MENUS can be entertaining starting off points. Had it not been for the one at Jewel Indian restaurant I would never have heard of the wonderfully named Bollywood film actor Chunky Pandey.
I always like to do a bit of research before a meal and checked the menu online to see that it was offering the Rajasthani dish Lal Mans, slow-cooked lamb in a rich sauce.
Sounded yummy, but what, I wondered, did it mean?
Google was there to help: red meat. But a couple of entries down was the Times of India’s lal mans (ie red meat information) on Chunky.
Chunky is a man who has eaten zebra, giraffe, hippo, grasshopper, alligator, snail and stingray in his time , although drew the line at dog in South Korea.
Perhaps he might have made an exception if it had been put on his plate after he made the film Ronnie and Rokky. For Chunky, a sort of Asian Jason King and always the second lead, never the star, complained he was paid less than the performing dog imported from Hollywood.
Jewel, run by a team from Nottingham, is another example of a dead pub becoming a restaurant. The former Pheasant Inn had a grisly death.
The early 1900s Gilmour steelworks pub was a classic of its type, a jewel of a boozer with its tiles, etched glass, bay windows, stepped seating and central hall.
CAMRA and the Sheffield Civic Trust wanted it listed but developers with no sense of history gutted the place.
It is now one cavernous room with no sense of style. If Eat Sheffield had an award for the most depressing restaurant space Jewel would win hands down.
“There’s more black than at a funeral,” says my wife, looking at the mostly black walls, seats, black slate floor (which doesn’t even make it all the way across the room) and even black linen napkins.
But if the décor doesn’t sparkle the food does.
Head chef Zahangir Miah – they brought him over from India – briskly disposes of the usual dishes at the back of the menu and comes up with others you won’t have seen before.
As well as using ingredients such as rabbit or duck he is a dab hand with spicing, some of the best I have come across.
The saucing is superb. Such excellence comes at a price. Jewel is expensive: two are unlikely to see much change from £50.
We begin with four poppadoms and chutneys (£4.60) and check out the one made of grapes, coriander, apple and garlic, as fresh as the dawn.
My starter of achari panner tikka (£4.95) was the Indian version of toasted cheese – two slabs of firmly pressed cheese, smothered in spices and grilled. I loved the dense texture and the lively flavours.
You could describe my wife’s starter, patra kebab (£4.75) as a kebab butty, a sausage of finely minced and spiced lamb inside a sheath of thin bread. They also bring you more yoghurt sauces to eat with your starters.
My wife, enjoying her meal, thought she could put them right with the décor.” It needs a few pictures, flowers and candles on the tables,” she said. We learned later that there had previously been table lights but, strangely, customers had complained and they were taken away.
So to Lal Mans, a popular dish here of lamb in a yoghurt, onion and garam masala sauce despite its hefty (for an Indian) £10.95 price tag. The meat was tender, the sauce delicious: rich, thick, clinging, earthy and medium-hot. I just wanted a bit more of it.
You could say the same of the pilau rice (£2.95), delicately flavoured with every grain separate and a small triumph.
There is little fish on the menu but the Bengali fish bhuna (£8.95) is well worth going for. We never got the name, other than that it is a freshwater variety. Very firm textured, almost meaty, it, too, had a lustrous, delicately perfumed sauce. “Is this privet?” asked my wife of the hard to chew leaves with it. No, fresh curry leaves.
For food, this place is hard to fault. A plain naan (£2.35) was OK and a tarka daal (£3.95), while decently spiced, was too runny in texture for that feel-good experience.
Jewel may be large but the plus side is that they don’t cram in the tables. Nor do you get harried to buy more drinks.
The service, from Angur Miah and his colleague Jamsher Ali is beautifully done and they are happy to explain the dishes.
They promise better décor and possibly trimming the prices.
Our bill, with drinks (a glass of lager and salt lassi), came to £47.35, with dishwater thin coffee in with the price.
Not cheap, a little over priced but very good indeed.
If Chunky Pandey ate here he’d forget about playing second fiddle to a performing dog.
436 Attercliffe Common, Sheffield S9 2FH.
Tel: 0114 243 0275/4469.
Open all week 5.30-11.30pm (Fri-Sat until 12.30am). Licensed. Set meal £45.95 for two.
Music at moderate levels. Vegetarian dishes. Credit cards. Car park.
Location note: Driving from Sheffield, Jewel is on the other side of the dual carriageway. Turn round in the Meadowhall Retail Park and make a left as soon as you regain the main road or you’ll miss the restaurant car park!