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Refuge on a winter's evening; FAMILY DINING KATHARINE CAPOCCI Sachins, Forth Banks, Newcastle.

Byline: KATHARINE CAPOCCI

WINTER is back with a vengeance - did it ever really go away? - and we were intent on keeping icy chills at bay with a warming dinner.

If I'm honest I never need much persuading to visit Sachins, but the lure of their delicately spiced and warming offerings made for an especially inviting refuge from the cold.

The famed Punjabi restaurant - 30 years old and still going strong - occupying a landmark building on Forth Banks, is one of our favourites.

We don't go as often as we'd like as it can work out pricey, especially on family outings, but when we do push the boat out, it makes it feel all the more special.

An iconic restaurant it may be - and beloved of the great and good of our region - but that doesn't mean it can rest on it laurels.

And fortunately on the strength of our visit it's still one top establishment.

That's got to be down to the energy and attention to detail with which the charming Bob Arora and his wife Neeta invest in the eaterie.

The pair, who bought their favourite dining venue back in 2000, simply never stop, and have lost none of their energy, greeting each and every guest like old friends. Neeta says she keeps fit just running up and down the restaurant's spiral staircase!

Inside, there is dining on two levels and the classy, sophisticated eaterie has a modern vibe with its bold patterned carpet, walls painted in maroon and the cool photo montage of Indian street scenes.

The four of us were dining on a Saturday evening and were honoured to be shown to seats in Alan Shearer's usual alcove.

Sadly, Alan didn't show up that evening, but we'd happily have bunked up for him!

We ordered a Cobra beer, a glass of Chardonnay, and refreshing lassi drinks for the children ... tangy, lip-smacking yoghurt and honey concoctions, the perfect foil to spicy food.

Sachins is known for its excellent Punjabi cuisine, carefully and subtly infused with herbs and spices, and the extensive menu can take some time to go through.

Fortunately, staff who are unfailing polite and friendly, are very knowledgeable about dishes.

Smiley manager Vik was a big help, guiding us through the menu and advising on strengths of dishes.

The kids made quick work of poppadoms and assortment of dips and pickles, before we tucked into a sharing plate of papri chaat starter, PS5.95.

This was a new one for us ... a street food described as the original Mumbai snack, it was a big hit with all four of us.

It may not look the most appetising presentation-wise, and it is served up cold, but it tastes seriously good.

Crispy delicate wholewheat pastries are topped with a mix of chickpeas, yoghurt, tamarind sauce and mint chutney. It is absolutely delicious and if I'd had nothing else that evening would still have left happy.

The other half and the older teen had the murgh tikka, three ways, PS7.95. The chicken as soft and juicy as can be, marinated in delicately spiced saffron-infused tikka, a jeera tikka and mint and coriander tikka, all barbecued in the tandoor oven.

Younger daughter's Goan salmon, PS9.95, a soft fillet marinated in Goan spices and pan-seared, served with garlic and topped with dill, was a fresh and zippy dish. Perhaps a touch too zippy for her young palate. But I was more than happy to help out.

My main of Kashmiri machi, PS13.95, a speciality dish from the north of India of marinated tandoori monkfish, firm-textured and meaty fish fillets smothered in dark brown, delicately spiced sauce with garlic and Kashmiri spices, had tastebuds tingling in a good way with all the flavours.

A side dish of channa daal yellow lentils, freshly cooked with onions and tomatoes with coriander, was utterly delicious ... a good contrast in textures too.

The other half opted for a dish from south India, nilgiri goshat, PS12.95, which is diced lamb cooked in south Indian spices including mustard seeds and fresh curry leaf with coconut milk.

A dish with a kick to it, layers of flavours, and the lamb meltingly soft.

The children opted for play-safe mild dishes of murgh pasanda, PS9.95, pieces of chicken cooked with mango and cream, and creamy korma, PS8.95, which was nowhere near as sweet as some of the takeaway dishes we're accustomed to. This was more traditional and nicer for it, actually.

Along with these we had basmati rice and aromatic saffron pulao, both excellent, and a giant peshawari naan from the tandoor, which we all tugged pieces from.

It was sweet and moreish, like a dessert almost, stuffed with fruit and nuts, and topped with crushed, crunchy pistachios.

Desserts of galub jamun, PS2.95 - similar to hot soft doughnut in a syrup sauce - was sweet, springy, jammy and delicious, while my pista kulfa, PS3.95 - a sorbet made from reduced milk, cardamom and pistachio nuts - was the ice-cold wake-up call I needed.

It was fine but I have tasted better.

The kids shared a coconut icecream, PS3.95, a generous portion served up retro-style in a coconut shell, and ample for two.

This is clearly a restaurant still at the top of its game.

And chockablock too for a freezing Saturday in gloomy February, a sign that it's still a restaurant to be reckoned with.

FACT FILE Address: Sachins, Forth Banks, Newcastle, NE1 3SG. Tel: 0191 261 9035.

Open: Monday to Saturday, 12-1.30pm & 6-11.15pm. First impressions: Iconic building on Forth Banks. Welcome: Friendly and warm. Style: Contemporary and sophisticated. Bold patterned carpet, walls painted in maroon and beiges with modern photo montage of Indian scenes. Dining on two levels.

Service: Excellent and knowledgeable staff. Value: Good, but can be pricey when you add up all the delectable side dishes. Disabled facilities: Not fully accessible.

It is absolutely delicious ... and if I'd had nothing else that evening I would still have left happy

CAPTION(S):

TOP SPOT Fish Tikka is one of the dishes on Sachins' menu. Rarely seen empty, the restaurant, inset, is usually chockablock at weekends
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Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Date:Feb 15, 2013
Words:1024
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