Published: 06:00, 16 September 2021
| Updated: 07:00, 16 September 2021
As we sat ourselves down just after midday inside the empty curry house, hearing nothing but the humming of car engines outside our window, we feared our choice of Sunday lunch had backfired.
Its exterior also did little to aid our first impressions. Perched on the corner of a crossroads, Secret Spices in Margate was covered in discoloured beige paint, while its signs appeared to have been wedged between two sets of first-floor windows.
But my wife and I would later leave the Ramsgate Road restaurant – rated the best for a curry on TripAdvisor – with a spring in our steps, the kind that can only be brought about by a pleasurable meal.
“You know we don’t serve alcohol here?” the waiter asked. Deciding against trying one of its selection of mocktails, we asked for sparkling water.
When he returned to his counter at the front of the building, the eatery’s speakers flicked into action, filling the converted pub with the sound of instrumental music.
We gazed at the menu in front of us. The “dangerous curry” sounded like a challenge and the chettinand – a dish consisting of chicken or lamb served in a hot sauce with ginger, garlic and coconut – was appealing.
However, my gaze was drawn to the words HIGHLY RECOMMENDED scrawled next to the "staff curry" option, which promised to give customers a taste of what the employees eat at the end of their shifts.
“I’ll have that, please,” I said when the waiter returned, as I also ordered a helping of coconut rice and saag bhaji as sides. My wife, meanwhile, opted for the tried-and-trusted, if a little mundane, chicken korma, a garlic naan and saag aloo.
Clinks and clangs sprung out of the kitchen immediately afterwards.
Unlike its dishevelled exterior, the inside of the restaurant was smartly decorated with black and white chairs and neutral walls. Certificates were dotted around a photograph of Secret Spices' bosses being presented with an award.
The waiter, who remained the only other person in the room, strolled aimlessly towards the front door when a bell rang from the kitchen. He disappeared down a corridor, before emerging with our food.
In front of me was my main. It consisted of chicken drumsticks soaking in a lake of red sauce. I scooped it onto my plate, along with large helpings of rice and saag bhaji. Boy oh boy, was it good. The meat fell off the bone, while the tomato sauce – despite being mild – was thick and creamy.
The sides ticked all the right boxes as well. The rice was light and sweet and the cooks managed not to fall foul of the problems many others do with the spinach side, as it was neither soggy nor too salty.
As I wiped the streaks of red from my lips, my other half commented: “I can’t believe we’re eating this at midday. It’s so good, but it feels wrong.”
Before we polished off the last bites of our meal, another staff member approached us wearing a broad smile. Following pleasantries and establishing it was our first visit to the business, he nodded towards my plate.
“What you’ve got there is authentic – that’s what we’d have at the end of a night,” he said, before disappearing from view to get the bill.
The meal came to £43.15, which we considered good value for six dishes and two drinks. Thrilled with our choice of Sunday lunch, we left agreeing with the rave reviews plastered online and stepped back out towards the crossroads.
Food: It was served quickly, was hot and delicious – wholeheartedly recommend. *****
Drink: It was hard to judge considering we only ordered sparkling waters but they arrived with chunky slices of lime and ice cubes. The mocktail menu also looked interesting. ***
Decor: It looks a bit tired from the outside but it's nicely decorated, sleek and comfortable indoors. ****
Staff: They could not have been more helpful and even took some time to have a chat with us. *****
Price: Forty-three quid for six courses of excellent food is good value in my book. *****