Spice is back – and yes, it’s as good as you remember 

Korean pork stew with kimchi, pickles and rice at Spice at The Table in Woodbridge

Korean pork stew with kimchi, pickles and rice at Spice at The Table in Woodbridge - Credit: Charlotte Smith-Jarvis

I sometimes sit back and reflect on all the places I’ve eaten and written about so far over the course of my career. Especially restaurants, cafes, and pubs we’ve lost. 

One that sparks true feelings of nostalgia is Spice. Opened by Vernon Blackmore (of The Anchor in Woodbridge, Dog and Duck in Campsea Ashe and The Easton White Horse) in 1995, and closing almost a decade later, it was one of THE places to eat in Suffolk at the time. 

And it was part of a bevy of eateries that had, in the late 90s and early noughties, put east Suffolk on the UK’s culinary map. 

Spice, set in a humble, simple, cosy space above a shop in the town’s Thoroughfare, was inspired by Vernon’s mother’s Malaysian heritage, combining Asian flavours with hints of spice from around the globe. It was sorely missed. 

And loads of punters (myself included) have been harassing the restaurateur for years to bring it back. 

So imagine my delight at the end of the summer when a series of Spice-themed events popped up at Vernon’s other venture, The Table? Eventually, due to popular demand, becoming a regular thing! 

You can now get your Spice kick for lunch and dinner from Wednesday to Saturday, and on Sunday afternoons. 

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“I’ve been asked so many times to bring Spice back I stopped counting,” laughs Vernon. “I think it’s taken on almost mythical status. It was always really good, but I personally think people’s memories play tricks on them. Half of it has to be that lots of the people I grew up with used to come in. None of them had kids at the time. They’ll remember those late night out when they didn’t have to get up early in the morning!” 

Vernon brought in chef Dan Gorham, who’s mixed up the menu, combining ‘old Spice’ with a modern take, incorporating Japanese and Korean influences alongside Thai, Malaysian, and Chinese. 

The menu changes, says Vernon “a little bit each week. There will always be a laksa, that’s a throwback from Spice, and we’ve had things like nasi lemak, which is the national Malaysian dish. We always have a curry, like good old fashioned Thai green, Burmese or katsu. And you can’t go wrong with a satay can you? 

“What’s been really nice, and popular, is seeing people ordering loads of dishes and sharing them around the table. They’ve been so excited about what we’re doing which is fantastic. We’ve been full almost since the beginning!” 

I popped over on Sunday with my mate Karen, so we could get our greedy chops around this renewed version of Spice. 

Outside there are heated marquees if you fancy going al fresco. But we chose to eat indoors, where there was a pleasant buzz of chatter echoing through the colourfully painted rooms. 

Like Spice, it’s no-frills. Just scrubbed wooden tables and bright hues on the walls. Good food speaks for itself. 

Naturally Karen wanted (was forced) to share and we kicked off with a variety of ‘small plates’ which were bigger than we thought they would be. Equal to, or a little larger, than your average starter. 

Char sui chicken skewers at Spice at The Table in Woodbridge

Char sui chicken skewers at Spice at The Table in Woodbridge - Credit: Charlotte Smith-Jarvis

A winner here was the charred hispi cabbage (£7). Don’t balk at the sound of it. Cabbage is made for grilling, its leaves taking on a smoky, sweet note that cannot be achieved by boiling it ‘til your kitchen smells of mothballs. It arrived under a blanket of sweet, gently heated, thick satay sauce, covered in pops of red chilli, cucumber and sesame seeds. We probably annoyed other diners scraping every ounce of sauce from the bowl – but it was just too good. 

Skewers of chicken (£7) got the traditional Chinese char sui treatment, bathed in a sweet, lightly red marinade, sitting on a bed of pickled veg and chilli. Delicious, but they could have done with a little dip on the side (we smeared them with that satay sauce). 

Thickly sliced, tender pieces of wasabi and dill cured salmon (£8) were wibbly fresh, soft and melting, with just a breath of heat, and came with loads of bread – they definitely aren’t stingy here. 

And the katsu cod cheeks (£8) with katsu sauce, chilli and pickled cabbage atop rice cakes, were like the best fishfinger you’ve ever had. Light, fresh and packed with flavour. In fact, that was the overriding theme of all the small plates. 

Next on the agenda was a pair of dishes from the specials board. 

For me, a bowl of Korean soul food. A sweet/savoury/spicy broth of pork and squash stew, layered with nose-clearingly hot kimchi, pickles and loads of rice. Fortifying stuff. And just the ticket after a walk along the breezy riverside. This really did take me back to the old Spice days, being simple, homely, and generous. Pops of aromatic flavour kept jumping out, be it chilli, star anise or ginger. 

Now, on the other side of the table Karen had quite the feast and I think, for the sheer size of it, a fantastic value roast (£16). The main menu offers half a spiced roast chicken, but the day’s special was five spiced loin of pork, which was a thickly cut and a tad on the dry side, but came with a huge pile of accompaniments. Loads of turmeric roast potatoes, braised red cabbage, carrots, greens, and a puffy bhaji Yorkshire pudding – I will definitely be making that at home. The whole thing was tied together with a curry-scented gravy that Karen found a bit overpowering, but I thoroughly enjoyed. 

I made a mental note to return with my teens who would devour it. 

Desserts aren’t a big thing in Asian cuisine, but Spice has made an effort to craft its own on a short, but sweet, menu. I was gutted the doughnut with miso caramel and sesame ice cream was no longer an option, but it was replaced with a warm, puffy doughnut, filled with creamy passionfruit and mango ice cream. A touch of zippy curd would have taken it up a level. 

My bouncy, rich, slab of warm ginger cake was a pud-lover's dream. All earthy and fiery from those powerful, heady autumnal spices and treacle, and swimming in a bath of rum custard. What more could you ask for? 

Spice at The Table is a real treat. And I can’t wait to go back. You have to book by calling 01394 382 007. 

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