THEY say it takes us 20 seconds to size up someone we’re meeting for the first time and we’re usually right. I reckon it’s that way with restaurants.
We come in out of the rain into the sparsely occupied Original India Garden on London Road, Sheffield, and . . . But before I tell you what happened next let’s whizz back almost a quarter of a century to a phone call from the Beefeater steak chain’s Mystery Diner.
“We’re in the same line of business. Meet me at the Norton at Meadowhead and we’ll have a chat,” he said.
I was on time, he wasn’t, deliberately so.
“Ten things should have happened to you while you were waiting,” said the Mystery Diner when he turned up and I laughed and shook my head. I was wrong.
“Were you greeted? One. Did they make eye contact? Two. Did you feel welcomed? Three. Were you shown a table? Four . . .” and so he went on. And I thought there’s a lot more to this reviewing lark than I bargained for and ever since I mentally tick off the service points Beefeater-style (there are at least 130 as I remember).
So back to the Original India Garden and a waiter walks past us, looking away. There’s a second, the manager, who stands impassive when I ask for a table for two.
He gazes around the room with the same look we once got from the Duchess, a woman who ran a restaurant in Italy but hated walk-ins, who told us firmly that every single table in her then empty restaurant was booked. So I equally firmly booked for the following night.
The manager, midway between brusque and impersonal, selects a table against an inward-sloping wall and the two places for us to sit are diagonal to each other. I move up to sit opposite my wife, bang against a radiator which is not on.
Now if I had a two-thirds empty restaurant this would be the last table in the house to be filled.
Not many boxes have been ticked so far but what of the place? I knew this as the New India Garden but it has had a management reshuffle: www.thebrooklyn.info and given a new purple look outside.
It might once have been a pub. Next door to the Red Lion and across the road from the Crown, it has plenty of pub- style banquettes and a frosted glass panel dividing the place into two. Otherwise, there’s not a lot of décor.
There’s a lot to the menu, though. This is one of those which seem to go on and on forever.
The chef’s specialities (as opposed to the India Garden Specials) number 31 styles, including some I have never heard of before such as Nag Raj (very hot), Cappachila (creamy), Amortic (hot and lemony) and Sally. It’s not from down our alley but is a dry curry with fried potatoes.
Each one can be had with a choice of nine different ingredients (plain chicken or lamb, tandooried ditto, king prawn, prawn, fish, keema or mixed vegetables.
That would give you 279 different options, nothing more than £6.20, before you even got onto the main dishes, another 18 styles (including mushrooms two ways) multiplied by nine again which I make 162.
Once you’ve added the biryanis there are 433 main courses to choose from and you do wonder how to pick the ones they’re best at.
Our waiter is anxious to know whether we have a voucher. We haven’t but perhaps that explains their indifference. I know one restaurant boss who took part in such a scheme and regarded every new customer with suspicion.
Four pops and the pickle tray (£3.50) are fine but the yoghurt raita is as watery as the tarka daal will be later on.
They don’t do lassi by the glass here, only by a jug, so we settle for a couple of beers (£5.50).
The samosas (£2.50) have been praised by a local food blogger and my two triangles are good and crisp with a spicy filling, not at all greasy. My wife’s prawn chaat (£3.20) “is much better than it looks,” a generous filling but instead of a hollowed out puri the bread is more like a pancake flopped over.
For mains we go for chicken joljola, which the menu says is medium spiced with coriander and a mild sauce. The meat is tender and the sauce has fruity undertones and it’s pleasant but unspectacular.
I have lamb jalfrezi. because it also starts with J and is a favourite of mine. It’s hotter than I’m used to (although the menu promises hotness) but I eat it all. Both are £6.50.
Which is more than we can say for the insipid, runny tarka daal (£2.95). We round things off with pulao rice (£1.95) and a decent, coconutty peshwari naan (£2.50). Midway through the meal the service warms up slightly. The waiter says we are quiet, which leaves us a little flummoxed as we were having an intense conversation.
I have a coffee (£1.50), which doesn’t get refilled although they obligingly give my wife mints even though she’s not drinking while I try and digest why our night fared as it did.
It wasn’t the food, which came up to the mark although always fell short of being memorable. It might have been the atmosphere: is a radio tuned to an Asian station the best background? And a smile would have gone a long way in welcoming new voucherless customers who won’t be back in a hurry. They need a few tips from Beefeater.
The bill was £36.60
The Dawes Verdict
Original India Garden
659 London Road, Sheffield S2 4HT.
Tel: 0114 250 0059/74.
Open all week 5.30-11.30pm (Fri-Sat until 1am).
Vegetarian dishes. Disabled access. Disabled toilet. Credit cards. Free car park at rear in Albert Road.