“ Address: 55a Front Street / Prudhoe / Northumberland / NE42 5AA „
Regular readers of my reviews will know that my other half collects Indian restaurants. Every time we go to one he'll ask for a business card to take as a souvenir of his visit and when he gets home, he files it away (alphabetically) for posterity in a customised folder. About this time last year he noticed that his collection didn't include any restaurants whose name began with an E; nor were there any Us, Xs or Zs. So began the mission to fill in the gaps.
Eastern Spice is a reasonably large Indian restaurant in the south Northumberland town of Prudhoe. If you're not from these parts you probably call it'Prud-hoe', if you're local you call it 'Prudda';if you want to fit in - and believe me it's well advised -you call it 'Prudda'. It's a funny old town: not as well heeled as Hexham, the next town along the Tyne Valley, but certainly with pretensions in that department. One or two shops are a bit'county' while others are decidedly 'discount-y'. I mention this because Eastern Spice is something between a traditional'curry house' and a contemporary Indian restaurant, in terms of both menu and décor. In short 'Eastern Spice' is a fairly accurate reflection of Prudhoe: when you go in it looks a bit swanky, but closer inspection reveals otherwise.
Prudhoe is just a twenty minute bus journey from Gateshead's Metrocentre; the town also has a train station but it's a bit of an uphill hike from the station to the main street. If you're driving to Prudhoe, you'll find plenty of parking spaces in the evening. We had booked for just after opening time as we didn't want to be heading back to Gateshead late in the evening and we thought we'd timed it right to be able to explore some of the shops and have a drink before going to the restaurant but we'd forgotten that Prudhoe is one of those towns where the majority of smaller businesses close at lunchtime on Saturdays. If you do go early thinking you might go for a drink before your meal, think again: Prudhoe's pubs aren't the best.
The restaurant occupies the upper floor of a terrace of several commercial properties and is surprisingly big though, due to the stairs being located in the centre of the room, a large part is unusable and therefore the tables are quite close. The bar is long and deep but, other than a very small area where customers wait to collect takeaways, there's nowhere for drinkers to sit which means that while the bar looks quite snazzy, it's a bit redundant. Oddly a heater was placed as far from the tables as it was possible to be and, as the customers were all being placed at tables near the windows, it too was also redundant.
We had a voucher, not Groupon but something similar, and while it's not appropriate to go into much detail regarding cost with the voucher, I do feel that the type of offer a restaurant links with a voucher says a lot. We had paid very little for ours, only £8 if I remember rightly and we were under the impression that we'd get two starters, two mains and either rice or bread to go with each main. In fact there was only rice (though we could choose what kind) and one portion of rice was to be shared between the two diners. This was not really clear from the wording on the voucher, though I would hesitate to say definitively whether this was the fault of the restaurant, or the company who sold the offer. When it came to ordering we asked for an additional rice which turned out to be a wise move.
While it seemed mean to share what was a small serving of rice between two diners, nobody would think that the range of starters available in the offer was mean for in fact all but one of the starters was included so I was able to choose the Chittagong crab salad (£4.95) which I'd spotted as soon as I'd opened the menu. Unfortunately the waiting was the best part because the crab meat was poor and any of the sweetness it might originally have had, had been obliterated by the judicious use of rather flat spices which drowned the flavour and made the crab meat a murky brown colour. A few limp pieces of salad leaf, a slice of tired looking cucumber and a wedge of insipid tomato were disappointing; an insult more than a garnish. The crab salad was billed as coming with garlic croutes which turned out to be two slices of only just cooked garlic bread. The mango dressing was no more than a single streak of something like an intensely sweet mango syrup across one corner of the plate.
Himself fared slightly better with his tandoori lamb chops (£4.50) which he said were well flavoured and perfectly cooked. The presentation, however, was no better than on my starter and the big expenses of white plate were more striking than the food. Quite bizarrely the lamb chops came with the same streaks of sweet sauce as the crab salad, barely enough to get more than a taste.
The choice of mains is quite varied and it's worth mentioning that there are quite a few seafood dishes, as well as several meat dishes that I'd never heard of before. Confusingly there are four sections of what are effectively 'specials' but given different headings such as 'Signature Dishes' or 'Eastern Spice Specials'; in my opinion this is unnecessary and makes the menu look fussy. The usual curry house suspects such as rogan josh, bhuna and madras are also available and are priced at £6.80 (except for 'kurma' and 'mossalla' which are £7.15).
After much deliberation I chose the lamb parsi (£8.95), a Persian dish made with channa dal (lentils) and lemon (and tomatoes, garlic, ginger, spring onions, green chillies). I loved the lentils in this dish and it was fortunate that they were so nicely cooked because the lack of lamb meant that something was needed to bulk out the dish. What lamb there was in it did not appear to be great quality and the pieces had been cut too small. The overall flavour of the sauce was slightly acrid, possibly because the garlic had caught slightly and this was generally not a great dish. After the mediocre starter and the poor main I came away feeling a bit down.
My companion in curry had the Afghani style lamb (also £8.95) described on the menu as 'A Classical Faghan dish comprising of lamb or chicken which considering the expense and efforts involved in is normally cooked for Royalty. Cooked very gently in a rich sauce, finely chooped spring onion, flavoured with saffron and served with tomatoes.' (All typos courtesy of Eastern Spice) Other than the same poor quality lamb, he enjoyed the dish and we agreed that it was significantly more flavoursome than mine, though the saffron was not very distinctive. The rice was unexceptional but by this point we weren't really expecting anything to blow us away.
Our opinions of Eastern Spice sat firmly on either side of a male-female axis. Having been served two mediocre plates of food I was not impressed. Himself was less critical having found less to complain about. He told me that the men's loos were perfectly fine, while I found that, in order to create two separate cubicles in the ladies' toilet, a tiny space had been divided in two and only complex footwork could facilitate entry into the cubicle and closing of the door. I thought the restaurant was cold, Himself said he didn't notice.
I wouldn't hurry back to Eastern Spice. The staff were friendly, the interior was comfortable (though definitely not warm!) and the food is reasonably priced but for me the food hardly rises above average and too frequently falls to poor. I've awarded a rather generous three stars at the insistence of one half of my party who found the experience more pleasurable than I did but if it was my choice only, I couldn't give more than two stars.
See website for opening hours, details of special set meals and other promotions, etc http://easternspiceprudhoe.com/index.php