Tuesday, April 19, 2011

We Be Indo-African Jammin', Man

For years I've walked by Spice Jammer thinking it was a West Indies, or more specifically a Jamaican, restaurant. The drab exterior and signage offer few clues as to what exactly lurks inside. The dusty crimson-red velvet drapes add to the mystery; they seem more apt for an adult sex shop or funeral parlor. Every so often during one of my passings by, the door would be open, offering a bit more information, but all to be seen is the front lobby region, with its odd collection of antique-like chairs and rather pedestrian bar to the right. Often I'd wondered if the place was even still in business.

On a recent, sleepy Sunday night, with few available dining options in the neighbourhood, we decided to take the plunge into Spice Jammer. To our pleasant surprise, the dining room was not as bad as we'd expected. With no windows, and a colour palate to match those crimson drapes, the room is dark and cavernous, and for some peculiar reason it worked for us. It's a bit like eating in a nicely furnished bunker with high quality plastic tropical plants and sitar music playing in the background. It does have a quirky romantic charm.

There are some decent Indian places to eat in town, all claiming to offer the best tandoori, but I must confess that Spice Jammer's tandoori chicken is the best I've eaten in this city, simply sensational, cooked in proper tandoori style to perfection, with a fine, balanced blend of spices coating the skin. The plate was further elevated by sides of fresh salad, yogurt and saffron rice. Another highlight of the night was the meat-stuffed naan.

From what I've gathered so far, the family operating this place has its ethnic roots in Africa, not India. Moreover, the web site states: "East African Indian cuisine at its finest." While the rather extensive menu does have the odd African-influenced dish, it is mostly Indian fare, and what I really hope for in the future is that Spice Jammer plays more to its African heritage and introduces Victoria diners to those more exotic dishes and flavours hard to come by in this part of the globe. This city has quite a few Indian restaurants, but how many African eateries? Nonetheless, Jammer does Indian as well as any I've had in Greater Victoria, and for this reason I recommend this restaurant and plan to go back to explore further reaches of the menu, especially the more African-influenced specialties.

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