BOARDING the Passage to India train service to The Valley restaurant at Corbridge was like taking a train trip down memory lane.
It was a time known as pre-kids when hubby and I last took the ‘curry express’ to The Valley, an Indian restaurant housed in the historic Old Station House on the North platform at Corbridge station.
With both kids now grown into teenagers (how did that happen!) we were well overdue a return visit.
We were met at Newcastle by friendly restaurant staff, one dressed in traditional Indian robes, and escorted from the station to the train and on to the restaurant.
One carriage was set aside for Valley diners who can enjoy a glass of vino (red or white on offer at £3.25 for a 175ml glass or £12.95 a bottle) while you make dining selections.
It’s all good fun, a jolly party-style atmosphere, with some big party groups, and scenic country views to savour as you travel through the Tyne Valley, stopping at Wylam, Stocksfield and Riding Mill along the way.
On the return trip there’s no special carriage arrangement, so it’s a case of where you can find a seat! And the Saturday we returned it was very busy.
Our kids still enjoyed the novelty of the train ride and the valley views, and, like us, found the cosy restaurant, which is divided into smaller areas, utterly charming.
The restaurant is housed in a handsome, characterful listed stone building, with dining on two levels. It’s reached across the bridge when arriving from Newcastle but handy for returning as it’s a few steps from the eaterie to the platform.
It’s pretty as a picture at the moment, with window boxes of colourful blooms at the sash windows and well- tended shrubbery.
We dined on the first floor, with views of windows at both sides. The occasional train rumbled by, adding to the quirky dining experience.
Tables were smartly dressed with white table linen and crystal glasses sparkling. The place was spick and span, all very comfy.
The Valley, which also has sister restaurants The Valley Connection 301 in Hexham, and the Valley Junction 397 in Jesmond, partly housed in a train carriage, has won a clutch of awards. As well as Best in the North East in the British Curry Awards and Best in the North by the Curry Club of Great Britain, it recently come fourth in the Tiffin Cup awards, a competition held at the House of Commons, where restaurants are nominated by MPs.
The Passage to India train service costs £36.50 per person (for parties of fewer than 10 people), including the return train ticket, and diners can choose any starter and main from the a la carte menu, supplemented by chef’s choice of vegetables, naan bread and rice, followed by dessert and coffee.
It was choc-a-bloc in the restaurant but our starters were fairly swift to arrive, waiters having phoned the order ahead from the train.
My starter of bhuna prawn on puri, small peeled prawns cooked with herbs and spices, completely covering a fluffy, puffed-up pancake, was a treat.
Sheek kebab, the other half’s choice, two minced lamb rolls, shaped like sausages, cooked over the charcoal, and served with simple, perky salad, was tasty, the minty yoghurt sauce offsetting any dryness.
Both daughters tucked in to vegetable pakura, £3.95, four little veggie packed morsels, deep-fried to perfection, and served with fresh salad garnish. They, too, added minty yoghurt dip.
All the dishes looked attractive on the plate, and were carefully presented by friendly, well-trained staff. Indeed owner Daraz Aziz, in smart suit, could be seen directing operations in the restaurant, and clearing away tables himself.
My main of Kashmiri chicken was a sweet mild dish, subtle spices nicely melded in creamy sauce with sultanas and almonds, coating soft and succulent chunks of chicken breast.
The accompanying vegetable pilaw rice, the rice dish of choice for the four of us, was clearly freshly made and packed full of seasonal vegetables.
Both daughters opted for the mild, failsafe dish of chicken korma, again an excellent choice, the softly cooked chicken pieces plentiful, the sauce creamy and coconutty, peppered with sultanas.
They were impressed, declaring it one of the best kormas they’d ever tried.
Hubby’s lamb rogan in rich tomatoey sauce was a medium- strength dish, packing a great flavour punch. The slow-cooked tender lamb was soft and fall-apart. We dipped our naan breads into the assortment of sauces, mopping up as we went.
Peshwari naan, with its rich and fruity filling, and stuffed paratha, a fried pancake-style offering filled with vegetables, were freshly made and both excellent.
Tarka dahl, lentils flavoured with garlic, was beautifully textured, full of flavour, while sag aloo, spinach and new potatoes, a spicy side dish.
I don’t know how we had room for dessert but after a suitable rest we tucked in to delightful pud of gulab jamun. The traditional Indian dessert, light and fluffy hot doughnuts coated in sugary syrup, was exquisite, hot and sweet, the swirl of tangy cream on the plate, topped with crushed pistachios, a wonderful foil.
Before long it was time to hot foot it to the platform for the train ride back to reality.
Address: The Valley, The Old Station House, Station Road, Corbridge, Northumberland, NE45 5AY. Tel: 01434 633434.
Open: Monday-Saturday, 6-11pm. Closed Sundays.
First impressions: Restaurant housed in old station building, a handsome stone building, with window boxes of flowers and well-tended shrubbery.
Welcome: Warm. Busy restaurant with jovial atmosphere.
Style, design and furnishings: Red and gold carpet, curtains at windows, white table linen. Smart and comfortable.
Drinks: Hungarian Nagyrede Estate Pinot Grigio, £13.95 per bottle. Diet Cokes, £1.95.
Service: Smartly turned- out staff, very friendly and efficient.
Value: Good. Costs £36.50 per person including return rail ticket to Newcastle.
Disabled facilities: Not accessible.