The Cat's Pyjamas review: Sheffield's new '˜Indian neighbourhood kitchen' impresses
A name like The Cat's Pyjamas suggests a place means business.Â No, it doesn't refer to a tabby in comfortable nightwear - in the Roaring Twenties the word 'cat' was used in the US to refer to flapper girls and, when combined with the relatively new idea of pyjamas, became a hip phrase for something very good indeed.
Which no doubt explains why it caught the eye of entrepreneur Alison White, a market research expert who's based in Leeds but hails from Scotland, as she went about setting up the first restaurant in her burgeoning chain in Headingley in 2015.
She worked closely with Alfred Prasad, who holds the distinction of being the youngest Indian chef ever to receive a coveted Michelin star, on the menu, which focuses on dishes inspired by street food served across the continent from Goa to Kerala, as well as craft ales, served in a casual setting billed as a 'neighbourhood Indian kitchen'.
The venture has spread rapidly - its signature tiger logo has popped up in Harrogate, York and now Sheffield, on Ecclesall Road in the unit near the Hunters Bar roundabout formerly occupied by Italian casual dining outfit Prezzo.
When we arrived at just after 7pm last Thursday, the restaurant was already extremely busy; not quite completely full, but getting there. There were couples, families, and a big group of ladies noisily cracking open celebratory prosecco - a real mix.
The bar runs along one side of the ground floor, and an open kitchen occupies another side, meaning diners can watch the chefs at work as they prepare the vast quantities of food that are sent to tables from the pass.
The decor continues the 'street' theme, with colourful graffiti motifs painted on the walls. Tabletops are bare wood, and cutlery is stashed in little cans decorated with Bollywood poster art.
It took more than a quarter of an hour before we managed to get drinks - the light and refreshing in-house Karma Helles lager, and a stronger, fruitier Verdent Bloom, served in a can and brewed in Cornwall - and give our order. Later it transpires the restaurant was understaffed on the night we were there, which explains why service was a little fraught, albeit perfectly friendly.
Poppadoms arrived as a generous plateful of crispy, ruffled appetisers, ripe for dipping in a tray of mango, tomato, mint and vegan chutneys. Okra fries were sold out, unfortunately, but our starters of pani puri - hollow, wafer-like spheres stuffed with potato, chilli and chickpeas - and bountiful, golden, spicy onion bhajis impressed from the off.
A bid to order different mains faltered - Punjabi lamb shank was also unavailable - so we sampled the pork belly vindaloo, a thickly-sauced creation which wasn't anywhere near as hot as might have been expected. Our chosen sides were pulao rice, studded with toasted cumin seeds, and a Yorkshire cheese naan, once described by a national food critic as 'filth' - an entirely accurate term, in a good way, for this festival of melted fromage.
It's a brave proprietor that sets up an Indian restaurant on a street with the esteemed Ashoka, with its 50-year history, a few hundred yards away, but there's a feeling The Cats Pyjamas will be just fine. The bill came to Â£47.67.
The Cat's Pyjamas, 631 Ecclesall Road, S11 8PT. Open Wednesday-Sunday, closed Mondays and Tuesdays. Call 01143122670 or visit www.thecatspjs.co.uk to book.
Star ratings out of five: Food, 4; Service, 4; Atmosphere, 4; Value, 4
More to try: Ashoka, Ecclesall Road; Butlers Balti, Broad Lane; Prithiraj, Ecclesall Road