From Our Foreign Curryspondent … Dateline: Bath!

(The TATTGOC brotherhood extends around the globe, and we welcome reports of curry expeditions beyond Glasgow – here, The Lord Of The Dansak experiences what must be the most celebrity-endorsed curryhouse in the unitary authority of Bath and North East Somerset ... if not the world.)

REVIEW: The Eastern Eye in Bath

Your Foreign Curryspondent: The Lord Of The Dansak

The Date: October 4

Booking Name: None, this was spontaneous curriage.

The Pub Aforehand: The Raven

In Attendance: The Lord Of The Dansak, Thali Ho

Decor: Georgian period features overlaid with art in a subcontinental pastiche, overlaid with direction signs.

Expectations: "Very Very good foods charming service", as enjoyed by Maureen Lipman (actress, The Pianist)

The Experience:

Sandwiched between a lingerie shop and a far-flung outpost of Edinburgh's favourite state-owned banking basket-case RBS, it would be easy to miss the entrance to The Eastern Eye, were it not plastered from head to garish foot in stickers – and even banners – from Harden's, Les Routiers, the AA, the Curry Club and many other venerable guides. Your correspondents hadn't actually gone to Bath for a curry and nearly managed to walk on past. Fortunately The Lord Of The Dansak's curiosity had been piqued by the breathless self-promotion displayed on the exterior and he grabbed a takeaway menu.

On the menu the amateur-hour advertising was taken to a whole new level with a page of 24 (24!) celebrity endorsements. And not just local radio sublebrities or random I-suppose-they-count-as-famous-people, like Tom King, former Northern Ireland Secretary ("A much enjoyable evening") but also actual, genuine stars like Roger Moore ("The food and service – Unforgettable"). Roger frickin' Moore! ("The food and service – Frickin' unforgettable!")

Clearly this wasn't a curry house that could be ignored. It's not wise to pass up the "Best Indian food ever!" (Jenny Powell, Wheel Of Fortune TV presenter). Our dinner plans were promptly changed.

Pre-prandial drinks were provided by The Raven around the corner, which had just started a beer festival to celebrate its fifth anniversary. Although the most amusingly named beer (Wags To Witches – those wacky brewers, eh?) wasn't yet available we had a pint of tasty Brimstone to prepare us for the curry fire.

Somewhat against the natural order of a curry night we had nearly decided on our order before leaving the pub, although it was all too easy to be distracted from the actual food on the menu by those celebrity endorsements ("A fine meal ... great fresh herbs too!" – Keith Floyd, TV chef).

Behind that colourful frontage the dining room of the Eastern Eye is reached by a steep flight of stairs to the first floor; it is, in fact, above the premises of the aforementioned failed financial institution. Greeting us on the stairs was a giant poster advertising the restaurant's monthly Elvis night. Had our timing been … different, we could have enjoyed our curry while being entertained by an Elvis impersonator. The poster recommended booking early to avoid disappointment (in a 170-cover establishment!) but we guessed that disappointment would be more easily avoided by staying away from the Elvis night altogether. Although what do we know? Maybe it would have been "Excellent" (Brooke Shields, actress). Maybe Elvis was what Brooke particularly enjoyed (she is clearly an aficionado of UK curryhouses).

Inside, the Eye is an impressive space for dining, a long and wide room running the full depth of the building, with large windows at each end and three glass domes in the ceiling. The walls are decorated with murals in an Indian style and hung with depictions of Hindu godesses in embossed bronze. The trend for excessive signage so noticeable on the exterior continues, with no fewer than five signs pointing out the exit, all within ten feet of the exit door itself. It's hard to believe that their customers are usually that drunk when they're trying to leave, but an encouraging omen if so. After all, it could be the alcohol that spurred Jane Seymour to call the Eye "My favourite restaurant" – I love you man, you're my beshtest curry house.

Somewhat marring the effect of the decor were large, stealth-grey air conditioning units protruding from one wall, much the way the grille of a T-bird adorns every faux-American diner in the UK. Only in a formation of four. And even uglier. But at least some people appreciate them, including Johnny Depp (actor): "Excellent food ... air conditioning really helps ..."

The Thali Ho (also known, on more formal occasions, as Lady Dansak) broke with all curry tradition and common sense by ordering the house white. This lapse was redeemed by the consequent discovery that the bottles of house wine have Eastern Eye branded labels, a touch fondly imagined by proprietors to make their establishment seem more classy, although it nearly always has the opposite effect. Draught beer was Lal Toofan, and although other lagers were available in bottle, a pint was swiftly delivered to assuage the Lord's thirst. (Incidentally, with that name, coupled with the traditionally random spelling of curry house menus, isn't Lal Toofan missing an advertising trick in the internet age? It would only take a slight tweak ...)

