SOUTH Shields is a very popular holiday area. When you put together the attractions of a sandy beach, extensive parks and funfair you can easily see its appeal, especially if you add sunshine to the equation.
In the evening there is the long strip of Ocean Road restaurants which offers cuisines from around the world and all at very reasonable prices.
The competition for custom is keen and that keeps things affordable and nudges the standard of food above the fast food bar.
Remember, even Ocean Road fish and chips from Colman’s are a five star experience. So, Zeera is in good company and so were we as we entered the swish bar area and waited briefly before being shown to our table.
The tables were all but full and, for 7pm on a Wednesday evening, that was saying something.
It might be due to the ridiculously cheap set menu offers, but regulars only become so if the food consistently hits the spot and there were clearly plenty of regulars there.
While we worked on what would follow, we crunched papadoms with the selection of fiery pickles and dips.
The obligatory glasses of Cobra started here and lasted just long enough to prove they are the best choice with hot and spicy food.
My starter choice of kathi kebab kicked things off well. This was a new one on me and I was pleasantly surprised to find several chunks of meaty lamb, along with vegetable bedfellows, wrapped in a rolled, buttery chapatti.
The whole caboodle was draped in a rich tomato sauce, inside and out, and made for a very satisfying starter.
My companion’s salmon tikka was prettily presented with cubes of barbecued fish placed in a crescent around a scrunch of fresh salad. Sadly, it didn’t quite work because the strongly flavoured salmon, coated in tandoori spices, was an uneasy mix.
It couldn’t decide what it was and ended up being neither fish nor tandoori and straddled the flavour divide. She was a little crestfallen, but was cheered up by some of my lamb!
Things began to brighten up for her with her next course, murgh padina. The chicken came in a creamy sauce with bags of ingredients mingling together, topped off with cooling spikes of mint that sang out from the mild sauce like a soprano diva in a choir.
The meat was soft and tender and although, the flavours were too tame for me, I could see how this could be a favourite with a lot of people.
My beef pista was presented as an oval bowlful of creamy sauce dotted with pistachios, with chunks of tender beef just surfacing.
The meat/sauce/nut combination was an interesting idea that just failed to finish.
Although it had good consistency, somewhere along the line any distinctive spice flavour had jumped out the side door and escaped.
Maybe it’s that I prefer clearer flavour lines than this because although it was very palatable, it didn’t inspire or excite me.
Our side dish of chatri was more interesting with a good show of mushrooms, onions and tomatoes in a well-managed, spicy sauce and the pilau rice added colourful accents to the whole experience.
‘Colourful accents’ is maybe the overall feel to Zeera.
The food has some good qualities and the restaurant is clearly very popular, having a relaxed, party atmosphere and being very family friendly, but when you go for the middle range you inevitably run the risk of losing out on the peaks of distinction.
Address: Zeera, 206 Ocean Road, South Shields, NE33 2JQ
Tel: (0191) 456-1811
Open: Sunday-Thursday 5.30pm-12am, Friday-Saturday 5.30pm-1am.
Where is it? On the un-pedestrianised part of Ocean Road in the heart of South Shields.
First impressions: The usual layout with the bar and small seating area leading to the dining room.
Style, design and furnishings: Clever lighting makes the most of the space with occasional floral pieces adding colour to the off-white walls. Ceiling spaceship light reminiscent of Close Encounters.
Wine: Cobra beer this time.
Value: We chose from the full menu and paid a very reasonable £33.85, including three halves of cobra. Also available weekdays are two courses for £5.95 and £8.95 on Saturdays.
Parking: Street parking.
Disabled facilities: Fully accessible.