If your idea of Indian cuisine extends no further than a Cobra and a curry then Zyka might be a step too far. I’m not suggesting this makes you a bad person or food philistine, but you might be better off heading down to the ‘curry mile’, South Shields, rather than turning west towards the unlikely location of possibly the best new Indian restaurant in the region, nestled incongruously perhaps in the middle of Hexham.
The restaurant is called Zyka, a Hindi word meaning ‘sophisticated taste’, and when you style yourself as sophisticated then you’ve already raised the bar pretty damn high both for yourself and your customers. Well, Zyka has been open in Priestpopple for just over a year now, still the new kid in town where Indian restaurants are concerned, but undoubtedly, at least in my view, it’s the best in town and way beyond Hexham.
The pedigree is impeccable. Khaled Miah, who opened Zyka with his two brothers, Rashid and Mashuk, was formerly Head Chef at long-established Newcastle favourite, Vujon, where he won the title of Newcastle’s Curry Chef Of the Year. Khaled originally hails from South Shields and his family run a more conventional Indian restaurant there, but his bold new business venture represents a graduation to a new level of Indian haute cuisine – style, substance and quality guaranteed.
Khaled himself is passionate about his mission to ‘elevate the public’s appreciation of Indian fine dining to a new level’ and certainly the menu is fresh and innovative. The food is sumptuous – delicate flavours, succulent textures, aromatic spices, classic old favourites refashioned with new complementary twists. There’s so much rich variety with striking traditional offerings from Goa, Hyderabad and the Punjab among others.
Khaled’s signature dish is a glorious Shahee Murgh Tukra. A deliciously grilled, marinated chicken breast melded with a natural honey glaze and cooked in a Kashmiri spiced mild or medium sauce. Personally, I just loved the Goan-style sea bass, a regular enough fixture on the fine dining roster but this time further finessed with rare and subtle flavours prepared by Khaled.
Our choice was fish-heavy and exceptionally good but don’t be misled into thinking that there’s an overly piscatorial skew to things. The choice is truly extensive and meat- or indeed vegetarian-sympathetic for those so inclined. Our starters included scallops zolphari, pan-fried scallops marinated in garlic ginger combined with a delicate mint grape salad, Mahi salmon pieces, spiced and served with a grilled pepper, and white crab meat laced with garlic ginger, melded to a spiced coriander base wrapped in purée.
For main courses, aside from the wonderful Goan sea bass, our choice was more catholic, one of us enjoying Monkfish Salan in a curry base alongside medium-spiced baby potatoes, while meat-lovers would die for the gorgeous Nawabi Lamb Pasanda, spring lamb cooked in a rich gravy of almond cardamon.
By now I hope that you’re getting the picture: fine dining, rich and manifestly fresh ingredients, evocative flavours, and dishes cooked with energy and élan by an outstanding young chef. Of course, however great the food is, ambience matters and Zyka doesn’t disappoint. Set across two floors and three separate eating areas, it is ideal for an intimate meal or a group occasion. It’s also been extremely busy since it opened – always the best indication of whether a restaurant is fit for purpose, which Zyka definitely is.
01434 600333 www.zykahexham.com