I SET the bar high when dining at Indian restaurants.
Living in Newcastle’s West End for several years, I had some of the best in authentic Indian cuisine in the North East on my doorstep.
But I’m no food snob, so when I was invited to the opening night of Seaham’s newest Indian restaurant, I eagerly accepted.
Ashoka has opened up in a former restaurant, with glorious views over the seafront and traditional decor with a modern twist – no flock wallpaper here.
All the traditional favourites are on the menu – vindaloos, bhunas and tikka masala – but there’s also some unusual additions.
Chargrilled lambs liver, marinated boal (a type of fish) and crab bhaji all set my taste buds watering.
As it was the opening night, we were dining from a selected menu, so I resolved to try these treats another time.
Our table of three shared palak pakora (spinach and onion savoury), malai kebab and bhuna prawn on puree.
I ate most of the kebab, before reluctantly sharing it round.
None of your greasy, end–of–night offering here, but marinated chunks of tender chicken mixed with gently melting paneer (cheese).
The bhuna prawn disappeared before I could sample any, but the generous serving of pakora was packed with flavour.
For our mains courses we sampled king prawn palak, cooked with spinach, green peppers, onions and chickpeas, lamb shatkora, cooked slowly with lemon juice, tikka chicken shandar, panfried peppers cooked with onions, almonds and fresh cream.
The lamb and prawn dishes were both delicious, spicy, but not overwhelming and with sauces which weren’t heavy with grease.
I tried a couple of forkfuls of the chicken shandar, which was was sweet and creamy.
We mopped it all up with a couple of freshly–cooked nan breads and portions of basmati rice.
I was too full to make any headway into dessert, but my fellow diners enjoyed a traditional Indian pud of gulab jaman – small, sweet sponges which taste like sticky toffee pudding.
What we couldn’t manage from our mains was helpfully boxed up by the friendly waiters to takeaway.
Prices at Ashoka are around £7.50 for main courses, with starters at £4. There’s plenty to choose from, so grab a menu and a window seat and watch the world go by.