Sheffield’s oldest Indian restaurant will soon have a makeover. Colin Drury checked out its retro feel while he still could...
So, we’re at a restaurant which opened in 1967 and it seems entirely possible the wallpaper hasn’t changed since. If you were an estate agent, you’d probably call the decor at Ashoka, in Ecclesall Road, ‘vintage kitsch.
This is Sheffield’s oldest Indian eaterie, and you can sort of tell. On the floor the carpet is threadbare, while the seating is in serious need of an upholster’s attention. The colonial booths and faux-Indian art here scream 1960s, when curry in England meant a plate of chicken madras and chips, and a pint of John Smiths. And scampi for the lady, if you please.
In an age when Asian eateries are all about polished chrome and black glass, Ashoka - a slim 36-seat neighbourhood place - feels frozen in time; preserved for posterity from a period when curry-house chic constituted looking like the dining car of a 19th century British Empire train between Bombay and Delhi.
It is, in short, magnificent.
It won’t stay this way for long, as it turns out. Plans are afoot to give the place a makeover. In two months, owner Rahul Amin - who took over from original proprietor Kamal Ahmed 10 years ago - will shut shop and give it a first refurb for at least 25 years.
“We don’t want to lose our atmosphere,” he says. “But it is starting to look a little rough around the edges.”
That may be a matter of opinion (although, for the record, this writer adores eating in a place that makes you feel like you’re in Life On Mars). But here’s what foodies surely couldn’t contest: what comes out of the Ashoka kitchen is wonderful.
The meat in the Bangalore Pal Lamb doesn’t, frankly, deserve 450 words, it deserves entire volumes of whispered prose dedicated to it.
Martin Dawes - a man who knows more about food than everyone else in Sheffield put together - once described it as tender as a baby’s bum. That was 2009. I’m not sure if, in this day and age, we’re still allowed to use analogies like that but he’s right: it’s melt in the mouth stuff. There’s not an ounce of fat on it, and the sophisticated spicing - a fiery chili and pepper mix - infuses the meat as well as the clingy sauce.
The kashmiri lamb bhuna is just as impressive with onions so caramalised they’re practically sugared, while a side dish of moghli potatoes crumbles under the fork. Rice and chappatis are good.
We’d already had a couple of pappadams and a pickle tray - including a phenomenal mango chutney; as well as a mixed appetiser starter which was a delightful pick n mix of Indian flavours.
There are no desserts which isn’t ideal - although there are complimentary chocolates. Bonus points too for cutlery Made In Sheffield.
Conclusion, then? Ashoka has been here since 1967 - and it has the decor to prove it - but it’s still a 21st century treat.
* £44.85 with three small beers.
Address: 307 Ecclesall Road, Sheffield, S11 8NX
Contact: 0114 268 3029.
MY RATINGS OUT OF SIX