Man goes to restaurant, hates his meal but insists on paying the full price: how can this be? Answer: he must be a restaurant reviewer.
It’s a golden rule of mine never to reveal my identity until I’ve paid the bill. This has been in place ever since I casually announced myself some years ago in an Indian restaurant while writing the cheque (remember them?).
The owner plucked the bill from my hand, tore it up and told me there was no charge. As I tried to pick up the pieces it looked like a paper chase. He rewrote the bill under protest but insisted on giving me a discount so, as it was witnessed by the other diners, I related the episode in my review.
For the record, I pay and The Star refunds me.
Strictly speaking I didn’t announce myself at the Hyderabad Nawabs in Dronfield but the man who was processing my debit card overheard me telling his colleague of my unhappiness and held his fire.
What happened next? Well, let’s go back a bit.
We’d started with high hopes at the former Greyhound pub on Sheffield Road, which was previously Kamal’s Curry Inn.
A banner advertises South Indian food but the menu actually has only about 10 dishes, including those from Sri Lanka.
Since it is the cuisine of the moment and as South Indian restaurants are popping up all over Sheffield it’s only right that Dronfield should have its turn.
It gets its name because the bosses come from Hyderabad, a city in South Central India, and a nawab is a medium ranking official. There’s a popular Bollywood film of the same name on YouTube.
There is a long, low dining room plastered with posters promising a free pint with every meal on Sundays and Wednesdays.
It was a Tuesday but beer with curry always does funny things in my tummy so I had a pleasant salt lassi (£2). My wife had a J20 (£2.50).
We started well with four crisp poppadoms and a conventional pickle tray with one extra dish, new to us, of an intriguing warm raisin chutney. We ate it all.
Things started to slide with our South Indian starters. Cashew nut pakora seemed to have missed their spicy batter apart from the odd wisp so £4.60 was a bit steep for what amounted to a packet of KP Nuts and some salad.
My mini dosa (£5.80), with a chicken and vegetable filling, was a let down. There was nothing wrong with the filling or the sambal which came with it but the dosa itself was soft and floppy like a wrap or Indian appam.
It should be crisp so you can break pieces off with your fingers and enjoy the contrast in textures between the dosa and its filling. This had to be eaten with a knife and fork.
Owner Manoj Botta said later this was a home-style soft dosa but he should look again at his menu which promises a “crispy savoury pancake”.
Chettinadu curry is on all South Indan menus because it is a classic, lamb or chicken in a rich, peppery, coconut sauce with complex flavours from a constellation of spices. The kitchen here promises 16 of them but they must have been asleep on the job. For a start, it didn’t taste peppery and there was none of that excitement you get with Tamil Nadu curries.
I had the lamb version (£8.80) which had a very high sauce to meat ratio.
I counted eight small pieces of tough, sometimes gristly meat which worked out at a pound a lump.
Kerala fish curry (£9.80) is another favourite of ours. We asked what the fish was and were first told tilapia and then cod. It was impossible to tell.
The fish had been cooked so much it had lost all texture and was soggy in an uninspiring sauce.
There was, however, a decent tarka daal (£4.60), plain naan (£2.80) and pilau rice (£2.80) but they in themselves do not make a good Indian night out.
To be fair, the staff were extremely pleasant and solicitous.
When my wife showed signs of leaving her fish curry she diplomatically said it was too hot rather than too awful and a bowl of cooling yoghurt was brought to the table.
Perhaps we went on an off night for the reviews on the web are mostly favourable but that wasn’t the case with our meal.
When it came to pay Mr Botta wanted to give me a discount, as with all his customers who are unhappy, and to come back again. But Food and Drink doesn’t take favours or how could this column give an honest report? And we write as we find on the night.
It was at this point I revealed my identity but Mr Botta still insisted on a discount. We had reached an impasse.
With drinks the bill was £40.30 but he insisted on charging me just £30 so I caved in.
Hyderabad Nawabs, 51 Sheffield Road, Dronfield S18 2GF. Tel: 01246 419841. Closed Mon. Open Tues-Fri 5.30-11pm, Sat 5.30pm-12am, Sun 5.30-10.30pm. Licensed or BYO (corkage £3). Car park. Web: www.hyderabadnawabs.co.uk