TO Fence Houses, or Fencehouses, or Houghton-le-Spring, or Sunderland, to find an Indian restaurant called Naz Haven.

In the age of the sat nav, finding a little-known destination should be no problem. But the combined might of Google Maps, the Android equivalent and two moderately intelligent human beings were struggling to locate it electronically.

In the end we pointed the car up the A690, took the first sign that said Fence Houses and by following our noses ended up in Front Street, Houghton-le-Spring, and found ourselves in front of a building which suspiciously like a traditional English pub.

Which is exactly what Naz Haven used to be, the Duke of Wellington as was, the evidence of its former existence plainly display in the exterior signage - Naz Haven at the Wellington.

The cultural confusion ends at the front door. Inside, the decor is identikit South Asian scoff house complete with flat-screen tellys on the walls and a bright dentist’s waiting room ambience. Tables are laid out (workingmen’s) club style. Cosy it ain’t.

I have restaurateur Bill in tow. He knows his onions and his bhajis and after ordering drinks – Cobra beer for him and flat-ish diet cola for me – our next decision is whether to go for the all-you-can-eat buffet for just £6.95.

Now Naz Haven is pristinely clean and boasts a five star, very good food hygiene rating but we are both troubled by the idea of a buffet on a Monday evening when we are the only diners. Had everything in those large tureens been prepared that day? Most probably so but we decided to opt for the conventional menu.

After the customary poppadoms (70p each) and a slightly disappointing pickle tray (a chunky-ish raita, mango chutney and smooth lime pickle), our starters went down well.

Bill’s Naz mixed starter (£3.50)was not quite as detailed on the menu but the absence of the onion bhaji and its replacement with some chunks of an unidentified white fish deep fried in a spiced batter was no bad thing. There were also some tender minced lamb patties (shami kebab) and some more minced lamb cooked over charcoal (seekh kebab) bedded down on some mixed salad.

My aloo tikka was simple but lovely and just £1.95. Potato cooked with spices fresh coriander and chopped green chillis was mashed, formed into patties, dipped in gram flour and deep fried.

Bill also enjoyed his main course of Gosh Dall Basanti (£5.95) – minced lamb slowly simmered with lentils. Lightly spiced, it had a deeply earthy aftertaste and went down well with a puffy plain naan bread (£1.95).

My Murgh jalfrezi (£6.95) featured some moist and tender chicken along with strips of green pepper, tomato and spring onion. It was quite hot but overall was quite dry. It came with a generous plateful of egg pilau rice (£2.95) – nicely fluffy with lots of boiled egg.

Naz Haven doesn’t do desserts but does provide a plate of fruit (grapes, plums and strawberries) and some walnuts along with the hot towels to clean up after the mains

The bill, accompanied by some complimentary mints, was £37.35 – very good value for the food but the price of the drinks was steep particularly the cola which came to £4 for a pint and half. That’s a crazy mark-up.

Service was acceptable but on one occasion Bill had to shout to get some attention (our table was out of sight of the main bar area where the staff seemed to congregate).

Before leaving we chatted to our young English waiter about how quiet it was (we were still the only diners). The empty dining area was not uncommon he said, especially early week. Perversely, Naz Haven’s busiest time is Sunday when it does a mean traditional English roast and all the trimmings. It must be just like the olden days of the Duke of Wellington.

We thought the Indian fare was way better than average and should attract more diners. Perhaps the canteen-like atmosphere and Sky News blaring out from the TVs doesn’t help the overall ambience. Or maybe people need to turn off they sat navs and follow their noses.


Naz Haven, Front Street, Houghton le Spring DH4 6LP

Tel: 0191 385 8554


Open: Sunday to Thursday 5.30-11pm; Friday and Saturday 5.30-11.45pm

Plenty of vegetarian options. Disabled access

Ratings (out of ten): Food quality 8 Service 6 Surroundings 6 Value 8