REVIEW – Asha, Ocean Road, South Shields

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BESET with blue lights and adorned with mock-plaster reliefs of dubious provenance, Ocean Road’s Indian restaurants have been raising the bar in recent years as competition intensifies on the famous curry strip.

A few stand out from the crowd, however, and Asha is among them.

Founded in 1993, the family-run restaurant is one of the longest-standing Asian eateries in the town and offers an extra touch of class and variety than the more run-of-the-mill establishments.

All the old favourites are on the menu, but they rub shoulders with more unusual dishes – including those created by owner Gulam Hussain and his son Dhilwar.

There was a vibrant buzz around the restaurant as we entered through its new, stylish glass entrance at which regular customers are greeted like long-lost friends and newbees welcomed with equal smiles.

Once seated in a comfortable booth, my brother and I decided to put both the traditional dishes and the more unusual cuisine to the test.

I started with my long-standing favourite bhuna mushroom puree (£2.50) – a concoction of vegetables with a tang of tomato and pleasing blend of spices, while he went for khafna moiree.

The latter is a rich, exotic dish, resembling a traditional bowl of mussels at first glance – but served in an almost brothy sauce made with coconut milk, tomatoes and spices.

Next up for me was the vegetable karahi (£5.95), a delightfully unctuous mix of green peppers, tomatoes and tomatoes, with mushroom pilau rice (£2.30) which came delicately served in a moulded shape as opposed to the often off-putting mound of starch served up in some outlets.

My brother stuck to his fishy theme and indulged his intrigue with the tandoori trout. Just as it sounds, the white, lean, flaky fish is marinated in tandoori paste and cooked in the traditional oven of the same name, and is an interesting take on a style of cooking more commonly sampled with chicken.

At £9.95 it was at the more expensive end of the menu, but that’s very reasonable considering British restaurant prices in general.

It also took a little longer to cook, but my brother was insistent this was very much worth waiting for. Perhaps the best endorsement for this dish was his willingness to eat the tail end and even take a bite of the head, egged on though he was by the friendly and attentive staff.