The head chef and owner of Sachins in Newcastle, one of the most popular Indian restaurants in the city, is Bob Arora.
To those in north Northumberland to whom his name sounds familiar, it might be because he was one of the guests and demonstration chefs at last year’s Alnwick Food Festival.
A very jovial figure, who came across well when he cooked up on the stage, Bob is returning to this autumn’s event and as such, I thought it only fair that I would travel the other way and give his food a try in the comfort of his own surroundings, where he has been for the past 13 years.
As the restarurant’s website describes, ‘Bob and Neeta Arora fell in love with Sachins after frequenting the restaurant as regular patrons, and realised a dream when they bought their favourite dining venue in 2000.
‘From a full kitchen re-fit to a complete interior refurbishment, the couple immediately put their personal stamp on the beautiful building, while retaining the essential character which they and other customers had grown to love’.
It is located on Forth Banks, heading down the hill towards the River Tyne.
While not slap-bang in the middle of the other drinking and eating districts such as the Quayside and Grey Street, it nevertheless has a fairly central position behind the Life Centre and close to Central Station.
As we approached, I noted that it was a relatively sizeable building from the outside, although this is misleading and by the time we had sat down, I was very glad that we had reserved a couple of weeks in advance for a Saturday night.
The building opens into a small downstairs seating area where a couple of people were having pre-dinner drinks, but we were quite happy to head straight for our table.
The actual dining area is at the top of a flight of stairs and once you take out the space of another spiral staircase, it isn’t as big as you expect.
The tables are placed relatively closely together, but certainly not to the extent that I felt uncomfortable.
In fact, I felt it just added to the atmosphere of the place, which was good – a mixture of relaxed and a bit of hustle and bustle.
In terms of the food, the restaurant specialises in authentic Punjabi cuisine and despite its city-centre location and good reputation, the menu seemed to offer very good value for money.
Eating as a couple, we were really in luck as the banquet for two caught our eye (three’s company and a feast for four are the other speciality dinners).
It afforded us a Sachins mixed-meat tandoori starter to share, followed by murg makhani (a deliciously-spiced medium to mild chicken dish), rogan josh (a traditional lamb curry), sag aloo (chopped spinach and potatoes in delicate Punjabi spices), rice and an assortment of nan breads.
This was all rounded off with coffee for the very reasonable price of £43.
While the price was a factor, the main motivation for selecting the banquet was that the menu offered so much choice that I would have been reading all night.
Luckily I wasn’t disappointed and as soon as the sizzling plate of tandoori meat, served with onions, came out, I knew I had made a good choice.
The meat was all cooked well and hadn’t become too dry and the portion size was generous, even two to share.
The curries that followed continued the quality and while both were on the milder end of the spectrum, the spicing in terms of flavour was delicate and delicious.
The sag aloo, often a dry and lumpy mess at Indian takeaways, actually tasted of fresh potatoes in a wet sauce that tasted of fresh spinach, although the spicing was perhaps too delicate for me on this one.
I could have done with one of the dishes having a bit more of a kick, but this is no criticism of the banquet, which did what it said on the tin.
I also have to make a comment on the accompaniments, which actually added to the meal, rather than being there to mop up the curries.
I am no fan of peshwari nans, which are usually far too sweet for my taste, but here the additional ingredients added just a subtle note to enhance the flavour of the bread.
With plenty to eat for two people across the two courses and a cup of coffee to wash it down at the end, we left feeling very satisfied that we had made the trip down.
A WIDE ENOUGH CHOICE TO SUIT MOST TASTES
We went for one of the speciality dinners as it meant there was no need to peruse the extensive menus.
As well as the mains and starter sections, there is also the Sachins spice trail section of the menu, which has specially-selected dishes. On top of this, certain dishes across the menu are marked with a star if they are a speciality.
Plus, as the menu points out: “Vegetarian cooking has been developed to an extremely high standard in the Punjab. Try a selection of some of the very best.”
SELECTION FROM THE MENU
Seekh kebab (lamb) £5.95
Resmi kebab (chicken) £5.95
Chingiri tandoori (king prawn) £8.95
Bateer tandoori (quail) £8.95
Onion pakora £4.95
Paneer pakora £4.95
Sachin’s tandoori (for two) £10.95
Murg karahi (chicken) £8.95
Murg tari wala (chicken) £8.95
Murg bhuna (chicken) £8.95
Karahi goshat (lamb) £8.95
Rogan josh (lamb) £8.95
Shahi gustaba (lamb) £8.95
Machhar jhol (monkfish) £9.95
Chingiri jhol (king prawn) £9.95
Bhein aloo (v) £7.50
Palak paneer (v) £7.50
Aloo gobhi (v) £7.50
Star ratings (out of ten)
Quality of food: 9
Vegetarian choice: 9
Value for money: 8
Children catered for: 5
Toilet for disabled: No
Access for disabled: 2
Overall rating: 9
Verdict: Top-quality Indian cuisine.
Contact: 0191 261 9035 or http://www.sachins.co.uk