He heads the celebrated French restaurant Jean-Georges, overlooking Central Park in New York, and Spice Market in the smart Meatpacking District. You don’t need a transatlantic hop to enjoy Spice Market food – it’s here now in the heart of London.
The restaurant graces a corner of a plot housing the W Hotel, the latest in Soho. Its entrance is contemporary and anonymous and suggests nothing of the ambiance behind the glass.
Spice Market flows over two floors and is just as contemporary as the exterior, but rich and warm with hints of exotica. The unique design allows for intimate dinners but equally offers convivial space for larger groups. There is a private dining room, The Globe Room, which can accommodate up to 40 guests for dinner or lunch or 60 for drinks and hors d’oeuvres. There are sliding screens to offer privacy but those are more often left open so that the company can take advantage of the general buzz.
The name Spice Market is said to come from the walls of jars and bottles which give the effect of an Asian food store. These walls offer colour and vibrancy in a way that no watercolour could do. The open kitchens add movement and excitement. Perhaps Spice Market will remind travellers of the night markets of South East Asia – all their booths with chans clattering on metal and tantalising perfumes wafting on the evening air.
OK, so perhaps that’s an over-romantic description of the restaurant but it does give the impression of a high-end and energetic dining destination; it will be the food and perhaps the extensive wine list that will assure your return. The 600 or so wok lamps will grab your attention but so will the Ginger Margarita. (Don’t miss this one: the ginger salt is a revelation.)
Black Pepper Shrimp garnished with delicately dehydrated pineapple was punchy and showed off the eponymous spice. The cubes of fruit were a sweet confection of concentrated flavour and a marvellous foil to the powerful seafood.
Spiced Chicken Samosas with a coriander and yoghurt dip were a deviation from the classic Indian samosa typically stuffed with a potato or lamb mixture. The Spice Market interpretations were lighter than the original, with crisp pastry encasing a well-balanced filling.
Salmon Sashimi was a triumph. I found this to have far more character than the traditional cold version found in Japanese restaurants. Warm crunchy rice constituted the base and the chipotle pepper emulsion and suspicion of spring onion completed this preparation. A signature dish if ever there was one.
Crab Dumplings garnished with sugarsnap peas and a sauce of aromatic spices was perhaps my favourite of the entire menu. The dumplings were light and flavourful and extremely moreish. A thoughtful adaptation of a dim sum standard.
Mango Salad with cherry tomatoes and crystallised tamarind was a substantial plateful, the sweet fruit puree being spiked by the acidity of the tomatoes and astringence of the tamarind.
Thai Jewels and Fruits with crushed coconut ice is a traditional South-east Asian dessert. It’s a cooling end to a spicy meal, although the coconut does have its own delicate richness. Very attractive; but Chocolate and Vietnamese Coffee Tart with a scoop of condensed milk ice cream was memorable and should be your pud of choice should you be unfortunate enough only to have the time or interior space left to try just one. The tart was dark, decadent and thoroughly adult but it was almost eclipsed by that ice cream.
Many a self-important “foodie” has scoffed at condensed milk. It perhaps smacks of store cupboards in the 1960s. Every house seemed to own a can of this thick and syrupy delight but I can only ever remember it being used as a regular milk substitute in an emergency or (and here the untutored will cringe) spread on bread as an instant and sugary snack.
It has a distinct flavour that bears no resemblance to either milk or cream. It is used in desserts all over the East and adds richness as well as flavour to all manner of sweets. The ice cream at Spice Market showcases this underrated ingredient to great advantage. A worthy partner for both coffee and dark chocolate.
Spice Market ticks so many boxes. Its location is convenient. The decor is remarkable. The food is confident and different. Don’t expect these dishes to resemble those found at the Painted San Pan on the high street. A meal here is an event and one that I can highly recommend. I look forward to a return visit. I hear they do a very nice breakfast with an Asian slant.
7:00 am – 11:00 am Monday-Friday
8:00 am – 11:30 am Saturday-Sunday
Lunch – Dinner:
12:00 noon – 11:00 pm Sunday-Wednesday
12:00 noon – 11:30 pm Thursday-Saturday
12:00 noon – 12:00 midnight Monday-Sunday
Spice Market London
10 Wardour St, London W1D 6QF
Phone: +44 207 758 1088
Fax: +44 207 758 1080
Visit Spice Market here
Restaurant review by Chrissie Walker © 2018