There are a some local Indian restaurants that M&C would say are definitely worth a visit. Monsoon in Ryde is a lively, modern curry house that Matt and Cat are always happy to recommend. The veteran Saffron in Cowes also has many fans, and M&C have enjoyed several meals there. It remains true that Indian cuisine on the Isle of Wight has not universally enjoyed the huge improvements in standards and choice that other sectors of the Island’s food and drink offering have seen over the last decade or so and, to be perfectly frank, Cat has all but given up going out for a curry. It may be that she always chooses poorly. Not being one for the hot stuff, her rota of chicken tikka masala, chicken passanda and chicken korma (the mildest red one, the mildest yellow one and the mildest orange one) is never going to set anyone’s arse on fire.
It has been quite a while since the old Taj Tandoori in Sandown High Street emerged from its chrysalis as the shiny new Eastern Eye in early 2013. With Cat taking a curry hiatus it fell to Matt and companion Bill to give the place the once over.
Rare indeed would be the curry house that omits all the classics. An Indian restaurant menu usually has screeds of standard – and sometimes indistinguishably similar – dishes, promising marinated meats, cooked with tomatoes and onion. Or onion and peppers. Or tomatoes, onion and peppers. And ‘spices’. Having recently eaten in the country’s home of the curry – Leicester – Matt and Cat can confirm that there is little to distinguish one region’s menu from another and perhaps, like McDonald’s, people are comforted by this uniformity. However, many restaurants on the Island have taken their seats on the local distinctiveness bus and are riding it to the nearest fisherman, market gardener or herdsman. People are interested in the provenance of their food and some eateries capitalise on this by trumpeting about their relationships with local suppliers. Yet somehow this locavore movement has passed the typical Indian restaurant by; so much so that a glance at the bill of fare is almost unnecessary.
But if you don’t check out the Eastern Eye menu you risk missing a few specials that might be worth a second look. Eastern Eye Royal Delight, for example, is described boldly as ‘The finest dish on the menu’. And indeed, it might be so with its ‘Diced marinated lamb and boiled egg, chicken tikka and minced lamb balls mixed with a special spicy exotic sauce’. Matt was sorely tempted. As it was he took another choice from the ‘Speciality’ section: garlic lamb, which, apparently, had been ‘introduced due to popularity’. Strong claims, and claims which, to Matt’s surprise and pleasure, seemed likely to be true. The garlic lamb was a straightforward dish, big slices of lamb soaking in a potent sauce, sweet and spicy; topped with a few sliced and roasted garlic cloves that had a splendid bitter accent which made this a cut above the usual identikit curry offering. Bill enjoyed a lamb dansak that was similarly tasty, with a rich lentil-based sauce that was generously supplied with meat. A mushroom bhaji on the side was a good contrast to the mains in taste and texture, with no sign of the oily puddle that can sometimes let down a vegetable bhaji dish.
Chutney tray £2.00
Papadom x 2 £1.40
Cobra beer x 2 £7.80
Garlic chicken £8.50
Lamb dansak £5.95
Mushroom bhaji £3.95
Pilau rice x 2 £4.80
The guys declined the dessert menu, with its photo parade of puddings – including Matt’s nemesis Punky Penguin. Let’s consider this plastic-housed pud for a moment: how often do you encounter a child eating a curry, or see a children’s menu, in an Indian restaurant? Let Matt and Cat tell you – not very often. The curry house, it could be argued, mostly caters to grown-ups. So why, oh why, do they insist on having this childish dessert? Yes, M&C can see why restaurateurs might want long-life puddings that they can keep in the freezer; but these can be served in a bowl the old-fashioned way – or a flowerpot if you’re some sort of culinary hipster. But in a penguin? And, due to its small parts, it’s apparently not even suitable to be served to children under three years old!
Getting their sweet fix from the mints that came with the bill, Matt and Bill paid up and set off back out to enjoy the delights of Sandown. They were well fed and satisfied, and maybe even slightly surprised at having found another candidate to join the still modest list of stand-out Indian eateries on the Island. From the outside, Eastern Eye seems to have little to distinguish it from its peers. Inside, it matches any nice, clean, modern curry house, and yet does nothing to make the prospective diner expect anything memorable. But the food – well, that was pleasantly good. Matt will doubtless be venturing back to Sandown one day to try the Eastern Eye Royal Delight – perhaps even persuading Cat to go with him.