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Madrasi Southern Indian Cuisine (Gateshead, England)

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Address: 11 Belle Vue Grove, Gateshead, Tyne and Wear NE9 6BX, United Kingdom

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      15.11.2012 15:06
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      Big portions if you can wait for them at this southern Indian restaurant

      When we go out for dinner with friends the responsibility for choosing the restaurant usually falls to our side; Himself and I are regarded as being 'in the know' about what's new and what's good but with some friends that praise can feel like a burden. When we choose somewhere we've never been to before I feel a particular dread that if everything isn't just right, it'll all be my fault, and there are two friends in particular that make me feel this way. Obviously I'm not going to name them here, that would be mean, suffice to say that Jack and Vera (as they'll be referred to) are the sort of dinner companions that put me on edge and who make me feel like personally apologising every time something isn't quite to their liking.

      It was, then, with a considerable degree of trepidation that we booked Madrasi in the Gateshead suburb of Low Fell. There were a number of reasons for our choice: we didn't want to dine in the city centre and needed somewhere with parking space, we wanted something not too expensive and - at least for me and the Curry Monster, we wanted to go somewhere with a menu that would be a bit different from your run of the mill curry house. Madrasi specialises in dishes from southern India (more specifically the province of Tamil Nadu) and having eaten out a couple of times in recent days, we wanted something lighter which you generally get from southern Indian cooking. Fish features heavily on the menu at Madrasi; there are several lobster dishes and plenty of shell fish options as well as sea bass and cod.

      Madrasi is housed in a tiny stone building just behind Low Fell's main street. There's a small car parking area beside the restaurant but when we visited it was rather muddy from the previous day's deluge. We had parked in a small municipal car park just off the main street and there was no charge for parking in the evening. There's a very small seating area just inside the door but we had booked in advance and our table was ready. There are about a dozen tables and the restaurant was busy all the time we were there.

      The interior is very striking with deep red walls decorated with black and red art work. Personally I found the colour a bit oppressive in such a small space but one of our party loved it. We had been seated at the back of the restaurant close to where a partition wall hides the kitchen door. Just outside the door there was an overflowing bin for food waste where presumably the staff were scraping the plates before taking them back to the kitchen; it is a shame they can't hide this from view as it looked horrible, especially all the bits of food on the floor that had missed the bin.

      Drinks were offered the second we sat down but took a good while to come. As the restaurant is meant to focus on dishes from southern India I was surprised by the lack of lassi of any variety though I was perhaps thinking more of Goa or Kerala, rather than Tamil Nadu. The four of us hadn't caught up for ages so we were full of chatter when the waiter came to take the order; we asked for five minutes but it took a lot of effort to catch a waiter when we were finally ready to order. Usually we'd share a plate of poppadoms but I was ravenous having skipped lunch and when Jack asked are we having starters, I pronounced a decisive yes, lest the deliberations take too long. Part of my reasoning was sheer greed; I wanted to try the duck starter even though I knew I'd probably be fit to pop later.

      Orders made, so began the long wait. Jack's main course was unavailable we were informed though this news came only just before the rest of the food was brought to the table. From ordering the starters to them coming to the table took about thirty minutes. Jack and Vera were sharing a starter, onion bhaji, and were wishing by this point they'd ordered one each as they were so hungry. I had chosen the 'masaledar badak 'which comprised spicy shredded duck presented as a parcel in which a chapatti was the wrapping; it really was excellent and had just the right level of spiciness for a starter in that it got me warmed up for the main course. Himself had the shahi machli in which white fish had been lightly dusted with spiced flour and nicely fried.

      On the menu there were certainly some dishes that were unfamiliar to me though I was disappointed to see that they still offer the traditional staples of the British curry-house such as dopiaza, etc. My chicken with lemon grass (a very reasonable £7.95 for something from the 'specials' selection) was not nearly as coconut-y or as creamy as I'd expected which I was rather pleased about; I'm not a fan of really creamy curries but I was intrigued by the mention of lemon grass, hence I ordered it anyway. The lemon grass was really distinctive and imparted a good flavour without overpowering the sauce. The pieces of chicken were small but the quality seemed good. Vera also had a tomato-based chicken dish which she left a fair bit of, not because she didn't like it but because she and Jack have a tendency always to over order and can never be persuaded to share side dishes. The portions here don't look massive but the food is filling and I'd have been full up with just the main course, to be honest.

      For his main course Jack had plumped for fish - sea bass moilee (a creamy dish containing coconut milk) which, when it eventually arrived, he enjoyed immensely. To my mind the fish was swamped in sauce but he said the sauce was very tasty without being too hot; Himself later reported that he had tried the sauce and had found it a bit flat. On the bright side, the sea bass was meaty and nicely cooked and they certainly hadn't skimped on it.

      My own curry monster had ordered lamb and had gone for what promised to be a hot dish which, when it arrived, did not disappoint. The lamb, he said was tender and the pieces were a decent size so hadn't cooked away to nothing, as often happens when restaurants skimp on the meat. Although he appreciated the heat factor, he also praised the dish for the range of flavours which were discernible and which made for a dish that was a well above standard curry house fare.

      We clocked up a bill of over not much over £80 for three starters, four mains and accompaniments (the rice was so plentiful and the naan breads so hefty that Jack and Vera left more food than I consider decent, but Himself and I were happy with our light but well cooked chapattis), and drinks. Had the service been better I'd be less inclined to feel short-changed by this experience because I did enjoy my food but felt we'd really waited far too long for it.

      I'd like to think we just hit the place on a bad day; perhaps they were short in the kitchen. I do feel like being generous because the restaurant does have a pleasant ambience and the menu is just a bit different from the norm and although you can pay quite a bit for things such as lobster here, there are plenty of dishes that cost a lot less. I'd certainly recommend the cooking but hope you don't wait as long as we had to.

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