REMEMBER Jim Bowen on ITV’s Bullseye with his catchphrase “Dip your bread”? I’ll guarantee you’ll dip your naan at new Indian restaurant PrithiRaj.
The sauces were that good we forgot our table manners and wiped the serving dishes clean with bits of fluffy bread.
We’re on Ecclesall Road in what had been Ayeshas, a place locked for years in an upmarket head-to-head battle with the equally posh Ashoka further along. Then it closed for a revamp and has recently reopened, gleaming with blue neon, under new ownership with a new name.
It’s now owned by Mizan Rahman and Sobuj Miah, the chef, who between them have a clutch of other places.
I’m wondering what PrithiRaj means and whether the fashion for running names on EastEnders style is catching on in the restaurant trade. The waiters tell me variously that (a) it’s the name of a famous rajah and (b) means ‘Queen of Beauty.’ We’ll settle for that.
PrithiRaj looks smart, with mushroom-coloured walls, semi-abstract paintings, proper napkins and a runner down the centre of each table. It’s a long, thin dining space seating about 30 with a wide staircase leading to an upstairs dining room and the kitchen.
All the dishes are carried down the stairs. PrithiRaj must have the fittest waiters in Sheffield. There’s not an ounce of fat on them. I ask why they don’t use the dumb waiter and am told it’s very draughty and makes the food cold.
Before we go any further I have to tell you that Elvis is alive and well and working on Ecclesall Road. Curry lovers will know of Farook Miah, the Indian waiter who is better known as Elvis. We last saw him at Dronfield’s Curry Inn.
He was given the name by a customer who couldn’t remember his proper one and it stuck.
Almost everyone in the Bangladeshi restaurant trade is called Miah but there is only one Elvis.
PrithiRaj has one of those menus which stretch almost from here to the Ganges delta but we ignored the baltis, kormas and biryanis and went straight to the chef’s specials because these are the sort of dishes a restaurant should be most proud of. Most are around £8.50, the average price for all main courses here.
I quite liked the sound of Ze Zaal chicken or lamb but decided not to, a lucky escape it seems. This is the Dish of Death, spiced with fearsomely hot Naga chillis, guaranteed to cause spontaneous combustion. At least one local Indian eaterie offers customers a free bottle of Cobra if they finish it and survive.
I’m told the Naga has a subtle smell but we like our spicing much gentler so we opted for lamb shatkora and jal jhinga chicken, both £8.50.
First, though, the starters. After crisp poppadoms and a pickle tray (£4), which features four dips and an onion raita, we began with a plate of decent mixed kebabs (£4.80) and a surprisingly good machli fillet sizzler (£4.50).
This arrives with great flamboyance on two plates, one full of salad and the other with red coloured pieces of gently spiced fish, probably tilapia. “It looks like a main course,” said my wife. Mind you, she ate it all.
The lamb was wonderful. The meat was generous and tender but what makes this dish is the sauce, flavoured with Bangladeshi citrus fruit, something I’ve encountered before. The pulp is discarded and only the chopped up rind is used, dissolving gently into the sauce. Rick Stein cooked a version for his Far Eastern Odyssey.
I knew it was irresistible for my wife kept coming back for more. “My jal jhinga is good” – indeed it was, fenugreek is the dominant flavouring here – “but not as good as yours.”
Just then I listened, entranced, as the background music, a mix of ethnic and western, switched to what seemed like a Bollywood soundtrack with an Indian actor doing an impression of Peter Sellers impersonating an Indian. Most odd.
There didn’t seem to be anything at fault with the meal. The tarka daal (£3.50) was comforting and toothsome, the £2.20 plain naan light and fluffy (some go greasy as they cool) and the pilau rice (£2.60) just what you’d want: there to mop up the juices.
At this point I wanted the meal to end with a sweet flourish but PrithiRaj, like most other places, only offers factory-made desserts from the freezer. There are shops in Sheffield selling sweetmeats such as jelabi and halwa, and I don’t know why restaurants don’t have these, along with ras malai, on the menu.
PrithiRaj is licensed but we don’t like beer with our curries, finding it blows us out, not the happiest experience after a curry. Instead we had a sour lassi (a little sweet, actually) and a J20 for £4.40 the two. The bill for food was £38.60.
After we paid there was the little ritual of the Scores from the Dawes. We each raised the fingers of one hand simultaneously. It was a foregone conclusion: five for cooking.
The Dawes Verdict
Prithiraj, 407 Ecclesall Road, Sheffield S11 8PG.
Tel: 114 266 6002/3.
Open all week 5.30-11.30pm (Fri-Sat until 12.30am). Licensed. Vegetarian dishes. Music. Disabled access and toilet. Street parking. Takeaways. n Web: www.prithirajrestaurant.co.uk