It was the man at the back of the queue in the pork butcher’s shop who tipped me off about Abdul’s. “Go for the spiced fish, it’s lovely,” he said.
Since he was the one who’d told me about the butcher some years ago I reckoned he had a good track record when it came to finding decent food.
Now Abdul’s, recently opened on Ecclesall Road, Sheffield is a takeaway and I don’t normally do them.
Every Indian restaurant I know does takeaways but very few Indian takeaways have tables which is where Abdul’s is just a little bit different. It has a lot of them.
There are orange booths, a lime green banquette, stools at counters and metal tables and chairs , all facing an open kitchen in stainless steel with chefs in blue aprons and little green hats. The walls have giant copies of the menu.
So what do we call this cross between a takeaway and a restaurant? Boss Abdul Ghafoor calls it a ‘sit-in diner’ which may seem like stating the obvious. I suppose a ‘stand-up diner’ is eating curry and chips on a street corner.
He opened the first Abdul’s in Wakefield 17 years ago where at peak times they queue out the door and a curry hurtles across the counter every nine seconds. There’s another in Pontefract and now Sheffield. You can’t miss it, the blue and gold facia and the posters advertising the 99p kebab.
At Sheffield most people are using the place as a takeaway – you can phone in ahead and collect as you would normally – but a fair number sit down and eat. It’s the same price.
What they don’t do is deliveries. Well, perhaps the once and only half way.
Facing Abdul’s across the dual carriageway on this part of Ecclesall Road is a massive Wetherspoon’s, the Sheaf Island, where customers’ thoughts turn to a Ruby Murray after half a dozen pints of cheap lager.
Trouble is, Abdul’s is difficult to get to in a straight line because of the cars and high metal railings.
“We had this customer who phoned his order and we took the food halfway across and handed it over the railings,” said manager Ghul.
You can tell he’s the manager because his apron is lime green not blue and he takes the orders. And since curries and 99p kebabs are not coming over the counter at a rate of knots – it’s rather quiet – he’s got time to chat.
Some of the dishes are marked with an ‘R,’ as recommended by Abdul himself, and others with an ‘Ex,’ which means they are exclusive to the takeaway. My starter, Punjabi paratha (£3.75), has both, so I’m expecting fireworks.
Not quite, but it’s a pleasantly crisp paratha folded over a filling of chicken and mushrooms in a creamily spicy sauce.
We were tipped off about the fish so my wife has the massala machi (£3.65), another Abdul favourite, and the nuggets of gently spiced firm fleshed fish are exactly as the man in the butcher’s said they would be. Lovely.
I wondered what exotic Eastern fish it might be. Ghul said it was bargain basement coley flavoured with tandoori spices. He’d get a gold star from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s Fish Fight for that.
Now all the eat-in food is served in plastic trays with plastic cutlery, each time with a bit of salad which invariably includes grapes and strawberries.
Plastic might be the modern equivalent of a banana leaf and it’s probably a generational thing but for me it’s like drinking coffee out of a polystyrene cup. It doesn’t feel right.
Still, there’s no denying the lamb handi (£6.50) is spot on, beautifully cooked meat, reasonably spicy in a thick sauce.
Ghul is not sure I’m sure what I’m ordering. “It’s on the bone.” I said I hoped it was because it had more flavour that way. “Only Asians eat that,” he said when he came to check we’d liked it.
Our other main was chicken zafrani (£6.75), another ‘exclusive.’ It’s a sort of souped-up chicken korma.
In a restaurant we would have ordered tarka daal but here it’s £6 which seemed excessive and Abdul’s is not the sort of place where you really want to linger over a meal as you might in a conventional curry house.
Not that it’s not bright and clean. “Some takeaways you wouldn’t want to go in sideways,” said Ghul.
We’ve had complimentary poppadoms with two sauces in little tubs, a yoghurt with mint and a rather good chilli.
With some dishes you get rice, chips or bread included, with others you order separately.
While the group has a central kitchen to make base sauces and such, all the rest is done on site. A good time to come is Sunday when they experiment with flavours and test them on their customers.
With rice, a naan, a can of pop and a mango lassi our bill came to £25.50 and we got an experimental kulfi, yoghurt ice cream.
If I was looking for a good takeaway then Abdul’s would be one of my top choices. But eating off plastic is not so fantastic.
Abdul’s, 156 Ecclesall Road, Sheffield S11 8JB. Tel: 0114 2722611. Open 5-11pm all week. Credit cards. Music. Street parking. Web: www.abduls.com