GOOGLE ‘Mangla Sheffield’ into your laptop and you’ll come across a review in a posh national newspaper of the city curry house on Spital Hill, annoyingly several places above my own review in 2008.
The broadsheet’s critique is well known to journalism students at Hallam University as an object lesson in how not to do things.
No names, no pack drill, but a celebrated writer came to Sheffield to review the nearby Kashmir Curry Centre, blissfully unaware it had closed the year before.
Rule number one: Do your research properly.
Undaunted, he strolled a few doors along to the Mangla, ordered a takeaway and ate and reviewed it in his car parked outside.
Rule number two: Restaurant reviewing is more than about the food. You don’t soak up a lot of atmosphere staring at the dashboard.
As it is five years since our last visit and the Mangla is a bit of a legend in the city we decided to give it another go.
You were either a devotee of the Kashmir, with its basic Asian working men’s café décor, or the Mangla, which was prettier with ruched curtains and was a destination for women from Crookes or Walkley out for a bit of spice.
Although the younger of the two, the Mangla (established 1993) outlasted the Kashmir, which closed in 2010 after 36 years.
We park in the city centre not outside (it feels safer) and walk up The Wicker. At night, lined shoulder to shoulder with kebab shops, curry houses, spicy chicken restaurants and shisha dens, this is Sheffield’s front line, where England meets Asia.
Once in Spital Hill you’re on the North West Frontier.
The Mangla is a bustle of activity. There is an open kitchen and two dining rooms, seating 100 diners. Décor is more Spartan these days and the curtains have disappeared. The Mangla has become more ethnic.
When it opened 20 years ago it needed European trade and their palates were catered for. Now, as witnessed by the plethora of Asian businesses which have sprung up on The Wicker and Spital Hill, there is plenty of Muslim custom to fill the tables.
Dishes have got hotter or at least they have with the chef’s specialities – we sidestepped the kormas, masalas and dopiazas. Even the yoghurt raita with the complimentary poppadoms has the kick of a donkey.
Thursday night used to be ladies night but the clientele on our visit was mostly men.
Something else has gone, too, the celebrated Spital Hill Shuffle. Men would cross the road to the pub, Morrissey’s East House, and return with pints of beer. Watching them manoeuvring gingerly through the Mangla’s doors, arranged like a kind of airlock, while trying not to spill a drop, was always the source of innocent entertainment.
Now the East House has gone but alcohol is not forbidden on this part of Spital Hill. Three blokes on the table opposite arrive with a boxful of Peroni.
The dishes we order vary from dull to spectacular. I share with the Sheffield-based Currylovers eating group that the acid test of an Indian restaurant is its tarka daal. At Mangla every grain of chana daal, or yellow lentils (£4.30), is still firm and separate and sparkles with vibrant flavour. And it’s hotter than most.
By contrast we have to concentrate to catch the spicing in the masala fish (£3.80) – and this was before our tastebuds had been roughed up by the main courses.
My chicken tikka sandwich (£3.60) was a rugged dish, strips of meat with shredded lettuce on a roti you could roll like a wrap.
Like the food, service had its extremes, from the waiter who plonked our starters at the end of the table for us to collect to the thoughtful lad who came back to offer my wife the option of ordering a pineapple and coconut drink.
Mains were great. The chicken jalfrezi (£6.90) was hotter than any we had previously encountered but could not be faulted for its spicing. “Perhaps I should have ordered a korma,” my wife reflects, summoning up the courage to have another mouthful.
Meat karai (£5.60), presumably mutton or lamb, is not quite as hot, despite the menu promising it is “strenuously cooked to create a drier type of dish.” The meat is tender, juicy and I eat it strenuously, in between gulps from my half litre jug of mango lassi, a bargain at £1.90. The pullao rice (£1.70) is fine and a generously sized peshwari naan (£2.40), sweet and glistening with ghee, complete our meal. The Mangla is run by partners Ibrar Ahmed and Habib Hussain. They look young enough to see the Mangla through its next 20 years.
We paid £31.
145-147 Spital Hill, Sheffield S4 7LG. Tel: 0114 275 8734. Open Sun-Thurs 6pm-2am, Fri-Sat until 3am. Unlicensed. Upstairs toilet. Credit cards. Street parking.
THE DAWES VERDICT
(Out of five)
FOOD 4 (FOUR)
ATMOSPHERE 4 (FOUR)
SERVICE 3 (THREE)
VALUE 4 (FOUR)