Any advance on eight for the Chutney Challenge? With my mugshot at the top of the page I expect to get rumbled at some time during my meal although I book anonymously.
It might be the glimpse of a notebook perched on my knee, the flash of a pen or being sussed out by a waiter who has served us before.
New technology is a minefield. I keep schtum about my plans because chefs tweet each other – ‘watch out, he’s coming” – but sometimes old technology works best.
There was that pub in Holmesfield which pinned my picture, unkindly embellished with horns, on the kitchen noticeboard.
But I hadn’t even got inside the new Mumbai Indian restaurant on Ecclesall Road, Sheffield, before I was spotted by manager Nadeem Khan, communing with his mobile at the door.
We have run into each other before.
Until then Mumbai had been a mystery. I went three weeks after opening, failing to find a website, Facebook page or Twitter account.
On a visit during the day the blinds, in the Indian colours of orange, white and green, were shut so I couldn’t peek inside. There was no menu in the window.
The only reference was on TripAdvisor where it got an accolade for being ‘child friendly,’ something you expect to see about Italian restaurants, rarely with Indian.
It had previously been the Kashmiri Kitchen so in terms of geography, if not the menu, which is more or less what you’d expect, it has moved 1,000 miles south.
Many places have a ‘soft opening’ to iron out the wrinkles before making a bit of a splash but this was longer than most. It’s deliberate.
Nadeem, a dapper, softly spoken presence in smart waistcoat and bow tie, has strong views.
“That’s where Indian restaurants go wrong. They start off firing on all cylinders then they can’t deliver.
“It has to be done in a loving, friendly way and people hear about you by word of mouth.”
It seems to have worked: after three weeks the place had already got its regulars.
Nadeem may be only 25 but he’s been in the business 13 years, starting as the poppadom boy at Broomhill’s Balti King. He’s put in six years at the Ashoka, further down Ecclesall Road, been involved in the Cutlers Spice and helped to open the new Butler’s Balti.
Mumbai is a smart, bright, modern-looking restaurant with 50 seats on two floors. Walls are in white with relief in orange and green and striking Asian pictures. Flock wallpaper is so last century.
There are posh plates, purple runners over white tablecloths and proper napkins.
It is licensed, with a bar, staffed by a girl. Mumbai has three for different nights.
Now that’s a sign of modernity for Indian restaurants, women on the staff.
Another feature of the Mumbai is the pickle tray. You get eight varieties.
When I started in this game there were usually three: yoghurt, onions and mint, and mango, although some places upped the ante with a fourth, hot, one.
Lately it’s become a sort of chutney challenge or pickles poker: someone adds, say, tamarind chutney, and another place matches it and raises with a date and coconut relish.
The only other restaurant I know with eight is Zara’s in Crookes. Soon you won’t be able to see the table for pickles.
At Mumbai you get onion and mint, minty yoghurt, fiery tomato, pineapple, mango and black pepper, as well as chilli, mixed and lime pickles. I tried them all: my vote is for the pineapple.
Pickles and pops come free, which we followed with pleasantly spiced aloo chat, potato cakes (£2.95), and mildly zingy fish pakoras (£3.50), both with salads which contained olives.
Odd but perhaps not for too long: Rajasthan is planning its own olive groves.
We thought we might as well let Nadeem suggest a dish and he recommended the Shahi Mumbai, at £8.95 one of the most expensive (specials come in at £8.50, other mains around £6.50-£7.95).
Ironically it was the least successful because this sizzler of chicken and lamb tikka, king prawns with vegetables in a minced lamb sauce had too many contrasting flavours. We preferred the lamb roghan josh (£6.50), an old favourite from my teens, after a vindaloo taught me that heat drowns subtlety of spicing. This had decent lamb in a rich sauce with smoky overtones.
The best, though, was our tarka daal side (£3.50). “How do you like it, thick or thin?” said Nadeem. Thicker, apparently, means spicier.
According to the national press daals are the latest foodie fashion. We’ve made and enjoyed them for ages.
The grainy texture is one attraction. Here the lentils kept their shape. The final tempering with fried spices gave it a Bonfire Night finish.
Head chef Mohammed Rizwan also does a fine Peshwari nan (£2.80). “And how would you like that, lightly or well done?” asked Nadeem. You get the choice. Pilau rice (£2.50) rounded off our mains.
There is at least one traditional dessert. We shared sweet rice (£2.95), best described as rice pudding without the milk but with a touch of halva, flavoured with cardamom and pistachio. Interesting.
We enjoyed our night with good food and a little bit of love from Nadeem.
Food cost £33.65.