IT'S an interesting name – EastzEast – for a restaurant sited on a stretch of the city with a long tradition of gazing west.
Its spot, on this expanse of reclaimed and rebranded dockland, is not exactly easy to navigate towards, either. "Unit 2, Kings Dock", is the DIY store-like address.
The backward ‘z’ of the logo would even look
lovely on the rudder of a jumbo jet. But this aesthetic coldness is remedied by the warmth
of the welcome and the sleekness of service,
which is business class throughout
My companion’s taxi driver didn’t know the place, nor did two police officers he asked along the way. I employed a canny navigational trick to get there: the pulsating blue blob on a mobile phone’s digital map, the new Polaris. Unfortunately, the red arrow was courtesy of Google Maps’ interpretation of the postcode, and their aim was way off.
But once you’ve arrived there’s no mistaking it. EastzEast has presence, sure as eggs is eggs: it fronts up to the Echo Arena and more than holds its own.
EastzEast, which started out in that city, is of this breed – more of a curry palace than a house.
Even the plant pots out the front are getting on for a metre in height. With its curved glass front the Liverpool branch – just six weeks old on this visit – looks a little like an airport hotel, or perhaps an airport terminal. The backward ‘z’ of the logo would even look lovely on the rudder of a jumbo jet. But this aesthetic coldness is remedied by the warmth of the welcome and the sleekness of service, which is business class throughout.
South Asian curry may well be western(bastard)ized, but east is still East, and getting to grips with the menu’s terminology took some time.
Meat and seafood starters took in boti, kebabs of the seekh, shami and chapli varieties, pakora, samosa, puri and various cuts marinated and chargrilled.
We identified one we definitely wanted to try – chicken liver tikka (£4.95) – but by the time we got round to ordering we’d forgotten about it. We went for the base-covering mixed plate (£11.95) that includes boti, samosa, seekh kebab, fish tikka and chicken wings. The grilled meats were well flavoured, the fish firm and generous, the two samosa pretty standard.
Veggie starters on offer included paneer pakora (£3.55) and tikka (£4.95), potato and mushrooms dishes, bhaji and samosa, and our choice of bengan pakora – aubergine slices "marinated in our special batter and deep fried". This was fried just-so and we thought it a snip at £2.95. We also liked the sound of the chicken and prawn puri (£5.95) – "cooked in a masala sauce served on a crispy fried puri" which was incredibly rich and filling, largely down to the sizeable wrapping with its distinctive flavour of all-butter ghee.
The mains are split into broad categories. There are the karahi (a type of cooking pot) dishes, "special sizzlers", "Punjabi style special handis", "Punjabi traditional desi dishes", vegetarian, balti, biryani and "old school favourites".
This last heading gives the briefest of mentions to masala, dhansak, madras, vindaloo, rogan josh, bhuna and korma. In another restaurant each of these would then trigger their own substantial drop-down menu, but here they’re presented as quaint as a Vesta beef curry.
The descriptions of certain dishes stood out, certainly, but overall we had a bad case of menu shock. As the waiters circled for our mains order, it began to seem as if there were a limited number of variables rearranged in every possible configuration. Our waiter seemed a little nonplussed that our questions about the style and preparations of the various dishes might be about anything other than their heat.
We wanted to know about the stuff the restaurant was especially good at, about what was out of the ordinary. So he put in a good word for the karahi lamb sookha (£11.95) and this turned out to be the most interesting of the mains. The meat had a pleasingly unusual flavour that was not unlike confit duck.
Seafood balti (£13.95) was the only regret. The sauce made me think of the pot of "stuff" of curry house legend – the vat which (so that story goes) gives the base to the majority of dishes, however differently they’re described on the menu. The seafood included small, tightly curled prawns, a few chewy king specimens and some decent white fish.
The tandoori mixed grill (£11.95) was generous (the price included rice and some masala sauce) and there were some good smoky flavours to the meat, as there had been with our mixed starter.
iWe ordered an extra pilau rice (£2.95) and a "family" naan (£3.50) that was huge and came hanging on a contraption that we supposed was helpful in preserving table space but ensured that the freshly baked bread quickly cooled and turned crisp, rather than damp.
Amongst the soft drinks there’s a long list of mocktails (£4.50) and lassi varieties (£3.50-£4.95/500ml). Real cocktails run £6.95-£7.50, red wines £15.50-40, whites £14.95-35; there are two rose and seven blinging champagnes. House wines are £13.50 and these are the only that are available by the – very large – glass (£4.75). There are six beers (£2.95-£3.50), by the bottle only and all of them are lagers: Budvar, Cobra, Corona, Kingfisher, Peroni, Tiger. It would be nice to have a couple of more interesting options amongst the beers – what about something from a local brewery?
Most of the food was excellent, as was the service, and there’s no doubting a certain sleekness to the operation (even down to the men’s urinals, which start wooshing before you’ve even unzipped).
But rather than exotic EastzEast, that seafood balti had me feeling very much "Unit 2, opposite the conference centre."
ALL SCORED CONFIDENTIAL REVIEWS ARE IMPARTIAL. Critics dine unannounced and the company picks up their bills - never the restaurant, never a PR company.
Venues are rated against the best examples of their kind: fine dining against the best fine dining, cafes against the best cafes, curry houses against etc.... Following on from this the scores represent: 1-5 saw your leg off and eat it; 6-9 get a DVD; 10-11 if you must; 12-13 if you’re passing; 14-15 worth a trip; 16-18 very good to exceptional; 19 pure quality; 20 As good as it gets.