Amjad Shehzad is no stranger to the restaurant business — his original restaurant Mirchi has been introducing Calgarians to his unique Indian-Pakistani dishes for nearly seven years.
Shehzad brings a similar but more extensive menu and a different ambience to Spice 7 a larger quieter space tucked away in the west end of downtown. Spice 7 encourages its guests to linger over a larger meal as opposed to the casual fast paced hole-in-the-wall experience at Mirchi.
When my boyfriend and I went on a Friday night the restaurant was hosting a private party in the main dining area so we were seated in the lounge. The lounge is decorated sensually with dark tones plush seating and soft pillows though the lighting was uneven in some areas and felt a little harsh. Our young server was somewhat awkward but otherwise friendly and gave helpful suggestions.
While there are lots of Indian restaurants in the city Pakistani restaurants are harder to find. At Spice 7 it is difficult to distinguish which dishes on the menu are Indian and which are Pakistani. As neighbours many elements of their cuisines overlap though some argue that Pakistani food is a little more meat-heavy than Indian cuisine due to the differences in Muslim and Hindu customs.
In addition to the more familiar butter chicken samosas and daal Spice 7 serves up kababs ($10) nihari ($12) and haleem ($12) — dishes that can be traced back to India but are associated more with Pakistan because of the use of beef. Spice 7 also seems to offer more seafood choices than other Indian establishments in the city like the “chef’s recommended” prawn karahi ($16) as well as a list of “fusion” entrées such as mutton popsicles ($16) and tandoori salmon ($18).
My boyfriend and I decided to share a few dishes family-style. The chicken karahi delux ($16) is a Mirchi/Spice 7 mainstay — boneless (that’s what “delux” means) pieces of chicken in a spicy tomato-based sauce that packed a surprising bit of heat. The aloo gobhi ($9) had a similar flavour profile except the chicken was replaced with tender chunks of potato and soft cauliflower florets with just the right amount of crunch. Both dishes were topped with shredded raw ginger which I didn’t really care for.
The nihari ($12) was a miss for me. This traditional curry is billed as “beef shanks cooked and simmered overnight with a blend of house spices” and while the meat was fall-off-the-bone tender the sauce was bland and slightly greasy.
Of course you can’t have curry without having some starchy sides. Our garlic naan ($2) was hot and buttery perfect for picking up the generous morsels of meat or sopping up the last dregs of sauce. The basmati rice ($4) was not too dry and not too fluffy lightly sprinkled with cumin seeds.
Somehow after all this we had room for dessert. I find most Indian desserts too sweet but I have a fondness for kheer ($5) which is essentially Indian rice pudding. Spice 7’s is creamy coconut-y and lightly spiced with cardamom. I also ordered a spiced chai which the server said was spicier than the authentic chai (both $3) but it still wasn’t spicy enough for me.
All in all I had a good experience at Spice 7 and would chalk up some of the not-so-good to simply not ordering the “right” dishes on the lengthy menu. I would definitely head back to Spice 7 to try some of its seafood specialties or the steal-of-a-deal $10 takeout lunch boxes.