Now I know what you’re going to say, this is his third curry in a month. How many poppadoms can one man eat? But wait, this is a little bit different.
I’ve reviewed an Indian meal in an Indian restaurant and had a curry in a pub cooked by an award-winning Indian chef ,but how about an Indian where there aren’t any Indians?
Can it be credible?
“That frightens me,” says owner-chef Matthew Holdsworth of the newly opened Bhaji Shop and Thali Café on Chesterfield Road, Sheffield, not looking the least bit terrified.
It is a dinky little café which serves bhajis, samosas and poppadoms.
And it also serves thalis, lots of little curries, rice, bread and pickles together on a plate.
Despite selling curries there’s not a single Asian in the kitchen or front of house – although some have dropped by to see and taste what it’s all about.
I gather they liked it.
This is not some fancy pants notion of tackling the Indian sub-continent at its own game because the Holdsworth family have been nibbling away at the edges for years.
Matthew’s father John, the Bhaji Baron of Sheffield, built their Attercliffe-based business Masterchef on making onion bhajis for the local office trade – and selling them to Indian restaurants.
Family reasons mean that Masterchef, which also became a café, has now switched emphasis and installed a pizza oven and become the Woodfired Bakery but bhajis have not been forgotten.
Since going for a pizza in Attercliffe of an evening is not at the top of most people’s to-do lists, night time trade was sluggish so Matthew cast around for fresh ideas.
He has never been short of them. He’d already run a cafécum bistro in Totley and a steakhouse in Kelham Island but it was his sister Melissa who came up with thalis.
The premises couldn’t be better. People will remember it as the old Bohemian café, run by the Munir brothers, Sufis who sold veggie and vegan with added fish.
It’s early days but old Bohemian fans have dropped by hoping the old laid-back ethos has been retained (it has) and former Totley, Attercliffe and Kelham Island customers have all come to see what Matthew is doing next. The locals have been friendly. The Bhaji Shop is three doors away from the Everest, a pukka Indian restaurant where the owners have dropped in with a bottle of wine to wish him well.
It has no more than five or six tables on two levels and has a lovely home-decorated feel with lots of reclaimed wood and rather too much Amy Winehouse on the speakers, but it wasn’t us who asked them to change the tune.
The Bohemian was always a sort of Yummy Mummy place during the day and that has continued with a menu which offers salads and roti wraps as well as bhajis, samosas and a special kids menu as well as a thali.
In the evening customers have the choice of four starters, all at £4, followed by a vegetarian thali at £9.95 or a meat or fish version for £10.95 more.
It comes on a board with various pots (I’d love to see the compartmented tin trays they use in India) and dishes featuring a central curry, a tarka daal, turmeric rice, salads and home made chutneys along with a flatbread to scoop everything up.
Being greedy, we chose three starters: excellent crisp poppadoms (three), first-class onion bhajis, of course (two), and a couple of skewers of grilled paneer cheese with a sweet, sticky coating. And there was a cube left uncooked as garnish so you could see what difference it made.
These came with the usual raita and mango chutney as well as a couple Melissa makes, a splendid pineapple and a satisfying aubergine chutney.
It was a good start but how would Matthew do with the curries?
“We do a curry down at Attercliffe but I have thrown myself into an area where I am still learning so I am constantly on a learning curve . . . I would not claim it to be authentic,” he says.
I wouldn’t argue with that but British chefs have been playing around with Indian spices for years and getting something right.
Mind you, if it’s a chicken methi or roghan josh you’re after, go elsewhere.
My thali had a marinated lamb chop sectioned into large pieces with new potatoes and a sprightly sauce as the main event. There was plenty of cumin in the spicing and I could have happily eaten this in an Indian restaurant.
It came with a timbale of turmeric rice, a couple of salads each (there are four, including carrot with cumin, melon and grape and broccoli with pomegranate which was surprisingly successful), more of those chutneys and a flatbread.
This last was a big let down. It was cold, crisp and hard when you really wanted something warm and springy to mop up your food.
“Perhaps they should send up to the Everest for some naan bread,” said my wife.
Her salmon thali featured a light, sweetish almost fruity curry which matched the warm summer evening.
They do dessert but miss the chance to continue the Indian theme: a strawberry tartlet (£2.50) and a flapjack which made me think of my breakfast granola.
We paid £38.35 for the meal. That bread apart it was an enjoyable Anglo-Indian take on a curry so I’ll judge it on that.
* Bhaji Shop and Thali Café, 53 Chesterfield Road, Sheffield S8 0RL. Tel: 0114 258 4177. Open Tues-Wed 11am-5pm, Thurs-Sat until 9pm last orders. Unlicensed but BYO, wine £3, beer £1 a head). No disabled toilet. Street parking. Facebook page. Takeaways.
Star ratings out of five