There’s always been a sense of adventure when going for a meal at 353 Abbeydale Road, Sheffield.
Some years ago it was a veggie and vegan eaterie called Kumquat Mae, possibly the second best name for a local restaurant after Sam n Ella’s on Ecclesall Road (say it quickly).
At Kumquat Mae we once went for dinner but no one came to greet us, so we found a table, sat down, opened our bottle of wine and had 10 minutes drinking time before a waitress emerged from the kitchen.
Another time the door was locked against the wind which had blown down the bus shelter opposite so a customer had to let us in, then the chef walked out halfway through service saying “I need time off, too, you know.”
It still managed to be a decent meal.
Later on it became Rupyaal, run by a cricket-loving Kashmiri who on our visit had given his waiter the night off to prepare for a trial at Headingley with the advice: “Get yourself ready’ – that’s more important than this restaurant, playing for Yorkshire.”
Sadly, fate bowled Rupyaal a googly and it closed. Today, after some time being empty, it is Darya, a Persian restaurant but the blinds are closed so I can’t peek in or see a menu in the window.
What’s even more mysterious is that there’s no phone number, no website, no TripAdvisor, Facebook nor Twitter mention and an internet search for Darya in Sheffield only turns up a YouTube video of an Egyptian belly dancer from Latvia performing at another Persian restaurant, Shiraz, further down Abbeydale Road.
Still, we’re hungry and have a yen for a kebab so go anyway and my first impression on opening the door is that we have walked into someone’s front room. There are more armchairs and cane sofas on view than tables.
Darya is on two levels: just two tables of four in front and another four tables up some steps at the back but new owner Yousif Lami has big plans.
Planning permission has been granted to extend at the back, more or less doubling the covers, while the front will house a tandoori oven and coffee machine.
He produces a short menu with some 20 starters and mains and explains he has only been there two months since running a takeaway in nearby John Street.
Yousif is having to do the cooking and waiting on since one waitress is on holiday and the other is late but he copes well.
He says he has not had time to go online, leaflets are currently being printed and the landline is just about to be installed.
Local Iranians have picked up on Darya opening on the Persian grapevine but European diners with little information to go on seem to have been scarce.
There are only half a dozen starters, so cheap we have three of them.
Kashke bademyan (£3) is aubergine fried with walnuts, onions, mint and mashed to a paste. The smokiness suggested that the aubergine had been roasted first.
Maaste mousir (£2) was a thick, lemony homemade yoghurt while salad shirazi (£2) was a version of that ubiquitous Middle Eastern salad of tomato, onions and cucumber.
In with the price came several flatbreads. The menu calls then naans but they reminded me more of lavash or chapattis.
It was a mini-mezze for two for £7 and we reckoned that was great value.
There had been a couple of Persian customers in when we arrived so when they left Yousif had plenty of time to talk.
He has been in the UK for 15 years after life got too dangerous back in Iran so decided to slip away. “I said to my father don’t tell my mother I’m going, I’ll phone her from London.”
Main courses are divided into kebabs and stews.
Joojeh kebab (£7) was marinated grilled chicken breast meat that was slid off the skewer with saffron Persian rice, lots of it, and a grilled whole tomato. My dish, baughali polo machiche (£7.50) was a very tender lamb shank and very great deal of rice.
That’s the thing about Persians: they love their rice. So do we but we couldn’t finish it.
I like the long, thin, curving gains of Persian rice but a Western palate prefers a little sauce for relief. I got a bowl of lamby tasting sauce, principally meat juices, but it didn’t really go with the chicken. Perhaps we should have saved some of that excellent yoghurt or Yousif could serve some on the side.
Persian restaurants over here don’t seem to bother too much with vegetables unless they can stick them on a skewer. And veggies might miss out here, apart from the starters the only non meat dish is an aubergine stew.
There are no desserts as yet and that coffee machine hadn’t been installed so we had Persian teas on the house.
Darya is probably more a café than a restaurant at present with simple, tasty food and exceedingly cheap. With two soft drinks we paid £23.90.
Darya, 325 Abbeydale Road, Sheffield S7 1FS. Tel: 0114 438 778. Open all week 1-11pm. Cash only. Unlicensed but BYO (no corkage). No disabled toilet. Street parking. Takeaways and deliveries.