The Spice Connoisseur, Taffs Well

In the foothills of the Welsh valleys lies the sleepy village of Taffs Well. Small and compact, it boasts nevertheless no fewer than 4 pubs and the almost mandatory Chinese take-away. Beyond this it might appear unremarkable. Maybe it would remain so but for The Spice Connoisseur.

There is a great distinction between the ubiquitous “curry house”, of which there are legion in the South Wales area alone, and a true “Indian Restaurant”. Go to any of the former and you will be able to recite the menu before arriving. Attend the latter and you should be in for a unique and memorable experience. It is firmly in the category of “Indian Restaurant” that The Spice Connoisseur rests.

At fist glance this is an unassuming, in fact shy, establishment. However, appearances can be deceptive and here they most certainly are. Once through the door you are immediately into a bright and welcoming bar area.

The Restaurant itself is extensive. This is a bonus. It allows for a feeling of space without feeling stacked on top of other diners that is all too common in many restaurants. It allows a very personal and intimate level of service. The inclusion of fish in an unusual vertical tank creates a sense of calm and tranquillity.

Most of my visits have been later in the evening. I have visited at more “traditional” times, around 9.00pm on a Friday or Saturday night. I have never booked and never needed to, even on traditionally busy evenings such as Fridays and Saturdays. That having been said, if one were travelling from any distance booking would be advisable.

For the connoisseurs of Indian cuisine the menu represents a real voyage of discovery. Traditional items appear, but the real strength of this restaurant is in the unique items. The menu dispenses with the irritating attempt to categorise Indian food into “mild, hot etc...” by the inclusion of some symbol, often one or a series of chillies. Instead the description of the dish provides ample explanation of its qualities and strength. The number of dishes on the menu is itself an eye opener.

Starters include the traditional favourites. The onion bahjee appears for example, as well as other not so common and more unusual items. However, it is the time and care taken over their preparation and the use of exclusively fresh ingredients that sets this restaurant apart. You may have had onion bahjee hundreds of times before. I guarantee you will not have had one quite like The Spice Connoisseur. I have tried many of the starters. I have never been disappointed in my choice. I have always had an excellent dish. In my latest foray into a lamb starter I was amazed at the depth of flavour and originality of the dish.

For main dishes, the traditional ones are offered of course. The usual suspects, Rogan Josh, Vindaloo etc... appear. Again, though you may have had these before, the generosity and quality of ingredients mark this out as a class establishment. What is the more exciting is the number of unusual dishes on the menu. Items I have not seen before. They tempt you to explore outside the normal “curry house” experience and when you do, do not disappoint. Portion sizes are generous with fresh ingredients and wonderfully flavoured sauces to compliment every dish. In my extensive indulgence in Indian cuisine over the years I have yet to find an equal to this fine restaurant. The standard of the cuisine is well reflected in the awards won over the years. In all my visits my abiding recollection is of the consistently superlative standard of every meal I have had there. I have never had a bad meal there. I suspect I never shall.

Service is discreet, efficient and intimate, with “Sam” who impresses as the consummate host. He has time for a chat and his memory for his customers distinguishes this restaurant from others, whether in its class or not.

In current times cost is always a serious consideration. It is with relief, then, that one receives the bill at the end of the evening. Choice of drinks will dictated the final bill inevitably, though on my last visit a full meal for 2 including wine (the wine being intentionally more expensive at over £20.00), came in at under £46.00. The wine list is generous and reasonably priced. At just over £10.00 a head for the food it was, in my view, excellent value for money. Some people will baulk at the idea of paying such amounts for “a curry”. If that is your view this restaurant is not for you. This is not a “curry house”. It is a true Indian Restaurant in the finest traditions of that nation’s cuisine. A true hidden gem. One that any connoisseur of fine Indian cuisine will miss at their peril!

Jonathan Hine

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