WHICH is the odd one out of Bob Marley, Debbie Harry, Frank White and Joe Cocker?
All have their portraits on the wall at the Clay Oven restaurant – but only Frank has eaten there. And played.
The paintings, by artist John Wilsher, are among quite a few of his at this homely Indian at Oakbrook Road, Nether Green, which has been quietly creating interest in its Goan food.
The menu also has Madras and masala dishes, Kashmiri, karai and kurma, dansak and dopiaza, tandoori, biryani and balti but I suggest you’re not going to bother with them.
You’d be in good company.
“Sixty-five per cent of customers ask for the Goan dishes,” says the Clay Oven’s boss, the splendidly named Balthazar Martins.
He originally hails from the former Portuguese colony on the west coast of India.
One day his wife Odette, also from there, told him: “You’re always talking about it, so why don’t you put some dishes on the menu?”
Her husband posted a new menu with half a dozen or so Goan dishes in the window while Odette popped into the kitchen to show the chef how to make them.
Now I’ve never been to Goa but I know a man who has. However I have been quite near, to Kerala, further down the coast, and been excited by the mix of fish, coconut and spices.
So I guessed, with the Portuguese influence – think pork vindaloo – Goan cuisine would be as enticing.
It was very quiet our Wednesday night but Balthazar, a very jolly man in a jumper, filled the place with his personality.
His day job is as a financial advisor but food has always been his passion. He was a customer in these very premises when it was famous as the Stirrings, one of the city’s first French restaurants, in the ’70s.
Five years ago he bought the place, by then an Indian restaurant, off its previous owner when he drew him up a retirement package.
Balthazar’s other passion is music – jazz on the sound system and there’s jazz or blues on the third Tuesday of every month.
But I was more interested in the food. The Goan dishes, introduced about six months ago, include Kingfish curry, galinha caferrtal (chicken), mutton xacutti, pork vindaloo and roast beef, all at £8.95.
Yes, roast beef but we’ll get to that in a minute, because first we have to tackle the Goan lamb samosas starter (£2.35), made by Odette.
They were bursting with subtly flavoured mince, all meat, inside a crisp filo-like pastry.
“My wife makes the pastry,” said Balthazar.
The vegetable pakoras (£2.95) ran them close.
“Goan food cannot be considered complete without fish,” it says in my guidebook and the king fish in Goa is the Kingfish.
At the Clay Oven it comes, not as fillets, as the menu promises, but as a steak with the bone in the middle. Apart from a certain fiddliness this was excellent eating.
The fish has a meaty texture and swam in a rich, grainy coconut sauce. Spicing was quite hot but subtle.
Now for the roast beef. It’s not quite the usual Sunday joint beef.
Take a piece of beef, marinate in spices, pot roast it, now slice it thickly and cook it in its gravy, smothered in onions, and you’ll get some idea how the Goans go about it.
“Very gingery,” I said as Balthazar looked. “And there’s cinnamon,” he pointed out. That, too.
It was very tender and juicy with the spicing, like all the dishes we ate, quite subtle and complex.
If I have to make a criticism both dishes could do with a bit of extra presentation, if only with the garnish, as my beef came very brown and the fish slightly lighter. We do, after all, eat first with our eyes.
We had a decent, stiff tarka daal (£3.65), pulao rice (£1.95) and a pleasant chewy plain naan for £1.90), washed down with a glass of lassi and another of mango juice. The Clay Oven doesn’t run to Goan sweets so we called it a day.
Balthazar is checking how many times the dishes on the main menu are ordered and eliminating the stragglers. Hopefully, this will lead to a greater number of Goan dishes.
I think he is on a winner with these. Sheffield has too many Indian restaurants and I’ve long said the way for Indian food to go is regional. We’ve already seen a couple of South Indian and Sri Lankan places open so it’s starting to happen.
We paid £34.45 for food and £8.10 for soft drinks and excellent coffee.
138 Oakbrook Road, Sheffield S11 7EB.
Tel: 0114 230 8312.
Open Tues-Sun 6-11.30pm. Licensed. Vegetarian dishes (vegan on request). Credit cards. Disabled access but not disabled toilet. Street parking.
My star ratings (out of five):