WE’RE starting with dessert. And just to confuse you, we’re not even having it in the place we’re reviewing.
We’re at Jineen, on The Wicker, very possibly Sheffield’s only Palestinian café but at ten past one it’s apparently far too early for the Wednesday special, maqluba, a dish I’ve never had before and want to try.
“In about an hour,” says the chef/waiter standing behind the counter of this tiny little place.
We look at the menu. We’re not going to be able to stretch the mezzes out for that long.
So we say we’ll come back.
On our way out we’re followed by the only other customer, a sort of biker bloke. “You’ll like it, the food is good,” he says.
With an hour to kill, where to go? Luckily the lovely North African patisserie, La Perle, is just a couple of doors away. Only a coffee, says my wife, then her resolve is immediately weakened by the array of cakes and gateaux on display. Two Americanos, a superb baklava and a nutty little thing with a cherry on top, cost us £4.80. Sadly, they weren’t doing my favourite, the cream horn.
If you haven’t found La Perle yet (I reviewed it a couple of years ago) seek it out. It does much more than cakes.
An hour later and we’re back at Janeen. There’s a shisha (water pipe) room out front and at the back just four tables, a couple of sofas and two TV screens.
They’re showing MTV with Arabic subtitles and the sound off but the sound system is playing Middle Eastern music not at all related to the pictures.
If the chef seems surprised to see us again he doesn’t show it. “Same order?” he asks.
Jineen is named after a Palestinian city on the West Bank. It serves much the same food as the other Middle Eastern places in The Wicker – mezze such as hummus, falafel and foules Mesdames, and main courses such as shawarma (sliced meat in flatbread).
But what has brought me here are the Palestinian specials, a different one each on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.
It’s a Wednesday so it should be maqluba, a dish of chicken, vegetables and rice. Monday is the day for mansaf, meat in fermented yoghurt, and Friday is fish, sayadiya.
Jineen has only been open for three months and I’d like to be able to claim its discovery for myself but I can’t. The honours go to Sheffield’s FeastandGlory blog.
We foodie writers are like magpies. We circle around to see if others in the flock have found a tasty morsel then swoop down and tuck in.
We’d planned to eat four of the mezze, each about £3, the hummus, mutabbal (aubergine salad), falafel and foul Mesdames (broad bean purée), but either the chef had ideas of his own or the combination of my non-existent Arabic and his limited English confused the order.
We got a sharing plate between us and it was smashing. The falafel was extra crunchy – it seemed to have something nutty in it – with a deep ‘crust.’ Unexpected stuffed vine leaves were moist and had plenty of mint in the rice.
The hummus was smooth and garlicky and the foules mesdames, which Egypt claims as its national dish, was superb, the beans mashed to a musky, smoky paste with garlicky undertones. In the Middle East they eat this for breakfast.
All came with soft flat bread which we tore up to use as scoops. When we got the bill we discovered this had cost us £8 between us.
I don’t pretend to know anything about maqluba (£6.50) other than what I’ve gleaned from the internet, which is that it is the national dish of Palestine. Ingredients vary but they are layered, cooked in a pot then flipped upside down, which is what maqluba means, and served.
At Jineen the ingredients are chicken, rice, onion and potatoes, so that it resembles a sort of pilaf, and it arrived on my plate looking like a large domed timbale.
I can’t say I picked out any predominant flavour, other than the chicken, which came in big pieces, but it struck me that was a hearty, homely sort of dish. It was certainly filling.
There were peanuts for garnish and yoghurt as a sauce.
I confessed to not being able to finish it. “We Arabs eat too much,” said the chef.
My wife’s Arabic chicken musakhen (£6.50), another Palestinian dish (although familiar across the Levant) was piquantly flavoured chicken – I think the spice was sumac – with onions and mushrooms wrapped in rolls of flatbread.
Both came with the ubiquitous Middle Eastern salads, including sweet pickled chillies and strips of vividly purple neon-coloured vegetable, which I think was turnip.
We finished with mint tea in Ali Baba-style teapots with glass cups (£1.50) each and were given a couple of pastries, more baklava and what I can only describe as the Palestinian version of a mince pie. So Mrs Food and Drink overdid it on the cakes.
You can have a great deal of fun if you’re prepared to go off your beaten track and sample some of the more unusual culinary delights Sheffield has to offer.
And it doesn’t cost you that much. We paid £26. Once again, we didn’t want any tea!
31 The Wicker, Sheffield S3 8HS.
Tel: Tel: 0114 275 4108. n Open all week 10am-4am.
Music. Shisha bar. Credit cards. Takeaway and deliveries. Street parking.