Babul’s, 9, Market Place, Barnard Castle DL12 8NF

Tel: 01833-630575



A BALMY Barney evening, gone eight o’clock. Doors are open to a couple of pubs, and there are two or three people waiting quietly in socially distanced queues outside the pizza takeaways.

But at Babul’s, a gaggle of people has gathered in the shadow of the Buttermarket. There are diners in shirt sleeves on the four tables outside the Indian restaurant, even though there’s a bit of a nip as the night descends; there are a couple waiting for their takeaway collection slots, and there are a dozen of us waiting for tables.

During the pandemic, Babul’s has been voted as the best takeaway by readers of The Northern Echo and Darlington & Stockton Times, it has received a County Durham Together Award for delivering 10,000 meals to key workers and the vulnerable, and it seems to have overwhelmed social media with its posts.

It does coffee, cocktails and curry as it develops a round-the-clock offer from mid-morning refreshments, through lunch naandwiches to late night drinks.

So there is a buzz about Babul’s, and although we’d tried to book for 7pm, the earliest table available was 8.15pm.

Inside, the restaurant was dark and atmospheric with a pleasant vibe.

We were shown to our table and instructed on how to order drinks via a tablet computer. It twice locked us out, a vodka and a tonic had to be ordered from separate menus, I couldn’t get an orange juice and lemonade in the same glass, and although I pressed for a large bottle of water, the shopping basket would only register a small.

It was exasperating, although we were assured that a new, improved system was imminent – and it may well be more convenient, mid-meal, to send an order direct to the bar rather than try and catch the eye of a dashing waiter.

And, when it arrived, Theo’s mango mocktail (£4.50) was a refreshingly tasty showstopper.

I was nearly as exasperated by the menu, which is largely small yellow type on a black background which, in the subdued lighting, was a strain for my ageing eyes.

For nibbly starters, we had a poppadom (80p), spicy olives (£2), kale crisps (£1.50) and Tikka Bites (£4.50).

The poppadom was clean, fresh and crispy, but I hadn’t seen that you had to order a pickle tray separately. The olives were fine, but we loved the kale crisps – deep fried, crunchy greenery with a salty, spicey magic to them.

And the Tikka Bites were fabulous: four juicy, succulent lumps of orange tikka marinaded chicken with a brilliant white centre, served with a few green leaves, and a little raita – it didn’t have the edginess of yoghurt or the harshness of mint, but creamily accompanied the chicken. I have to say that I do not recall having a more perfect grilled piece of chicken – although I also have to say that I barely got to eat any of it as Theo, our son, thought it was fabulous and quickly spirited it away.

Babul’s is derived from the Spice Island family of takeaways that began in Darlington 30 years ago – in fact, I attended the opening night in the denes and for at least two decades a fading polaroid of my back could be seen tucked into the framed menu beside the counter.

The menu is, therefore, familiar: korma, bhuna, jalfrezi etc, but there are several youthful touches to give things a new twist, and everything was beautifully presented at the table.

Theo had his favourite chicken tikka masala (£9), which is probably now Britain’s national dish. This version wasn’t as virulent red as in other places, and was far less sweet. In fact, it almost had a touch of creamy delicacy to it, with lovely chunks of chicken in it. Theo perhaps didn’t appreciate that delicacy as he charged into it with a huge cheese naan (£3).

Petra, my wife, had Paneer Saag (£9), which was fried fingers of cheese placed on top of a beautiful bed of creamy spinach – the cheese was not mixed in with the spinach, as in some places, so you could appreciate it. It was topped with the kale crisps, which gave a little crunch to a smooth dish.

She had it with a Spiced Gobi (£4) side dish, ordered from an extensive selection of vegan plates. It was nice, firm and lightly spiced cauliflower florets.

The centrepiece of the menu was Babul’s Undaal, which is a grill, and I opted for the Mix It Up (£14), which contained a bit of everything: those Tikka Bites, a Shish Kebab, a lamb chop and a quarter of a chicken and a Portobello mushroom, all marinaded in Babul’s tikka. All the meat was nicely cooked, with the chargrill mixing with the tikka, and although I could rave once more about the chicken, I thought the star of the dish was the mushroom, which kept its moistness, its shape and its big mushroomy taste and yet was coated with tikkaness.

The plate came with a portion of greenery – kale, broccoli and mangetout – which made this a very good fusion dish.

I had with it a portion of chips.


Rice is fine – and the vegetable rice (£3.50) that helped Theo with his sauce had a wide variety of firm veg in it – and I would normally order it for the sake of authenticity, but Babul’s range of Indian-themed chips persuaded me that this most English of dishes could have had a genuine sub-continental cousin. There were masala dusted chips, or keema loaded chips, but I chose Chilli Chips (£3.50).

And they were startlingly chillified – too hot for Theo, so it was good we had managed to acquire a large bottle of water. They came laced with onions and peppers to create a pleasant side dish, although if I had my time again, I wouldn’t have been so brave on the heat.

This was a very vibrant meal of great tastes, fine cooking and little twists of imagination. It’s easy to see why there is a buzz, and a crowd, about Babul’s which is considering breaking out of Barney into a neighbouring town.



Ambience: 7

Food quality: 8

Service: Humans 8; Tablet 4

Covid Security: 8

Value for money: 8