“ Address: Forth Banks / Newcastle upon Tyne NE1 3SG „
Although it is often cited as one of Newcastle's best Indian restaurants, Sachins does 'enjoy' a less than salubrious location which means that many people are often totally unaware of its existence. Situated behind the Central Station, the area is semi-industrial though it is slowly being developed and when the new hotels actually open, the restaurant will no doubt reap some of the benefits of the gentrification. Not that Sachins is in dire need of customers; while many restaurants are struggling to fill their tables, Sachins doesn't seem to have suffered as much as many. This was our second visit to Sachins; having had a very positive experience a couple of years back I had secretly made reservations to celebrate my partner's birthday and when he realised where we were heading he was pleased.
I should stress that the comments I've made about the location apply only to the appearance of some of the disused, semi-derelict buildings; there is on site parking which is perfectly safe and there is no risk to diners arriving on foot. The downside to the location is that other than The Telegraph which attracts an rather 'alternative' crowd, there aren't any pubs nearby where you might have a drink before or after your meal; this means that customers tend to make a night of it at Sachins and it's practically impossible to get a table without a reservation as there's not really a turnover of tables as the evening goes on.
The first time we visited we were invited to sit and have a drink while we looked at the menu, before we were taken to our table. On the more recent occasion we were taken straight to our table on the upper floor, as far as you could possibly go, even though there were plenty of free tables on the lower floor and not so far along the restaurant. The table where we were seated had two conventional dining chairs and upholstered 'built in' seating on the side along the wall. It seemed odd to take the dining chairs so we took the 'comfortable' side which in restrospect turned out not to be so comfortable for a lady with not so long legs. The other issue was that the bulb had gone in the light over our table and it was a struggle to read the menu.
As it was a special occasion I decided to push the boat out and start with a cocktail which ended up being the drink that accompanied my meal (along with some water) partly because it was a rather large cocktail and partly because the waiting staff proved rather reluctant to be aware of the needs of diners. Himself drank Cobra with his meal. My Lychee Fizz was refreshing and at around £5 it was a fair price.
My lamb tikka (£5.95) starter certainly sizzled when it was brought to the table and I couldn't decide whether it was black because the lamb had been over cooked in the tandoor and forgotten about, or because it had been sitting on the hot plate for too long instead of being brought straight to the table. There was a whiff of charcoal and blackened onions. The problem was that it was by now so dark in our little corner that I couldn't tell if my instincts - that the dish was horribly burnt - were right. I dug out the camera and took a snap, the flash would illuminate the plate and tell me if my suspicions were correct: they were. Of course, true to form it took some time to attract the attention of a waiter who, when told that the food was burned simply apologised. I asked him to fetch the manager who offered to fetch a new one but by this time Himself was almost finished his starter so I declined, expecting not to be charged for the abandoned dish.
Himself had the paneer pakora (£4.95) which was a really good choice. The gram flour batter was pleasantly spiced and the crusty coating of the creamy cheese was very good.
While we had the attention of the manager I asked for the light bulb to be replaced but was told that this wasn't possible; the light was broken. I asked to be moved to another table but was told that wasn't possible either. I stood my ground and insisted on being moved: wouldn't you know it - they found another table. Still partly in the dark because of Sachins fondness for dim lighting even when it does work, but slightly better than our previous position (not least because we were no longer sitting beside what was a draughty window) we settled down to wait for our main courses.
Sachins is billed as specilaising in food from the Punjab but the menu includes a section called the 'Spice Trail' which includes dishes from other regions of India. Spice Trail dishes range in price from a modest £8.95 to £13.95. The main menu includes an extensive selection of vegetarian main courses (in addition to plenty of meat free starters) all priced at £7.50.
My Goan king prawn dish (£13.95) was a tasty enough dish with plenty of juicy prawns and lots of well flavoured sauce that was made more vibrant with a good squeeze of lime juice but it didn't really thrill me. Hot plates aren't used at Sachins and I'm not the world's fastest eater so the use of a simple ceramic bowl to bring the curry to the table was less than practical. I opted for a 'saffron pullao' (£3.50) to go with my main; this was rather good, there was only a hint of safron but the rice was nicely spiced with mustard seeds and curry leaves though I would suggest that the tempered spices were added at the end rather than the rice having been fried.
Himself enjoyed his 'lal goshat' (£9.95) a hot lamb dish in which the meat had been slow cooked having been first marinated in yoghurt and hot red chillies. The marinating and slow cooking had taken some of the fire out of the chillies without losing any of the distinctive flavour and the meat fell apart beautifully. Himself enjoyed this dish very much. He ordered roti with his main course though, as we did with the rice, we shared them. The roti (£1.80 each) were excellent and made a good change from the ubiquitous nan breads which tend to be on the stodgy side when made in the north east, I feel.
We skipped dessert preferring to head home and have coffee in the comfort of our own home. Truthfully we didn't feel inclined to linger and while some of the food was very good, we were disappointed by the experience. Having been to Sachins previously and had such a good experience I feel I can't be too harsh about this visit. Sachins is one of the most popular and well regarded restaurants in Newcastle and I rarely hear any criticisms.
The three stars I have awarded could have been four if the service had been better; if I had reviewed based on my first experience then four would certainly be a better reflection. On its day Sachins is a great restaurant; this evening it let itself down.