Poppadoms were properly crisp and came with a superior hot lime pickle. Other accompaniments were competent (is it possible to get mango chutney wrong?) and overall our expectations were maintained for "A fantastic meal" (Rolf Harris, cartoonist and star of TV's Animal Hospital).

Thali Ho was not disappointed by her Chicken Hariyali, apparently a Nepalese recipe for the tandoor: the marinade of herbs and spices was "So Wonderful" (Lesley Joseph, Dorien from BBC Bird's Of A Feather) that it was easy to overlook that the chicken was a mite overcooked and dry.

The Lord Of The Dansak was tempted by the Butty Kebab just for its comedy potential, but is at heart an onion bhaji traditionalist when it comes to starters ... and paid the price for his lack of adventure. Two enormous, wrinkled and thoroughly dessicated brown lumps were served up, resembling nothing so much as a pair of camel testicles left out for a year in the Sahara. Deep inside them there lurked a tiny moist core of tasty onion but the majority was barely edible. They were accompanied by one of those pointless green salads (who goes to a curry house for the salad?) that in this case didn't even provide a contrast to the deep-fried indulgence of the bhajis, being equally parched and inedible. If cucumbers consist of about 90% water, it turns out that the 10% that's left when all the water has evaporated is something you don't want to put in your mouth. The popular theory at the table was that the dish had been prepared before service and left under heat lamps for an hour (salad and all) before serving, although there was speculation about what the dots at the end of Depp's endorsement were hiding ("air conditioning really helps ...”... suck the last moisture from a plate of food before you get a chance to eat it?)

Things brightened considerably with the arrival of the mains, not least from the crimson glow of Thali Ho's sauce, which lent a disturbing tinge of "emergency lighting red" to everything around the table. Her Chicken Tikka Taka Tak was a pungent blend of curry spices underscored by a nicely judged kick of chilli heat. This was probably the best flavour of the meal and a dish to order on a return visit, although she pointed out that she didn't find any chunks of chicken bigger than a sugar cube, giving her some doubts about the quality of the meat.

Lord of the Dansak's choice of Vegetable Jalfrezi wasn't too clever: not that there was anything wrong with the dish, just that it's such a simple confection of vegetables and chillis that it doesn't provide much basis for judging the quality of the restaurant. As we were only a roving duo of foreign curryspondents there was always a risk that two mains wouldn't give enough data points to make a fair review, and The Lord Of The Dansak surely wasted one of them. But, y'know, the Jalfrezi was fine. Side dishes couldn't be faulted: Tarka Dhal was thick and savoury; the rice in the Mushroom Rice had absorbed the mushroomy flavours and wasn't short on mushroom bits; and the Garlic Naan was fluffy on one side, crisp on the other, properly garlicky and not too thick.

Let's end with a quote from an actual publication (yes, there's a whole nother page of the menu devoted to glowing endorsements): "The world's best curry." As you'll have realised, that's something of an overstatement, but what's interesting about it is that it comes from the BBC's "huh, is that still going?" proto-Wikipedia h2g2. So I look forward to seeing what words from TATTGOC get pulled out of context for the next printing. Let's hope it's "The Eastern Eye: it's the camel's baws."

Range Of Drinks: LolToofanz on draught, other lagers in bottle.

Highlights: Chicken Tikka Taka Tak, the only Indian dish that can be ordered by pretending to fire a machine gun. The menu quote from Brian Conley (comedian & actor), where someone appears to have transcribed the bit where the mic was left on: "Wonderful evening ... what more do you want?"

Lowlights: Absurdly dry starters.

The Verdict: Not bad food, but you may get more enjoyment from staying at home and just reading the menu.

The Damage: £65.78 (service included)


The Tramp said...

Top notch reporting - I don't think we'll ever be able to beat that review for star recommendations... although, knowing how curry club works, I think the race might be on to see where else the stars like to dine (and leave comments on the experience).

Thanks for a cracking read...

The Tramp

Trampy said...

I think my favourite Eastern Eye recommendation comes from Les Dennis: "Our survey said ... the best curry this side of Bombay."

I like to think of him doing it in his "Mavis from Coronation Street" accent.

Lord of the Dansak said...

Post-review update: seems like I'm well behind the curve on the lolcats spinoffs. Now with added Higgs' bosons.