One of downtown Victoria’s most prominent East African/Indian restaurants is about to close its doors for good at the end of the year.
Spice Jammer first opened for business in 1991 with power couple Amin and Bilkiz (Billie) Essa at the helm, and since then several generations of loyal customers have dined at the Fort Street restaurant.
Much of its popularity can be attributed to Billie Essa’s inspired original dishes, and her husband Amin’s outgoing personality which together made the restaurant a hotspot for a fun and fulfilling night out.
The family-run business took a hit when Amin Essa unexpectedly passed away in 2004, leaving his wife to carry on his dream of running a successful restaurant.
Now, after decades of serving up delectable East African and Indian cuisine for Victorians (and visitors from other cities and countries) to relish, Billie Essa will be hanging up her apron and closing shop in order to enjoy a well deserved retirement.
Billie, her son Aly and daughter Noren have been running Spice Jammer since her husband’s death and plan to close the restaurant for good at the end of 2019.
The taste test
Victoria Buzz staff were invited to take in some of their signature dishes – the ones that kept people coming back for more – and we can honestly say it was one of the best Indian meals we’ve tried in Victoria thus far.
For starters, we devoured a plate of hot, crunchy samosas with both vegetarian and non-vegetarian fillings, served with a selection of sweet and spicy dipping sauces.
This was followed up by heaping plates saffron rice, platters of fresh, hot naan, and several servings of vindaloo lamb, butter chicken, and masala (spiced) vegetable curry, all washed down with steaming cups of masala chai.
Our favourites included the mild and mouthwatering saffron rice (consumed within minutes), the butter chicken with its distinctive Indian flavours, and the rich masala vegetable curry that paired incredibly well with their naan.
While these dishes were served mildly spiced – for those among us whose palates are less tolerant of hotter dishes – Spice Jammer customizes the spiciness of their meals to suit the wishes of each diner.
According to Billie, a few brave customers regularly order their dishes at their hottest ‘Double Suicide’ spice level, while even more enthusiastic spice lovers have been known to request their meals at ‘Triple Suicide’ levels.
Closing – but not lost forever
While nothing can replace the experience of dining at Spice Jammer once it’s closed for good, Billie Essa is not about to leave her customers hanging.
All of the dishes served at the restaurant are her original recipes born out of tireless flavour experimentation, and as such there is currently no way for anyone else to replicate them.
However, she is working towards publishing a cookbook so that fans of Spice Jammer cuisine will not have to give up their favourite meals forever.
To fund this initiative, Billie’s children Aly and Noren have launched a GoFundMe campaign in hopes of raising $25,000 for their mom to write the book.
“Those who know us, or have been to our restaurant, know that our passion is connecting people through food,” they write.
“Our hope is that by sharing her [our mom’s] recipes we can continue to bring joy to the community through our food, even after the restaurant has closed.”
Some of the featured recipes in the proposed cookbook include samosas, butter chicken, masala prawns and Kuku Paka – a traditional East African Indian curry from the shores of Zanzibar.
As of the time of publication, the campaign has raised $245. Click here if you would like to contribute.
For now, diners can still enjoy an evening meal at Spice Jammer until the end of 2019. So, to facilitate the experience, Victoria Buzz is giving one lucky reader the chance to win $100 gift card to spend at the restaurant.
For a chance to WIN a $100 gift card to Spice Jammer, complete one or more of the following:
- LIKE Spice Jammer on Facebook comment below to let us know (1 entry)
- FOLLOW Spice Jammer on Instagram and comment below to let us know (1 entry)
- COMMENT below letting us know your favourite memory or experience
The winner will be drawn on Monday, October 28th. Good luck!
- Hours: Tuesday – Thursday and Sunday, 5 p.m. – 9 p.m.
- Friday – Saturday 5 p.m. – 10 p.m.
- Closed on Mondays
- Location: 852 Fort Street