There isn’t actually a sign which says “Last curry before Manchester” but there ought to be. Because it is more than half an hour across the Pennines before you get another whiff of tandoori chicken.
The last thing you expect to see driving through the village of Hope is an Indian restaurant and you don’t unless you look to the right as you pass the Woodroffe Arms.
Hiding away down an alley opposite a bike shop is what looks like a takeaway. It is but it has what must be Derbyshire’s smallest restaurant attached, just 16 seats.
“There used to be 20 but we took out a table to make room. Less work for me!” says our waiter in the Curry Cabin.
It’s so small we could just have easily have called our order and almost reached across to the kitchen to collect it ourselves for the place is, well, cosy. Here curry has found its niche, quite literally.
There’s not much to it, a tiny dining room, red and white painted walls with nondescript pictures, waiting area in the middle and partially open kitchen to the right. It’s also got probably the poshest toilet outside the George Hotel at Hathersage.
Britain may have over 9,000 curry houses, meaning you are never more than ten minutes away from a chicken jalfrezi, but they get a bit thin in the Hope Valley.
There isn’t one in Castleton (the next curry stop west along the A6187 is at Chinley) and there was only Sangams in Hathersage until the new Maazi opened in the former Walnut Club recently.
Curry Cabin boss Wasim Raja was manager at Sangams until a customer offered him a unit he owned in Hope which had been a pizza joint. This family affair opened in 2010 and soon tickled the locals’ fancy.
As the Cabin’s very entertaining website proclaims, it was soon “forced to expand” into a mini restaurant. Wasim is hopeful it will be expanding even more shortly.
The website features a video with what seems half the population of Hope recommending the place, a quick tour of the premises (doesn’t take long) and a cookery demonstration for chicken tikka masala.
The place is popular with villagers and holidaymakers, delighted to find an Indian on their doorstep. When rain dampens the barbecues at the campsite five minutes down the road there are queues outside the door.
The Curry Cabin might be a tiny place but it’s got a big menu. It is also not given to understatement: some dishes get an extra comment ranging from the modest ‘Lovely’ to the boastful ‘Incredible.’
Early on Friday evening things are quiet but it gets busy later so is always best to book. We find Wasim and a chef sunning themselves outside the kitchen door and just one table occupied inside.
Our advice is to forget the usual stuff and concentrate on the specialities, a little more expensive but well worth the money.
We begin with four excellent poppadoms and a pickle tray (£4.55) and order the Cabin Kebabs (£4.50) and chicken chaat (£3.25). Prices have gone up since being listed on the website.
The onion bhajis are curiously flattened but taste fine, there are well-flavoured tender pieces of chicken boti (it’s the thigh or leg substituted for tandooried breast meat) and the best seek kebab I’ve had for ages, with a firm texture and gutsy flavour.
The chaat, diced pieces of chicken in a sweetish spicy sauce wrapped in a poori, is also first class.
Our waiter clears away the plates and stays to gossip. Whether because it’s quiet or the intimate space encourages conversation or because he’s just naturally friendly, we learn the whole restaurant team live in Nether Edge and commute daily.
The main courses are terrific. Handi of the day, one of three dishes modestly billed as incredible is home-style cooking, whatever the chefs (Nahim Khan and Mohammed Munir) dream up, either chicken or lamb. Or as our waiter puts it, “Proper food we eat, not those made-up dishes like kormas.”
I’ve got chicken pieces in a thick, rich, intensely spicy tomato-based sauce without being over hot. The meat falls off the bone at a touch and there’s plenty of it. Not surprisingly, despite the price of £8.95 it is one of the most popular orders.
Monkfish (£10.95) is just as good. The fish retains its taste and texture in a sauce with a sweet-sour edge. It deserves its billing as superb.
We have pullao rice (£2.40), a pleasant keema naan (£2.95) and an impressive tarka daal, where the lentils have kept their shape and not dissolved. I could have done with a little more fireworks with the tempered spices but it was very satisfying.
The Curry Cabin does deliveries in a five or six mile radius but many people prefer to collect and have a chat.
“The first thing anyone says to us is ‘You’re a godsend,’” remarks Wasim. They might say something else if they’re among the 40 or 50 reluctantly turned away from a table at a weekend because the place is so small.
Still, they can always have a takeaway.
We paid just over £40 for lovely vibrant food.
10 Castleton Road, Hope, Sheffield S33 6RD. Tel: 01433 623 203. Open all week 5-11pm, Fr-Sat until 12am. Credit cards. Music. Vegetarian dishes. BYO (no corkage) or bring it from the pub opposite. No disabled toilet. Public car park nearby (no charge after 6pm). Web: www.currycabinindian.co.
THE DAWES VERDICT
(out of five)