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Alternative diet never so tasty; table FOR 2.

Byline: GEOFF LAWS

CHRISTMAS is the season of goodwill, good wine and good food. This last one was particularly good, but the New Year rolls around and the scales tell their bitter truth about every gram of yuletide indulgence.

The challenge lies in acting fast to nip that burgeoning bulge in the bud. If I don't want to notch up an extra waist size and have a diet of crispbread and cottage cheese (and who does?) something has to happen. That's when the 'light bulb moment' occurred and the concept of 'The Alternative Diet' came to me. The maxim is not to cut back but to cut out the richness in favour of the low fat, slimming dishes for the next review (or two or three).

The Valley Junction 397 in Jesmond, Newcastle, was my first target. I scanned the menu looking for satisfying dishes that would keep that needle hovering in the 'slim enough' zone.

Lentil soup was a good start in the campaign.

The light, earthy broth had a soft, almost citrus tang and came with a freshly baked, puffy mininaan producing a healthy sub-continental take on soup and a roll.

My companion joined me in the needle challenge, although obviously she didn't need to, and chose lamb sheek kebab. The two rolls of spice-laden, juicy minced lamb sat beside a waist-conscious garnish of crunchy salad. With these helpfully 'hardly-any-calories' starters, we beamed confidently in anticipation of our main courses.

Tandoori super king prawns for herself and chicken biryani for me. The four corkscrew curls of prawns came sizzling to the table on a bed of softly fried onions. Each one had masses of subtle spiciness and none of the OTT orange colouring so beloved of other restaurants.

My chicken biryani was another great taste sensation with chunks of breast meat, cashew nuts, sultanas, rice and fresh leaf herbs under a tracery of spun egg.

The confidently seasoned vegetable sauce was piping hot and full of healthy goodness.

We treated ourselves to the mixed dry vegetable bhaji, which was moist and suffused with spice and so calorie low that it limbo-ed easily under the bar of indulgence.

If we'd weakened and ordered a peshwari naan, I'm confident it would have been a puffy cloud of soft dough full of ground almonds, coconut and sultanas topped with crushed pistachios. But that would have been dietary madness.

The glass or two of wine was probably a step too far, but it was easily walked off.

On reflection, although I'm fairly sure I stuck to the regime, I decided to steer clear of the scales until a couple of salad days had passed.

I'd hate to pop the bubble of my new found, delicious slimming diet!

Address: The Old Station, Archbold Terrace, Jesmond, Newcastle, NE2 1DB.

Tel: (0191) 281-6397.

Open: Tuesday-Thursday 12pm-2pm; Saturday 12pm-2pm; Tuesday-Sunday 6pm-11.30pm.

Where is it?: Turn off Sandyford Road into Archbold Terrace then immediately right down to the old station.

First impressions: Well presented, up-market decor in the unusual setting of a railway carriage and signal box.

Welcome: Ready smiles, warm and friendly.

Style, design and furnishings: Bottle green and gold with the signature initials woven into the carpet and wall hangings. Ceiling draped with embossed muslin creates an exotic feel to the space.

Cuisine: Pan-Indian.

Wine: Riesling Silverberg. A slender, crisp wine to match a very slim price of pounds 8.95.

Service: Smooth light touch, smartly dressed.

Value: pounds 49.15. How reasonable is that?

Parking: Bays directly outside.

Disabled facilities: Not accessible.

CAPTION(S):

ON RIGHT TRACK: The Valley Junction 397 in Jesmond, Newcastle - up-market decor in the unusual setting of a railway carriage and signal box.; A PEEP INSIDE: Valley Junction 397 is well presented, with ready smiles, warm and friendly.
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Date:Jan 11, 2008
Words:629
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