“ Address: 11a Burrowgate / Penrith / CA11 7TE „
For what is a fairly small town Penrith has a good number of Indian restaurants. We knew we wanted to have a curry and made our choice based on the menus in the windows of the restaurants, finally picking Indiagate on the grounds that it had a number of dishes we hadn't heard of before.
The restaurant is in the town centre a minute's walk from the clock tower in the main square (if Penrith can be said to have such a thing), next door to the Co-operative department store. We hoped the interior would be more impressive than the exterior which is pretty miserable; the restaurant is on the upper floor of the building it is housed in and when the restaurant is not open all that can be seen is a pair of ugly heavy doors and a dusty window display. We'd spotted the restaurant in the afternoon and when we came back in the evening the doors were open and we could see from looking up at the first floor that the place looked quite lively. Unfortunately this restaurant is not wheelchair accessible and there are a couple of flights of steps up to the restaurant level so access would be difficult for anyone with limited mobility.
We hadn't booked but there was no problem in getting a table on a Saturday night; the restaurant is quite large and has a mix of large tables suitable for big groups, smaller tables for four and a few tables for two. We were shown to a table where there were conventional high backed dining chairs but at another able for two nearby there were much lower bucket style chairs which seemed to me very low and I was glad not to have been sitting in one of those. The differing floor levels, achieved by the use of small platforms, and the positioning of the lighting served to make this large space cosier and less intimidating.
I have to say a word or two about the waiting staff at Indiagate; when we visited the waiters were mostly young men (teens and twenties) and every one of them was polite, friendly - and extremely perceptive and responsive. When our drinks arrived my partner pulled a face and passed his bottle of Cobra across the table to ask whether I thought it very cold: as quick as a flash, one of the waiters was at the table asking if everything was alright. The problem explained, the first bottle was taken away and a super chilled replacement brought to the table. Later on when the plates were cleared one of the waiters mentioned the 'Bengal mint' curry that my partner had ordered and asked if he had really enjoyed it because he'd seen him pass me a spoon to try the sauce. This time the waiter was wrong - I had been asked to try the curry because it was really good and so unusual. The fact that the dish was completely empty should have made him realise we'd loved it.
As well as the usual curry house classics - jalfrezi, rogan josh, korma and so on - there's a menu section for Indiagate specials, and one for the chef's recommendations. I never understand why restaurants make that odd distinction; doesn't the chef recommend all of his or her dishes? The heat rating of the dishes is indicated by using a chilli pepper scale, the more chillies the hotter the dish. A number of the specials had the maximum of three chillies and I steered clear of those. Himself chose on with two chillies and said he was pleased he hadn't chosen one with three. On the other hand, my one chilli rated main course was disappointingly mild, though undeniably flavoursome. The specials include dishes such as a Gambian curry, a Jamaican one (made with fiery habaneros) and the one we enjoyed so much, the Bengal mint. Although the Gambian and Jamaican curries both appealed we decided that we might we'd prefer to eat those dishes in an African or Caribbean restaurant for greater authenticity.
In the end I chose a lamb sagwalla (£6.95): not a very original choice for me but one that I usually enjoy and hadn't eaten for a while which is why it caught my eye. This dish didn't contain a huge amount of meat but the meat that was there was lean and tender. The spinach was whole leaf spinach and nicely wilted so that it still had some body; I'm not a fan of frozen chopped spinach being used in dishes like this so I was delighted not to find it here. This was quite an oily dish but it was possible by tipping the serving bowl to avoid a lot of the oil; however, I'd have preferred it not to have been quite so oily in the first place.
Himself loved his main, lamb with Bengal mint curry sauce. The sauce was packed full of flavour and the blitzed up mint, which gave the sauce a wonderful dark green colour, imparted a fresh tanginess while there was an excellent chilli kick; I liked what I tried but the heat factor was a bit too strong for me and I don't think I'd have finished this dish.
We ordered a couple of chapattis and a portion of pillau rice to share and although we cleared all the food put in front of us we didn't feel too stuffed at the end of the meal. We'd deliberately avoided poppadoms and starters and felt that we'd made a wise decision as the mains and side dishes were filling enough.
There's a full drinks menu with a good selection of wines at reasonable prices (£15.95 for a decent prosecco seemed like a bargain to me, a bottle of fizz always goes down well with a curry) but I was disappointed not to be able to have a lassi and settled for a Diet Coke.
I'd like to see the loos get a makeover; the dark red colour of the walls in the ladies' toilet was oppressive and generally the toilets were a bit shabby (though not dirty at all). A heater was switched on in there but it was still freezing.
Our total bill for two mains, side dishes, soft drink and large Cobra was £26.80 which was fair for the food quality and the overall experience. The staff seemed genuinely keen to make sure the guests had a good time and from observing the staff engage with the customers, a good number seemed to be regulars, which is always comforting to know. Don't be put off by the unwelcoming exterior; this is a friendly place and the food is very good both in terms of value and quality. I thoroughly recommend it.
Penrith CA11 7TE