Spice Market is the pan-Asian restaurant in the W Hotel in Leicester Square, the first outpost of the glitzy W brand to grace London. The restaurant's entrance from Chinatown sets it apart from the VIP-feel hotel entrance; if you want to gawp at the leather and silver of the W, you should aim for its first floor bar as Spice Market is an entirely different vibe: low, leather seating, carved dark wood staircases and shelves of exotic-looking bottles and bowls of — you guessed it — spices.
With a soundtrack of low-level club music, Spice Market's ground-floor bar is the perfect place to enjoy an oriental-themed Martini and some addictive chilli popcorn. We tried a watermelon and vodka concoction and a citrus Japanese Martini, and could have whiled away some serious time there.
Soon we were whisked upstairs to a low booth in the restaurant (ample room for four, let alone the two of us) and handed an à la carte and a tasting menu each. The fusion dishes at Spice Market, inspired by chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten's South East Asian travels, are varied and experimental with lots of surprises thrown in. Fans of the classics will find curries, noodles and spring rolls, but all have a twist — think sole tempura, mint edamame and lobster summer roll.
My vegetarian guest found the à la carte somewhat limited but managed to negotiate a lobster Pad Thai minus the lobster (and was permitted to order randomly from the vegetarian tasting menu). Her starter of avocado summer roll was full of fresh salad but laced with far too much mint. This became a bit of a theme of our meal; well-executed dishes taking one bold flavour that bit too far. My starter of salt and pepper crispy squid was tasty (and salty) but much the same as many a gastropub offering at twice the price. Its yuzu dip — a kind of Japanese citrus fruit, we learned — was neither refreshing nor moreish, as lime or a basic sweet chilli might have been.
Mains were similarly confused; my steamed lobster with garlic, chilli and ginger was freshly cooked but incredibly salty, the fried garlic annihilating any trace of aromatic ginger or chilli. My guest's Pad Thai portion was generous and came topped with an omelette, but the flavour of the sauce failed to impress and some noodles were undercooked. Sizeable desserts of Vietnamese coffee tart and white chocolate and yuzu Pavlova were interesting as European recipes with Asian twists, but both incredibly rich after the sweet, sour, spicy and salty journey our tastebuds just been on. I'd recommend going for a simple mango sorbet or similar to top off this runaway Orient Express of flavours.
The ambience — flattering uplighting from a ceiling full of gold lamps completes an intimate atmosphere that would be great for a date.
The nibbles — the chilli popcorn and crunchy poppadoms with spicy ketchup were probably the biggest hits of the night.
Not much choice for vegetarians. My guest felt she had to barter her way to an à la carte main course, which seemed odd for usually veggie-friendly Asian food.
Waiting staff weren't the best at selling the dishes we enquired about — they could work on some more appetising descriptions.
The flavours of most dishes just seemed to go one step too far.
Spice Market's fusion dishes might make you wish it simply did one thing well, but the sexy ambience and zingy Martinis suggest a simple round of cocktails and nibbles might be the way to go.
Spice Market, 10 Wardour Street, London W1D 6QF (+44 (0)207 758 1088; spicemarketlondon.co.uk).