By Claudia Heywood
In 2007, the date coinciding exactly with the birth of the owner’s first child, a new Indian restaurant opened on Preston Street, commanding immediate attention with bright walls and waterfall panels, coloured lights and youthful nightclub vibe. Bold, brave and out of sync with
Faversham, it was intriguing. Children wondered at the lively interior and parents, forced to peel them from the window, simply had to peer in themselves. The food was exciting from the start. This seemed to be a menu that offered several dishes most of us had never heard of, let
alone attempted to recreate at home. I visited as soon as I could and found myself impressed by the food and charmed by the wonderfully courteous and dynamic service.
That was a while ago of course, but Spice Lounge still manages to seem new and exciting. With an ever-growing client base, it continues to offer a rather special night out for those important occasions. I asked owner Rokib Ali what made a London-based restaurateur decide to take a chance on a small town in Kent, which already offered two well established Indian restaurants.
At that time he had three other establishments and domestic ties to London. 76 Preston Street (previously Flair Fashions) is a beautiful listed building, parts of which date from the fifteenth century. It had obvious potential as a dwelling, but some instinct made him decide to try the
restaurant. It was obviously meant to be. Business immediately took off and now staff occupy the accommodation above. The experiment proved so successful that Rokib now concentrates all his efforts on Faversham’s Spice Lounge and still travels down from London to oversee proceedings. It sounds exhausting for a family man, but enthusiasm clearly fuels his energy.
Admitting to my own curiosity as the restaurant opened, I asked him why he thought the gamble had worked so well. What makes the Spice Lounge experience unique? He described meticulous preparation of the food by an insightful team and service of the highest quality. And it's true. It’s impossible not to appreciate the effect of freshly ground spices and careful crafting from a talented and truly committed chef. Service is perfect - intelligent, always attentive but never overdone. Spice Lounge immediately won awards and Rokib is unashamedly proud of its continuing reputation.
A complete end to all that made life enjoyable in March 2020 sent immediate panic into us and into all businesses. Spice Lounge were worried too, but continued with takeaway and delivery services as soon as Rokib had reassured himself his staff felt happy to do so. We all
thought a lot about food at that time and those of us browsing their Facebook page welcomed a communication probably much needed at the time. They posted wonderful photos, offered their own “spoonful of medicine also known as curry”, reminding us throughout that their top priority was the health and well being of their customers and staff. Rokib saw take away sales increase and soar during this time and somehow still managed, in April 2020, to work alongside charities supplying food to 1,000 NHS heroes. Lockdown continued, but so did their communication. Spice Lounge told us repeatedly that they were longing to welcome their clientele back and made use of this time to completely refurbish the restaurant.
Already glamorous, you might wonder about the need for a makeover, but it was surely a wise move. It’s always worth refreshing the magic. Food excites the palette, imaginative decor pleases the eye. And a refurb is clever marketing, demonstrating confidence in its product and giving back to the loyal clients who have made its success.
Rokib says he enjoys being part of the town and over the years clients have become friends. I had to ask what made Faversham special enough to trade here alone. He explained the appeal of a small town where everyone knows everyone and the very real sense of community. Spice Lounge has shown its appreciation from the start; Rokib sees it as natural to donate to local events and fundraising efforts, not least a generous contribution to the Swing Bridge Appeal. Being immersed in the community can prove useful too. Rokib was instrumental in reuniting a valued customer with his beloved bicycle, snatched from
outside the shop in the moments it took to collect a takeaway. A short time after the theft, a local hopeful visited Rokib at the restaurant, claiming he knew the whereabouts of the bicycle and asking a sum for its safe return. Rokib oversaw the collection of the bike, accompanying the chancer as he returned it, cash on delivery, to the owner. Allowing myself a smile at
this story of non-violent, small community, resolvable crime, I imagined the rather rueful equivalent for the bike’s owner.
We treated ourselves to a family meal at Spice Lounge because, frankly, writing about it had made me hungry. It’s been ages since we've eaten in the restaurant. I’ve glanced at the new decor when collecting take away but a lengthier visit gave us time to relax into the atmosphere, appreciate the colourfully-lit carved panels and muse on the process that must have created the textured wall cladding. The staff were charming and helpful. Really hot plates always delight me and these arrived, wiped as they were laid, at the exact same time as all the food we’d ordered. And somehow, despite the almost daunting array of dishes which seemed to completely fill the table, we managed to eat in comfort.
We were all, rather competitively, delighted with our own choices. My vegetable dansak was sweet and delicious, with pronounced individual flavours and a complementary heat. I’d greedily added Bakara Begun, the dish which has always defined Spice Lounge for me. My partner was extremely impressed with his choice of Lamb Mufas, enjoying it more, the more he ate. Two of my children chose fairly mild chicken and lamb dishes, very much enjoying the depth of flavour in the sauces and reminding themselves that curries don't necessarily have to be hot. My son, making a concerted effort to increase his chilli tolerance, polished off a spicier
chicken dish with gusto and admirable speed, surely a skill possessed only by the young. We contented ourselves with just a tiny amount of perfectly cooked rice, deciding breads would be better accompaniments. Both the garlic and plain nans we ordered were luxurious, somehow as light as they were filling; the keema nans were better than anyone had ever tried before: a revelation, actually filled with delicious minced lamb. And I urge you to try the modestly described cheese nan, memorable particularly for the fresh coriander and hot green chilli. Over the years I’ve wasted significant hours in my own attempts to create the definitive bouncy nan. I certainly won’t be bothering again.
All this and sufficient Cobra let us relax into indulgent parenting and the teenagers finished their meal with a variety of gratifying ice cream desserts that nobody needed. We had a lovely time and it had actually proved a bit special. Restaurant experiences are not necessarily enjoyable and tensions can often disrupt the flow of an evening. Significantly good food and considerate service are supposed to allow you to completely wind down. Spice Lounge quite simply provides that experience.