Tried getting a table yet? Phew. What a palaver. As we finally, finally get the chance to eat out again, the region is heading to local restaurants like never before. Forget eat out to spread the virus, or whatever it was we did last summer, this time it’s serious.
Midweeks in local restaurants are like 3am for office workers. It’s the time when nothing’s happening, when they can all switch off, when they might as well be at home.
Not anymore. The ability to meet friends in restaurants and pubs has lead to an explosion of demand as people rush out to order a biryani and chat about the kids.
Booking a table in a Bridgnorth restaurant on Wednesday was like trying to muscle through to the front of the queue at Harrods on the day of the Boxing Day sales.
One favourite restaurant had a phone that rang off the hook. Engaged. No answer. Engaged. Engaged. Engaged.
Another had a table for one, but only if I got there in three seconds and left after 45 minutes to make room for another diner. Given that I’m 45 minutes away, I passed.
Eurasia, however, is Bridgnorth’s old reliable – a restaurant that’s been supremely well run for just under 50 years and that never lets anyone down. For my money, it’s long been the best curry house in this quiet corner of the world, a place where the food never disappoints and where service is ever efficient. And so it proved.
Dinner for two was a reminder that we don’t necessarily eat out for the food. We do so because we’re sociable creatures who like the hum of chatter, who are happy among a sea of faces, who want to have the close contact conversations that we’ve missed for so long.
The three-star Michelin chef Marco Pierre White famously says the environment, rather than the food, is the most important part of dinner.
He’s right – as he is about most things.
Sitting down for supper at Eurasia was joyous simply because we could.
After a terrible lockdown in which people have been confined to their homes for many months, there was simple pleasure in being able to see friends and family in a way that’s simply not been allowed this year.
Oh yes, and nobody was huddling beneath gas burners on the side of a street, hoping it wouldn’t rain. Indoor dining is back – thank goodness for that.
Eurasia was more than half full by 7pm on Wednesday and as tables continued to fill, it enjoyed the sort of evening that is normally reserved for a Friday or Saturday.
The whole town, and plenty of us from further afield, seemed to descend on Bridgnorth’s favourite curry house for poppadoms, naan and curry.
There were friends who’d not seen each other for months, groups of men who wanted to quaff lager and exchange jokes, a family celebrating a 70th birthday, ladies who were dressed in their finery and were out for a good time.
The staff at Eurasia took things in their stride. While some restaurants might be a little rusty after so many months of inactivity, Eurasia was a well-oiled machine.
Of course, restaurants across our region need busy Wednesday nights for many months to come.
For most, but not all, businesses are built on leased premises and rent, utility bills and much more will still have been paid since March 2020.
Debt will have piled high in many cases, and while one in ten restaurants have already closed we can expect far more in the months ahead.
Many truly are in the last chance saloon and the patronage of regular customers is what may save some.
Those who can afford to eat out are truly embracing the maxim: Eat Out To Help Out.
Money in the till will pay off overdrafts, drive down debt, clear outstanding bills and gradually get restaurants back on an even keel.
It won’t be easy and it’ll take a lot of time.
Such thoughts, however, were furthest from our minds as we sat down to eat.
A plate full of poppadoms got things off to a happy start as we piled them high with onion salad and a yoghurt and mint dip, a sweet mango chutney and a fiery lime pickle.
Conversation flowed, drinks were poured, it felt like we’d never been away.
My partner’s onion bhaji starter was light, crisp and delicately flavoured. Served with a shredded salad of lettuce and cooling cucumber, along with a splash of lemon juice, it was a welcome appetiser and showcased a chef who was on good form.
My chicken tikka kebab was served straight from the tandoor. It had been marinaded in subtle spice before being cooked quickly in a ferociously hot oven so that it was nicely caramelised on the outside, while tender and moist within.
For more than 20 years, I’ve eaten at Eurasia and been the guy who always orders the same thing.
Eurasia’s chicken pathia may well be the best curry in the county – for my money, it is. A delicate balance of hot and sour, it’s a fabulously more-ish dish that keeps this customer coming back for more.
On this occasion, post-lockdown, I broke with tradition to order a fruity apricot curry with creamy cashew nuts, basmati rice and a peshwari naan.
The sweetness of the peshwari and of the curry made a great pairing while the chicken was tender, the rice fluffy and the curry deliciously spiced.
And while I’ll revert to my good friend chicken pathia next time, it was a pleasing dish that evidenced good spicing on the part of the chef.
My partner ate a tender lamb curry, lamb shorisa, in a medium-heat sauce. The cubes of meat had been gently cooked over a period of time so they broke apart beneath the fork.
Combined with pilau and diamond-shaped pieces of peshwari, it made for happy eating.
Service was good throughout. Efficient, friendly, attentive and engaging, it reminded us what we’ve all been missing out on in recent times.
We’ve been promised that lockdown is irreversibly ending – and that means we can all look forward to happy dinners at some of our favourite restaurants.
Eurasia Tandoori 21 West Castle Street, Bridgnorth WV16 4AB eurasiatandoori.co.uk 01746 764895