An Indian restaurant in Ottery St Mary has been crowned the best in the area by a group of curry connoisseurs based in Axminster.

The six-strong group, who call themselves the Spice Boys, have made 15 visits to restaurants around East Devon and Dorset – some more than once - to taste the best of what their chefs can offer.

They awarded marks out of five to every dish they tasted, and also scored restaurants for ambiance and quality of service.

The winner was Jeffery’s Kashmiri Cuisine in Mill Street, Ottery, and owner Jeffery was presented with the Spice Boys’ Best Indian of 2023 trophy last month.

The curry club was started in March 2022 by Sidney Heaslip, who had recently moved to Axminster and wanted to make new friends who shared his passion for Indian food. He put an advert into the Axminster Town Facebook group, explaining that it would be ‘a club for men doing a monthly curry tasting - not a booze-up’, and received eight sign-ups in two days.

Sid said it had been a conscious decision to set up a men-only group: “There’s research that says Covid lockdowns had quite an impact on male socialising, with disruption to men’s normal social circles, and the closure of some traditional male meeting venues, reducing the opportunities for male-male conversation, which is important to have as an outlet. 

“The club plugs that gap really well and it now goes way beyond the single monthly meet.  We settled down to a core of six guys (Sid, Paul, Martin, Leslie, Mark and Trevor) and we’re all firm friends now, WhatsApp connected and sharing chatter on all sorts of topics and activities, often featuring our curry cooking efforts, and plenty of banter of course.” 

Midweek Herald: The Devon Spice Boys curry club enjoying a meal

The Spice Boys’ curry tasting visits have covered an area from Dunkeswell across to Bridport and Chard, down to Sidmouth. Every month Sid phoned the group’s chosen restaurant in advance of their visit to discuss the chef’s recommendations for the best food on the menu. At each restaurant they ordered three main dishes and three sides between them and awarded a score to each one. A detailed review of each restaurant and its food has been posted on their Facebook page, The Devon Spice Boys. But it was only in September this year that the group decided they had done enough solid research to create their own award, and when they totted up all the scores Jeffery’s came out on top.

Midweek Herald: Sid presenting Jeffery with the award

Sid said: “The approach of the manager, Jeffery, stood out from most because in the advance phone call he’d suggested he could organise an off-menu special for us - wow, that was an impressive start. 

“On the night he served bone-in lamb, Kashmiri Gushtaba and Chicken Karahi, along with sides. All fabulous food, well layered flavours with lots of complexity that really shows there’s a strong kitchen team behind the food. 

“The great food and service scored Jeffery’s a total of 34 out of 40 across our eight categories, and ranked it just one of four restaurants to make it into the prestigious 30+ zone on our leaderboard.” 

Midweek Herald: Curry award winner Jeffery with his staffThe three runners-up for the award were King of Spice at Honiton, Ragini’s at Seaton and Sundorbon in Bridport.

Sid said the tasting sessions have given the club 'a few interesting experiences'.

"In one place the waitress greeted us and then volunteered 'I wouldn’t eat here myself'. That set a weird expectation, but it actually turned out to be a mid-scoring venue. 

"We had a 2022 Christmas special at King of Spice in Honiton where the manager was so enthusiastic that he called in all his chef mates from other restaurants to ‘come and meet the curry club’. 

"We took a homemade pickle sample into Lal Qilla in Lyme and the waiter gamely participated in some tasting, bringing out extra green chillies because he thought we were too wimpy on the heat level! 

"We had one manager that gave us a complimentary sample of every type of dessert he had, from the ice-cream-filled Punky penguin to the Chocolate Bombe.  No one ever orders those so it was actually kinda fun to try them all.”

The Spice Boys are going to continue their tasting and scoring in 2024. Sid said: “We need to continue to expand our reach, plus there’s the need to revisit - chefs change, they can even vary across days of the week, so not every experience will be the same.  At least that’s our excuse.”

Meanwhile word of the group has spread and Sid has started another club. He said: “A second club and another curry appointment each month? It was one of the easiest decisions I’ve ever made. 

“It’s great news for some new curry fans and great news for our hard-working curry houses like Jeffery’s.”