MEAL REVIEW: Char Mausum Indian Restaurant, off the A1, Stannington

Machli masala dopiaza at the Char Mausum at Stannington.
Machli masala dopiaza at the Char Mausum at Stannington.

It’s not the most salubrious of locations, situated, as it is, next to a filling station.

A sickly waft of fuel drifted across a rough car park next to some wagons resting up for the night, as vehicles blasted past on Northumberland’s greatest trunk road, the A1, a few yards away.

Mushroom pilau rice.

Mushroom pilau rice.

I remember it in a previous existence, when it was a Little Chef restaurant – perhaps then, more in keeping with the surroundings.

But now it is home to an eaterie serving Indian cuisine.

As you approach the Char Mausum, which translates as Four Seasons, the spicy aroma of curry begins to overpower the petrol fumes, until you open the doors and suddenly you are transported a million miles from the fuel stop.

There are still echoes of the past life inside, but the owners have done their best to shake off the ghosts of burgers, fried eggs and plain, functional decor.

Pilau rice with garlic and keema nan and chicken tikka masala in the background..

Pilau rice with garlic and keema nan and chicken tikka masala in the background..

Instead, soft Indian tunes eased us into an appropriate mood as we were shown to our table by a very polite waiter.

Napkins, deftly folded into swan-like shapes, were shaken free and placed across our laps – I was liking this already!

We were presented with a menu that was more like War and Peace – it is customary to have a huge choice in subcontinental restaurants.

It took us enough time to wade through the 20-plus starters before we moved on to the main courses, rices, breads and side dishes, by which time, we’d forgotten what our starter choices were!

Crab malabari starter.

Crab malabari starter.

While the combinations of standard base curries and meat, shellfish or vegetarian flavours adds up to an impressive 70 choices, I was more impressed with the array of house specialities, peppered with several dishes I had not come across before.

I wanted to sample something different and was spoilt for choice. Each dish was accompanied with a clear explanation.The boro jinga sag (£9.95) sounded right up my street: Tandoori king prawns cooked with fresh spinach with a garlic-flavoured reduced sauce – mmm!

Likewise, the battak khazana (£8.95): Duck breast cooked with tomatoes, onions and peppers in a flavoursome masala sauce.

Or how about chicken karhai (£6.95): A northern frontier style of cooking using chopped ingredients, coarsely crushed spices and prepared cuts of meat.

King prawn bhajee starter.

King prawn bhajee starter.

There were dishes from across India – from Punjabi in the north to Hyderabadi in the south, and Goan, Marathi and Parsi in the west.

I went for crab malabari (£4.95) to kick off, while Mrs L, who is less experimental in such surroundings, plumped for king prawn bhajee (£6.50).

Both were splendid – simply and neatly presented on a small puri bread, they knocked us over with their delicate flavours.

Mine was a complex combination of coconut, curry leaves, mustard seeds, tomatoes, onions and lemon juice all battling for supremacy. The crab just won the day.

The first mouthful had barely been despatched across the table when there was a declaration to return to sample some of the other offerings.

The king prawn bhajee sat proudly on its puri, but not for very long as Mrs L immersed herself in the spices and the culture for a brief moment.

Chicken tikka masala at the Char Mausum at Stannington.

Chicken tikka masala at the Char Mausum at Stannington.

My next choice was machli masala dopiaza (£9.95), described as cod marinated with ginger, garlic and spices, deep fried and then cooked with onions, tomatoes and coriander in a buna-style sauce.

I ordered mushroom pilau rice (£2.75) and we shared a garlic and keema nan (£2.85).

The dopiaza was quite mild, despite its one-chilli-symbol hotness rating.

But, again, the flavours were a bit special and the fish tasted almost bitter in the sea of sweet onions. The rice and nan were scrumptious and cooked to perfection.

Mrs L played safe again with chicken tikka masala (£6.95), pilau rice (£2.75) and a share of the nan. She was rewarded with ‘one of the best curries I’ve tasted’.

Having sneaked a sly forkful, I had to agree, it was good – very creamy and slightly more kick than a korma. The diced chicken was fresh, moist and delightfully cooked.

Our bottle of Merlot also hit the right spots, with its full-bodied fruitiness complementing our milder dishes.

It had been a splendid evening, a veritable culinary tour of India.

TAKEAWAY OPTION PROVED POPULAR

There was a fairly constant stream of takeaway customers at the Char Mausum while we were there.

That has to be a good sign if people are prepared to travel to an out-of-town location to pick up their curry fix.

That did bring a disadvantage – it was a cold night and as the door opened, a chilly blast attacked our ankles. The heating could have been turned up a notch or two.

SELECTION FROM AN EXTENSIVE MENU

Starters

Maseledar badak (duck)......£4.95

Onion bhajee (v)......£2.95

Chicken/lamb tikka......£4.50

Sheek kebab......£3.95

Shahi machli (spiced cod)......£4.95

House Specialities

Goan fish curry......£9.95

Baoli handi (lamb or chicken)......£6.95

Prawn balchao......£9.95

Raja jinga balti......£9.95

Chicken tikka lababdar......£6.95

Hyderabadi keema masala......£6.95

Lamb jardaloo......£6.95

Old Favourites

Korma, Malayan, Kashmiri, bhuna, dopiaza, rogan josh, dansak Madras, vindaloo, pathia (with chicken, lamb, prawn, vegetable, king prawn, chicken tikka)......£5.50-£9.95

Tandoori chicken......£6.95

STAR RATINGS (out of ten)

Quality of food......8½

Presentation......8

Choice......9

Vegetarian choice......7

Atmosphere......7

Use of local food......0

Service......9

Disabled access......8

Toilet for disabled......Yes (doubles up as ladies loo)

Overall rating......8

Verdict: The high quality of food caught us by surprise. Don’t be deceived by first impressions of the location.

Open: 5pm to 11pm, seven days a week

Contact: 01670 789011 or 789012

The previous Northumberland Gazette Eating Out column reviewed the new McDonald’s, at Cawledge, Alnwick, and if you missed it, here is a link to the Gazette’s top tips of 2014.

Machli masala dopiaza with garlic and keema nan and pilau rice at the Char Mausum, Stannington.

Machli masala dopiaza with garlic and keema nan and pilau rice at the Char Mausum, Stannington.

Merlot red wine at the Char Mausum.

Merlot red wine at the Char Mausum.

Inside the Char Mausum at Stannington.

Inside the Char Mausum at Stannington.

Inside the Char Mausum at Stannington.

Inside the Char Mausum at Stannington.