Seaham’s seafront may be smaller than Sunderland’s, but when it comes to offering a good range of eateries it’s got the edge.
Visit on a sunny Sunday afternoon and you may well have a wait on your hands to find a table at one of its range of cafes, delis and restaurants along the strip of North Terrace.
Evening trade is booming too, even on a dreary January night.
Post Christmas purses may be feeling the pinch, but Ashoka was still doing a steady trade.
Perhaps because it’s pleasing on the purse, and the palate.
The exterior is a pretty unassuming former shop front, but inside it’s somewhat of a tandoori tardis that spans two floors.
Though the menu focuses on classic Indian fare, the decor is more contemporary than your stereotypical Indian restaurant with a colour palette of cream, red and brown that makes for a welcoming atmosphere.
Downstairs was full, so we were seated upstairs where we got stuck into the menu.
There’s nothing too adventurous or intimidating on there with all the usual suspects for the curry faithful, such as lamb vindaloo (£7.45), chicken madras (£7.25) and prawn bhuna (£7.75).
Some like it hot, but many don’t, and here there’s plenty of choice for those who prefer less-fiery Indian food. For those who want to turn up the heat there’s a guide next to each dish to indicate which ones will make your eyes water.
I stuck with something safe to start: the chicken tikka paneer (£4.50).
Service was swift, but not too in your face, and soon after ordering I was tucking into a prettily-presented starter portion that was large enough to be a light lunch.
Some restaurants try to detract from a lack of the main ingredient by mounds of salad, but there was plenty of chicken and gooey paneer cheese here.
An extra layer of flavour was added with a light yoghurt sauce which complemented the delicate main ingredients well.
For mains I chose one of the many seafood options on offer – the tandoori king prawn. At £12.95, it’s one of the more pricey options on the menu, but you always pay a few extra pounds for prawns.
Being cooked over charcoal gave it a smokey hint, with a yoghurt and herb sauce elevating the prawns from plain to perfect.
I shunned rice in favour of a cheese naan (£2.75) which was huge. So much so, it seeped over the edge of the plate. I struggled to finish it but its warm doughy chunks, which we tore with ease, were perfect for mopping up the remaining sauce.
For more indecisive diners, there’s set meals available, starting at £39.95 for two and a takeaway service that’s certainly popular judging by the people streaming through the door.
This is a place that seems to retain its regulars, and it’s easy to see why.