THE ever-so-well-travelled American writer Bill Bryson said that restaurants that published pictures of food on their menus should be avoided.
It almost equates with the display of plastic fish and chips on plates which are occasionally still on show here and there. Provided, of course, to ensure you'll not forget what a chip looks like.
Take a trip, though, to Sonargaon in Neston and you'll never want to look at a chip again. And, yes, they do have pictures of food on their menu, and it is one of those wipe-clean, laminated efforts. Guess what, another friend said she'd never go to a restaurant which presented diners with a laminated menu.
We were on dodgy ground. But I had been here before and had always found it one of the best Indian restaurants in the area. On the occasion we went there, it did not fail to disappoint. In fact, they were so generous with the food that we broke the golden British rule and asked for a doggy bag. That, as it happened, was our dinner for the next day. Ever heard the one about the table groaning under the weight of the food?
The one thing to remember about this restaurant is that it is unlicensed. Being in the middle of Neston, however, it has the advantage of having the best wine list of all: a branch of Wine Rack, as well as a Tesco Metro within convenient staggering distance.
We bought a bottle of Imbizo Western Cape Chardonnay to drink while we were mulling over the menu. It was light and fruity, and in no way detracted from the spicy delights which were to follow.
In addition, we bought some semi-authentic Cobra beer - "born in Bangalore, brewed in London" - much to my own surprise. That's because I'm not a beer lover and have a morbid, unexplained fear of snakes. But it was nice. What more could I say?
Anyone arriving with drinks will have them rapidly confiscated and then served as though they were part of the overall service - a brilliant touch.
And then we looked at the menu. To say that the choice is extensive, bewildering even, would be rather an understatement. There are some things rarely found on Indian menus: chicken zeera, perhaps. Or gosht palak, chicken nargisi, king prawn karahi and many others. There are the usual dhansaks, dupiazas, vindaloos and all the rest. But there remains a feeling of this place being something special.
As Mark suggested: "It's not an 11pm, get-a-curry-quick joint. It's a place for people who savour their Indian food."
They surely do savour, too. We arrived on a Saturday without a booking and got in. By 8pm, the place was heaving and people were being turned away. The reputation must be quite incredible.
But, back to that menu. We took the easy option and asked for a set meal. There's a vegetarian set meal for one at £12, with set meals for two at £13 and £14 per person. It's truly excellent value for some quite mouth-wateringly wonderful food. "The best Indian meal I've ever had," was Mark's reaction, and he's had a fair few in his time.
The smooth chutneys and popadums arrived almost instantly. There was an interestingly different yoghurt and tomato mix as well as onions and mango chutney.
Within minutes, the rest of the starters arrived: Chicken chat with puri (normally priced at £2.50). It was delightfully subtle, and surprisingly not over-fatty. Major marks of approval for that.
The lamb tikka, too, was tender and plentiful. "Sneaky, though," said Mark. "The heat creeps up on you." Again, we'd made the right choice, as that would have been £2.80 each. The chicken kebabs, too, were hot and spicy and generous.
It was at this point that we began to see the folly of our ways. "Are you ready for your main course, or do you need a breather?" asked one of the waiters. Help!
Service is fast and highly efficient but it does not appear hurried and breathless. "Considered might be the right word," suggested Mark.
Our main courses kept on arriving. It all started with a kind of heater effort on a trolley. Ceremony, perhaps, but it all added to the ambience.
We were offered a brilliantly spicy - yet not overly so - lamb balti, muttur paneer and vegetable pilau. Oh yes, and naan bread. And then a salad appeared. Barely able to eat a shred of lettuce leaf, we ploughed on through wonderful tastes, exotic, spicy experiences like no other. "It's enough to feed a family of four for three weeks at least," said Mark. I could just about mouth beached-whale niceties back across the table.
Main courses average out at the £7 mark. Balti vegetables are priced £5.25 a portion, while lamb or chicken pasanda is £6.50 and tandoori king prawn karahi works out at £8.50. Birianis are around the £7.50 mark.
Then came the ultimate audacity. Having asked for doggy bags, we said we would have the ice cream. Even this, though, was not heavy. It was not the thick, cloying stuff which acts as a lingering memory - sometimes for days.
Add to that an endless supply of coffee, and this was one of the best meals we've ever had on Wirral. And all for just £14 per person.
Call them now. But wait for us to get in there first.
Where: Sonargaon Balti House, 2, Bridge Street, Neston, South Wirral (0151-353 8090).
Opening times: Monday-Thursday: 5.30pm-11.30pm; Friday, Saturday: noon-2.30pm, 5.30pm-midnight; Sunday: 1pm-10.30pm.
Ambience: Busy yet intimate.
Service: Attentive, pleasant and prompt. Remember it's a bring-your-own drink establishment.
Parking: Car park about three minutes' walk.
Disabled: Oh dear. Narrow streets, no parking nearby (not even stopping; traffic lights and crossings), toilets upstairs.
Child friendly: Yes, up until closing time, but no kiddie menus.
Menu: Excellent choice.