I’ve always thought of Ripley town centre as a comfortable place. A wide variety of shops; well connected by public transport, which runs through the centre of the town, and there’s plenty of car parking. Ripley isn’t overpowering; part of its charm is that it’s all on a human scale. That comfortable feeling doesn’t vanish as night falls and on a blustery, chilly winter’s evening Shapla Spice was a warm welcoming sight as Susan and myself hurried from our taxi and into the restaurant.
Situated on the corner of Church Street and Mosley Street, Shapla Spice is very convenient for both buses and taxis. Plus the added advantage of that very large car park across the road; Ripley marketplace.
We were greeted by Amin, the owner, and shown to our table. The smart exterior and the contemporary decor of the softly lit interior, reflects the restaurant’s understated elegance. The layout is not overcrowded. The tables, with their white linen tablecloths and napkins and stylish place settings enhance the restaurants modern ambience.
We chatted to Amin who told us how a chance meeting with a local businessman persuaded him, with his several decades of experience, to open a restaurant in Ripley. Over the years Shapla Spice has grown in size but always remained on this busy corner of the marketplace. The restaurant does not have an alcohol license but does offer a selection of soft drinks. One advantage of this absence is that you can turn up with your favourite beer or wine. We arrived with both and without asking, the appropriate glasses and ‘openers’ arrived on our table courtesy of one of the attentive but unobtrusive waiters.
Shapla Spice specialises in traditional Bangladeshi cuisine. Amin talked us through the extensive menu indicating how spicy, hot, creamy or sweet each dish was. And so for my starter, following his suggestion, I chose the sea bass. Sue, not wanting to spoil her appetite, said she would share it with me.
While we waited for our starter we nibbled on two warm poppadoms. These came with the usual lime pickle, a sweet tomato sauce and an onion and tomato salad. Plus a delicious mint and yoghurt sauce; a perfect balance of sweet and sour.
My starter, the sea bass fillet, was panfried with a lightly spiced dusting on the skin. It added to, but didn’t mask, the delicate flavour of this perfectly cooked fish. It was served on a bed of sautéed peppers and a few strands of onion, accompanied by a dash of sweet chilli sauce. Light, slightly spicy and full of flavour; this dish is far removed from the pakoras and kebabs that traditionally start an ‘Indian’ meal.
For her main Susan had chosen laseez and a garlic naan. Laseez is a chicken tikka dish prepared with diced onion, tomato, garlic and a hint of chilli in a sauce finished with double cream. This mildly spiced dish is combined with spinach and topped with melted cheese. The chicken was moist and tender and the cream sauce, with its many spices, was full of flavour. Rice would have been lost on this dish but the fluffy garlic naan that Susan had ordered was the ideal commitment for mopping up the rich sauce.
I had selected the Akbori lamb and pilau rice. The meat had been marinated, barbecued and served in a spicy tomato sauce along with roast potatoes, garlic, crispy onion, fresh coriander and a slice of lemon. The pilau rice, with the fragrant aroma from its traditional spices, was presented in the centre of the dish surrounded by the tender lamb. The rice and lamb made perfect partners. The lamb sauce was mildly spicy but not enough to mask the flavours of the pilau rice.
It had been a wonderful evening. We could have stayed longer chatting and drinking the excellent coffee topped up by the ever attentive waiter but the taxi we had booked was waiting. We said our goodbyes and hurried out into the cold night. Settling into the back of the taxi we reflected on how relaxed the evening had been and how we had discovered new delights from that vast subcontinent.