Newcastle upon Tyne
0191 261 9035
Mon-Sat 12-1.30pm, 6-11.15pm
Bob and Neeta Arora are a Newcastle institution. They fell in love with Sachins as customers, and eventually bought the place.
That was thirteen years ago. Since then they’ve worked tirelessly on the brand, which now caters outside events and even has a takeaway outlet at Fenwicks. The Aroras are involved in community and charity projects – they are, in short, an asset to our region’s life.
But what of their pretty restaurant, tucked away at the top of Forth Banks, under the shadow of Central Station?
For the last few months, every time I’ve driven past I’ve felt a pang of guilt for not having Sachins on my list of Newcastle eateries.
Less than half the establishments listed on www.secretdiner.org have achieved the 3 stars that warrants my endorsement, but of Sachins there’s no mention at all. That’s because the last time I visited, many years ago, I found it lacking.
I hazily recall it was a busy Saturday night and I found sauces without freshness or zest, and tables packed so close together, I could hardly hear Mrs Diner through the babble. But I can’t judge Sachins on this one under-par experience, because each review published here is based on a contemporary visit, not a distant memory.
So I returned last week for lunch with my editor. Yes, I needed an expert witness, and Brian Aitken of The Journal does love his curry.
I’m really glad we went. Sure, the tables are still close together, but they are set with crisp white linen and the décor is modern and cheerful, the service attentive, welcoming and informed. But what of the food?
Sachins specialises in Punjabi cuisine – that is, lots of ghee and dairy, with spicy onion, garlic and ginger. The restaurant also offers dishes from elsewhere in India, but I soon spotted on the menu one of the iconic Punjabi recipes – butter chicken.
|Butter chicken with Peshawari naan|
In fact, this is not a traditional dish at all, but was invented by a man I’ve actually met, called Kundan Lal Gujral. Born on the Pakistan side of the Punjab, he was exiled to Daryanganj in Old Delhi where he opened a shack of a restaurant called the Moti Mahal.
He is reputedly the first person to bring the traditional outdoor cooking ovens, clay holes in the ground basically, into the kitchen, thereby creating what we now know as Tandoori cooking. One day, Kundan took some tandoored chicken and cooked it with butter, tomatoes and yoghurt – the butter chicken. From that moment onwards the Moti Mahal became a place of pilgrimage for foodies from all over the world.
You’d fight through queues to see rows of chickens lined up ready to be covered in spices and lowered into the red hot clay ovens. The resulting dish, eaten with piping roti from the same oven, was a culinary wonder.
Kundan died in 1997, and now his grandson Monish has expanded and franchised the brand so it’s fast becoming an Indian Carluccio’s. But I’m guessing they still make good butter chicken. And so, I’m pleased to report, does Sachins.
It’s not as rich and ghee-laden as the real deal, but it’s smooth, with the tomatoes well-reduced and blended. There is one fault, though, and it pervaded our lunch: salt.
|Chicken tikka 3 ways|
Whoever is preparing the “Punjabi spices” must have some kind of salt deficiency: everything they touched became overseasoned. And that included the butter chicken – not the sauce, but the meat itself.
Other dishes were excellent, though. Tiny lamb cutlets, marinated with Kashmiri spices, made a good starter.
Best of all, we had really good lamb nihari, slow cooked overnight, oozing with bone marrow – the national dish of Pakistan.
The aloo gobi (potato and cauliflower) was good too, as were the Peshawari naan and roti, but our aubergine had also been hit by the salt demon.
Mango kulfi was bland. Kulfi is intense, creamy reduced milk – this was kulfi light.
At last Sachins joins the Secret Diner’s 3 star list; though, if it could control the seasoning, I’d possibly give it four.