I’M ordering the onion bhaji starter at Azaad’s restaurant in Attercliffe and the waiter chuckles “old school, eh?”
It seems most of the menu is old school, or traditional, but there’s a very good reason for a reviewer to order bhajis for, just like soup, you can tell a lot about a kitchen from this one little dish.
It can be a tricky blighter to make and places which buy theirs in are likely to do that with other things as well. So what is my onion bhaji telling me about Azaad’s?
It’s definitely home made because instead of being like a ball it’s flat, like an onion burger, and there are two stacked on a sizzling dish. They taste good, is not over greasy despite the large surface area, and you get a lot of bhaji for £1.80. But why flat?
“Bhajis are made with gram (chickpea) flour and if they are round the flour might not cook right through in the middle and make you ill,” says owner-chef Mohammad Azaad afterwards.
He’s got time to talk, it’s a quiet night at the restaurant he took over next door to the Pakistani Muslim Centre on Woodbourn Road, Attercliffe, in June last year.
“It’s fasting for us – it was Ramadhan – and I was beginning to think the English were fasting as well,” he smiles. Apart from a couple who leave after we arrive, nobody else comes in while we are there.
One day the previous week he had no customers at all. But the kitchen is kept busy on our night with takeaway orders from local Asians and our ‘old school’ waiter keeps disappearing to deliver them.
The boss is cooking tonight because his regular chef has gone back to Kashmir for a funeral but it’s hardly a novelty. He’s been in the trade for 40 years, starting with his own place in Worksop before opening the Indian Chef at Dinnington and building up a following there.
It’s Kashmiri-style cooking for the English and most of the dishes will be familiar. And for those frightened of Indian spices fear not, like the atmosphere on our night the spicing is quiet.
“People think spicy means hot and while it can do it doesn’t have to be,” says our host later and, of course, he’s right. Too much heat and you can lose the subtlety. The spicing on my wife’s fish masala starter (£3.75) is gentleness itself.
I think I have spotted the one new dish on Azaad’s menu, the ginger lamb (£6.50) and it turns out I have ordered the most popular one.
This is tender pieces of meat (and when it comes to lamb you have to be prepared for a chew in some Indian eateries) in a rich sauce. The gingeriness lurks in the background.
Now I am a big fan of this spice and I like it in great chunks proclaiming it’s there rather than shyly peering round the door. Azaad, who discovered the dish as gingered goat on a trip back to Kashmir, likes to turn down the spicing. However it comes, you’re bound to enjoy it.
My wife enjoys a pleasing chicken tikka biryani (£7.25) where the meat is particularly good in a quiet sort of way.
We love the masala daal (£3.15) like a tarka daal but with three different types of lentil and bean, and here the spicing really lets rip with that satisfying earthiness you get with this dish.
Pilau rice and a plain naan (both £1.70) were all that they should be.
We had started with four plain, slightly salty popadoms (50p each) and a pickle tray (£1.75) with five varieties, one particularly good one which looked like it was going to be ferocious but was just bearably hot and nicely crunchy.
Azaad’s is unlicensed and you can bring your own – there’s no corkage – but it may be well worth exploring the drinks options. As well as lassi the restaurant offers rooh e afza, which has been described as the Pakistani Red Bull, and anari sharbat, which is pomegranate syrup diluted with ice and water.
We’d shared a jug for £3 and loved its delicate perfumed smell and taste.
Azaad’s has its fans but business has been slow to take off. Azaad said he spent two months making up his mind to buy the place then spent the next eight wondering whether he’d done the right thing.
There are plate buffet nights for £9.90 a head on Wednesdays and Sundays and the latter half of the week livens up with a polyglot custom.
If you like your spicing with the volume turned up loud this may not be your sort of place, otherwise do give it a spin. And Azaad is a most genial host.
We paid £35.65.
Woodbourne Road, Attercliffe, Sheffield S9 3LQ.
Telephone: 0114 243 4406.
Open all week 5-11pm.
Unlicensed. Bring your own. (No corkage).
Disabled access and toilet.
Takeaway and deliveries.
Own car park.
My star ratings (out of five):