If you’re heading for Maazi, the new Indian restaurant in Hathersage, you can’t miss it. Just look for the little blue tuk-tuk, or auto-rickshaw, parked in front.
“Best piece of advertising we could have. People stop and look, photograph it and call us the tuk-tuk restaurant,” says Rizwan Shabir, co-owner with his brother Irfan.
Tuk-tuks are fun. You find them all over South Asia. In Kerala, I saw 10 schoolboys carried in one, balanced on each other’s shoulders as it precariously passed a learner from the Scud Driving School (no kidding).
If Del Boy were Indian that wouldn’t be a Reliant Robin he’d be driving, it would be a tuk-tuk.
Come the summer, Rizwan promises to deliver tuk-tuk takeaways to Hathersage and the surrounding area.
They already do that in Matlock where they have a bigger, similarly named parent restaurant. The tuk-tuk’s on the roof.
“The council told us to take it down as they said it was ‘alien to Matlock’ but we won,” says Rizwan, looking smart in his black and gold-embroidered sherwani, or tunic, which all the waiters wear.
They also have slippers although I was disappointed they didn’t have curly-wurly Ali Baba toes.
He offers us an island table for two but we’re not having that for tactical reasons, not least that it’s hard to get your notebook out unseen.
“I was trying to keep you out of the draught. We had a break-in through the front doors. They stole £7,” says Rizwan, showing us to a table against the wall. Seven quid? That would hardly buy you a main course at Maazi. Prices are higher than your average Indian.
But Maazi was never going for average. For a start, the premises were the former glittery Walnut Club, a place with culinary ambition.
The Walnut Club is now history which, incidentally, is what the name Maazi means. It, too, is glittery with sparkly lights and fresh rose petals sprinkled over the tablecloths.
Proper napkins are unfurled and laid across your lap as in swisher places. They tell me you can sometimes get some dry ice theatricals although it didn’t happen to us.
The menu is not as long as you find in most Asian restaurants or, as Rizwan memorably puts it, “It’s not the Argos catalogue.”
Expect starters to be around a fiver, mains perilously close to £10 and proper Indian sweets for dessert.
But first we are given tiny glasses of spiced rose water – the one which registers the most is cumin – which are very pleasant. I’ve never had this before and suspect it could set a trend.
We begin with four poppadoms and a pickle tray (£4.50). The chutneys are pleasant if unexceptional but the ‘pops’, dry and crisp, are pretty good.
Pakora squid (£4.95) is a new one on me. I bet with myself that the squid will be rubbery but it isn’t. Almost all the flavour, though, comes from the very spicy batter which coats it.
My wife has an old favourite, a prawn puree (£4.95) with a crisp shell and satisfyingly sweetish coconutty sauce coating the prawns.
Mains are mostly £9.25 with an extra 50p for a chef’s special, the slate from which we eat. This is pushing it some in an Indian restaurant but did the dishes live up to the higher prices?
My lamb Nihari (9.75) did, just, with strips of lamb in a thick, gutsy sauce with a decent meat to liquid ratio. The macon murgh (£9.75), chicken in a butter sauce, is one of those comfortingly bland dishes although this struck us as just a little bit too mute in the spicing.
Our standard test of an Indian kitchen’s capabilities is the side dish tarka daal (£3.95), the Indian equivalent of our pease pudding.
There are as many recipes as there are cooks and we enjoyed this with the lentils left mostly whole rather than soupy with that smoky finish from the addition of fried spices.
We also have a plain naan (£2.75), perhaps not fluffy enough or big enough, and a serving of pullao rice (£2.75), a little stingy for the money.
We finish by sharing a single, small gulab jaman, a sticky little fried dumpling, served with a slice of pineapple and some kulfi ice cream. Not sure how much it cost but with an average filter coffee and a very minty tea, it’s shown as £8.95 on the bill. If the tea was minty so was the price, £57.40 when you add in a bottle of Indian beer and a sour lassi. It was an enjoyable evening but we thought the food, while very pleasant, did not quite sparkle as much as the surroundings so it gets marked down for value.
A couple of points: Maazi at Hathersage rates five stars for hygiene in the government’s ‘Scores on the Doors’ system, encouraging because Maazi in Matlock only gets one. The disabled toilets have been removed to make way for a bar.
Rizwan says there is a portable ramp available to the toilets for wheelchairs although the facilities have not been modified in any way.
Maazi, Unit 6, Main Road, Hathersage S32 1BB. Tel: 01433 650 725. Open daily from 5-10.45pm (Sat-Sun until 11.45pm). Vegetarian dishes. Credit cards. Music. Car parking. Web: www.maazi.co.uk