IF formative experiences happen in your youth then, by rights, I should never want to put myself on the outside of a curry. But I do.
The first – and last – time I was thrown out of an Indian restaurant was in London in the early Sixties. A group of us had gone down to see friends and trooped into Veeraswamy, then and now the oldest surviving Indian restaurant in Britain and possibly the snootiest. We were hustled out two minutes later.
Looking back, I can’t blame them. We were a group of long haired scruffs in corduroys and duffel coats in a place more used to serving rajahs and kings.
When you’re 18 indignation knows no bounds so we huffily took our business to a more downmarket Indian a few doors away. They could stick that up their pakoras. Veeraswamy remained untroubled.
But I wasn’t. Indian restaurants were a novelty in those days so I ordered a vindaloo, dimly aware it might be hot. This was hotter than hot. It was blisteringly, stomach burningly hot. But I didn’t want to let on to my pals.
I tried to keep my cool, so to speak, with copious amounts of water to douse my inner torment. I can still feel it now. Since then I have never had another vindaloo and much prefer calmer curries.
Tonight we are at the Mohul in Totley, which has vindaloo on the menu, but I shall avoid it.
We’ve been there before, I thought, although I couldn’t remember when, except that it’s a bit posh and we liked the food.
The Mohul has had a makeover since our last visit. It used to have a tented ceiling, so we recall.
Now it gleams an electric blue from a parade of shops alongside Baslow Road. Inside the décor is all mirrors, etched glass and downlighting with tables dressed in whitecloths with parallel black runners. When you get a bit of lemon with your starters it comes in a metal squeezer. See what I mean by posh?
It’s one of those long-as-your-arm menus but we picked from the special recommendations and house specialities. I’m not quite sure of the difference but the former tend to be a little pricier.
We ordered four plain poppadoms and a pickle tray (£4.20) while we consulted the menu. The pops were excellent, dry and crisp, and while there were only three relishes we were impressed. The yoghurt raita tasted creamier than usual and the onion salad was actually quite elegant, sweet onions, tiny strips of tomato and coriander instead of mint.
It was a good start, particularly when this is a place which does a fine salt lassi by the glass.
My tandoried lamb chops (£5.50) had a really gutsy, earthy flavour, the sort of taste you get with a good sheek kebab, and I didn’t have any compunctions about picking them up and nibbling the meat off the bone.
My wife’s chicken chom-chom (£3.75) was picked purely on the strength of its name. It turned out to be juicy pieces of chicken with chickpeas in a tomatoey sauce. She reached for the squeezer but the slice of lemon was too thin so she had to squeeze it by hand!
By now it was bugging me when I had been before. I’d seen my review on the wall and went to have a look. It was 2003. That seemed a decent interval between then and our current visit. But hang on a minute, there’s another of mine from 1999. So this would be the third time, eh? Must have liked it then.
We were liking it now. My hariyali murgh (£7.50) was chicken cooked with lots of mint, coriander and pickled chillies to give a hottish dish in a thick clinging sauce. You can also have a lamb version of this and they told me later it was a recipe from the south of Bangladesh.
My wife had fish korma (£7.95) with the fish being an imported variety of catfish. For me the too-soft texture of the fish didn’t appeal but it did to her.
The dish we were both agreed on was the tarka daal £3.20. “It doesn’t look much, a bit like an egg custard gone wrong, but it tastes good,” she said. She was right.
It had that marvellous grainy but going-on-smooth texture, an earthy taste, and some of the daal still toothsomely whole.
Any daal depends on the final seasoning with flash-fried spices and here it was just enough without going over the top.
We rounded off the meal with rice and pehwari naan bringing the total for food to £36.10. Drinks and coffees added another £7.10.
The Bangladeshi restaurant is owned by a series of cousins who seem to have stuck together since they first opened in 1990. Head chef Abdul Shohid has been there since the start.
As we’re paying, my wife notices yet another review on the opposite wall, from the opening year.
So that’s four visits in a quarter of a century and not a bad meal once.
“You gave us five stars last time, how about six this time?” said director and front of house manager Habibur Rahman.
The Dawes Verdict
47 Baslow Road, Totley, Sheffield S17 4DL.
Tel: 0114 262 0192.
Open daily 5.30-11pm (until 11.30 Sat-Sun). Vegetarian dishes. Licensed.
Credit cards(no cheques). Parking out front.