A DESIRE for a quiet Monday night curry with an old mate took us to this charming little restaurant just off the A167 Durham Road in Birtley.

Inside, once past the bar area, which also serves takeaway customers, we were shown through to a small downstairs dining room where gentle Indian music plays and art adorns the yellow walls.

After we were seated, while ordering a couple of pints of Cobra, we also asked for a pickle tray (£2.50) and poppadoms. (£1)

As we were the only diners, it felt like it took a while for the appetisers to arrive, but there was only a couple of staff on and they were dealing with telephone orders.

It was worth the wait though.

We were presented with five small dishes including a mixed red onion salad, mint sauce, mango chutney, a hot mixed pickle and chef’s special chutney.

The poppadoms were perfect, light and crisp with more than enough dips.

We agonised over the starters a bit because there was a good range of tempting options and an absence of familiar favourites like onion bhajis and lamb chops.

I went for something I had never tried before, keema dosa (£6.90) which was two crispy pancakes filled with dry spicy lamb mince with peas and coriander served with salad and lemon.

Absolutely delicious and so, so good.

Wayne went for panch mishali (£6.90) and was served a platter made up of sheek kebab, chicken tikka, lamb tikka, onion bhaji and pakora.

It also came with salad and more delicious mint sauce for dipping.

We swapped and shared bits from our starters, agreeing each mouthful was a treat for the taste buds.

I sometimes find the meat cooked in the tandoor clay ovens can be overly spiced but these cuts were great.

I did not fancy anything too hot so decided to play it safe with the main and go for something from the ‘mild curry’ section.

My Malayan lamb (£8.90) came in a creamy sauce cooked with pineapple, banana and almond.

I know this will not appeal to everyone and many will say fruit and has no place in hot food.

I understand, but for me, the dish just works, and this one did not let me down.

I enjoyed it served with egg pilau rice (£3.90) which was so good I could have eaten that on its own and a garlic and coriander naan bread. (£3.90)

In hindsight, I really didn’t need the naan. It was tasty enough, but very doughy and too filling.

Similarly, Wayne was a bit disappointed with his keema naan (£2.90) as he had been looking forward to a leavened bread stuff with spicy minced lamb only to find the meat in short supply.

Nevermind, he loved his Palak chicken curry (£10.90) which, according to the menu, was ‘cooked with fresh spinach leaves in a thick onion and tomato puree with fresh spices.

He also wolfed down his mushroom pilau rice (£3.90) happily declaring at the end he was ‘stuffed’.

We enjoyed a terrific meal here; the food was faultless and beautifully presented and the restaurant was immaculate.

It was given a ‘good’ rating in terms of standards by the Food Standards Agency following a visit in August last year.

Service, although a little slow, was pleasant and friendly.

The menu was diverse with plenty of interesting items on I quite fancy trying.

Shame they do not have it online though.

We are not short of good quality Indian restaurants, but this is another one for the list and I’d gladly go back.


Sunarga, 5 Leybourne Hold, Birtley, DH3 1QF

Tel: 0191-411-1345

Opening hours: 5.30pm-11pm everyday

Ratings (out of ten): Food 9, Service 8, Value 8, Surroundings 7