FERRYHILL is not generally known for fine cuisine but appearances can be deceptive. Some little gems can be found in out of the way corners of County Durham. The farm shops at Dropswell, near Trimdon, and Knitsley, near Consett, readily spring to mind.

Last month we were on the trail of a little-heralded Indian restaurant which has attracted rave reviews of late on social media sites.

Generally, rave reviews online have to be taken with a large pinch of salt, pepper and any other condiment that you have to hand. But something rang true about the comments, especially the suggestion that diners should not be put off by the rather unappealing exterior or the down-at-heel interior.

I always think that is a good sign as far as Indian restaurants are concerned. The ones that have greatest amount of Bollywood Bling about them usually serve the poorest scran. The finest Indian meal I ever experienced was in a scruffy canteen-like formica-topped tabled hell-hole in Birmingham’s Ladypool Road (home of the Balti). No drinks licence, no knives and forks (curry was eaten using torn-off chunks of naan bread as a makeshift spoon) but absolutely brilliant.

So, the scruffier the better is my guiding light for the best Indian food.

The best thing that can be said about the decor of Bayleaves in Ferryhill’s Parker Terrace is that the carpet looked new – a smart contemporary striped job. But there will not be too many restaurants in the UK that boast mock brickwork wallpaper - and being stared at by a rather lurid representation of a Bengal tiger didn’t do it for us either.

Points were earned for decent white table linen the spotless nature of which was quickly spoiled by Sylvia when shovelling half of a prawn on puri on to her plate. Messy girl.

We had decided to share the starter having had the usual poppadoms and pickle tray. The poppadoms were fine, the lime pickle, mango chutney, raita and onion salad OK too.

The prawn on puri was very good. Chunky king prawns in a sweet sauce were juicy and tender. But the deep-fried unleavened bread base was really excellent –nicely crisp with not a hint of greasyness.

Things went wrong with our main courses. Sylvia chose a Tikka Korai (£6.95), I picked Chilli Garlic Chicken (£7) and we shared some Bombay potato and spinach rice.

As soon as the dishes arrived, we immediately spotted that the main dishes and the Bombay potato shared the same sauce and on tasting it we realised that it was utterly bland slop to boot.

It’s pretty good going to turn a dish featuring small, whole, sliced chillis (complete with seeds) and big chunks of garlic into something bland but that’s what it was. Yes, it was spicy hot and garlicky but that was all. The strips of chicken tikka were modest in proportion and not particularly tender.

Sylvia’s korai had even less character (the least flavoursome Indian dish she had ever tasted, were her words). The same sauce did not have the benefit of the heat from my chillis and the dish had been bulked out with huge chunks of onion and green pepper.

The Bombay potato dish was similarly afflicted and only rescued from complete anonymity by the addition of plenty of fresh coriander.

The spinach rice was the best dish on the table – light and fluffy pilau with of lots of chopped spinach and fragrantly spiced too.

We were offered a dessert menu – a selection of those frozen concoctions which seem standard fare in Indian restaurants these days ¬– but couldn’t be tempted.

Our waiter was very pleasant and helpful but we were the only diners just after opening on a midweek evening. We got the impression we were a welcome distraction from the boredom of waiting for the post pub crowd to turn up in a few hours time.

The bill was £36. It included two diet cokes which were poured from a freshly opened bottle but still tasted completely flat. Whatever brand it was, it wasn’t the Real Thing as the old marketing slogan used to go.

LAST week's Eating Out at Kaffeehaus Amadeus, Lanchester was missing ratings. They were: Food quality 7, Surroundings, 7, Value 7, Service 8.


Bayleaves, 8 Parker Terrace, Ferryhill, County Durham DL17 8JY

Tel: 01740-651660

Open: Daily from 5.30pm till late

Ratings (out of ten): Food quality: 6 Surroundings: 5 Service: 7 Value for money: 6