Restaurant review: A spicy return to Preston's eastZeast
It opened with a fanfare and was just what Preston needed at the time.
A centrally located Indian restaurant and shiny, upscale, bar large enough for those party bookings as well as a date night and snazzy enough to add a sense of occasion for the dressed-up Friday hordes.
The menu was expansive but well-curated mix of Punjabi specialities and more-traditional British Indian favourites and the prices reasonable.
In theory it couldn’t go wrong.
I thought it was great the first time I went and returned several times after that for different occasions - the food was reliable and visiting was an enjoyable experience.
But then it all went a little bit pear-shaped.
First the restaurant, part of a small family-owned chain, was dealt a blow when in 2017 it was ordered to pay a total of £43,919.50 for health and safety breaches over faulty kitchen equipment which put employees at risk.
This episode was safely put behind the restaurant and it traded on, only to be given just two stars (out of five) by the food standards agency ratings scheme (website last updated July 9, 2019) , further denting its reputation.
Two stars means need improvement because of poor hygiene and structural compliance.
It doesn’t sound great although presumably it was the kick up the backside management needed. I hope.
So why did I even bother, I hear you ask?
I wouldn’t usually go to anywhere sub four stars.
I bothered because when it’s good, eastZeast is genuinely a good restaurant so I put my concerns aside.
Even on a Saturday night, regardless of hygiene ratings, it was still pretty full and full of laughter and people having a good time.
We arrived and were welcomed past a burly security guard by smiling staff into the main bar and ushered to booked table.
The restaurant itself has four main areas- the bar and three main eating areas, upstairs and the side lower floor sections.
An effort has been made here - the walls are upholstered in sparkling material and mesmerising water features built into the walls plus the bar itself is pretty large for a restaurant and filled with welcoming sofas and chairs.
It’s trendy and well laid out with screens slightly tempering the acoustic issues in such a large, potentially echoing space.
We were seated in the back corner and got down to ordering. So far so good.
A bottle of wine, water for the table, poppadums and dips arrived at the table with little ceremony and we dove straight in. I was pretty impressed with dips - there was a large selection of fresh-seeming choices and we kept them on the table throughout the meal.
Next up, starters. I ordered Chicken Boti Tikka which was chicken breast marinated in eastern spice and chargrilled while my partner Gray ordered Tiger Prawns grilled in eastern spices.
Mine was pretty predictable and perfectly tasty but Gray was convinced he’d been sent chicken by accident - but ate it anyway as he was hungry.
It was only when he offered me a piece to taste, it was immediately obvious it was indeed a prawn.
Massively overcooked and resembling chicken but a prawn all the same. Not the most auspicious of starts.
Next on the agenda was the main course. I very predictably ordered the Chicken Madras with pilau rice from the traditional menu.
Gray ordered the traditional Punjabi Lamb Sooka Bhuna, also with pilau rice.
Quite simply because I like the novelty (predictably we were too full to eat more than one tasty bite each) we also ordered a garlic nan which arrived hung on a metal spike.
My Madras was tasty.
Quite spicy (I like it hot) and with decent quality well-cooked chicken and a delicious sauce with the Punjabi-style flavouring that make this restaurant slightly different.
Gray struggled with a lamb which he said was overly-salty and he largely filled up on my curry.
Fortunately I was stuffed.
It was an enjoyable evening at eastZeast though there is work to do and the hygiene ratings need improving immediately.
Staff are rushed and appear stressed and the food is hit and miss, the experience is not what it was when it opened.
But you get the feeling, if eastZeast can get its act together, it could once more be a major player in the city’s food offering.
Check out the eastZeast website HERE