Allam Shah Ullah always suspected he would have big shoes to fill one day but after the recent National Curry Awards in Manchester, he’s been left in no doubt.
His mum, 73-year-old Ashrafun Neesa Begum, was the surprise recipient of the Lifetime Achievement of the Year award at the prestigious bash which also saw the family’s Cutlers Spice restaurant, in Gleadless, nominated for two other gongs.
“We didn’t win team or chef of the year, but the big shock came when they gave mum the award,” sous chef Allam, who has four younger sisters, said.
“The Asian community is a bit backwards sometimes... people always talked negatively about mum working in a restaurant. But myself and my sisters have always done our bit... My dad has always encouraged the women of our household to work and be the best.
“In my 26 years in the trade, I’ve seen a lot of chefs break down and cry on a Saturday night. But my mum - she’s a soldier. And to be honest, I find it hard sometimes to keep up with her!
“It’s always been a husband-and-wife duo with my mum and dad. Which one is the better chef? I know,” he grins, “but couldn’t possibly say.”
The wall next to the entrance suggests that together, they make a pretty formidable team. The beaming face of Allam’s dad, 79-year-old Noim Ullah, almost leaps off the page, sitting nobly amongst certificates including Chef of the Year 2014 and Yorkshire Team of the Year 2016.
But amongst the success, family remains at the heart of the charming restaurant, which took over the old Cutlers Arms seven years ago and hasn’t looked back since.
Noim arrived in England from his native Bangladesh when he was 18, and the family moved to Sheffield when house prices in the capital drove them further north. Allam and his sisters - a housewife, a debt collector, a solicitor and a scientist - all worked in the family business from a young age, and their parents came out of retirement six years ago to open Cutlers Spice.
We visit on a Friday evening and business is understandably brisk, but our party of six is seated in no time.
We’re assured there are naan breads this time, too, after my first visit a couple of weeks earlier was marred a little by their absence; a fault with the oven, we were told, much to the dismay of a writer who sees them as a key component of a curry, rather than a mere complementary add-on.
No such problems this time, then. Even the glittering wall of fame is overshadowed somewhat by the array of aromas that greet diners as they walk through the door, and decor is fairly typical of a restaurant of its type; there’s stylish lighting and classy, boutique-style seating with high backs creating atmospheric, private, back-to-back booths spaced around bigger, circular tables and a private area for larger parties.
Decor is again fairly archetypal; deep purples and golds intertwined with stunning murals of subcontinental scenes, including the obligatory Taj Mahal. So far, so good.
But certificates on the wall and fancy lights only go so far if the food doesn’t back it up. Service was brisk and attentive, and the round of starters - and a superb pickle tray for the poppadoms, sometimes criminally overlooked - drew admiring reviews from each member of our party. Amongst the highlights were the onion bhajis, often on the greasy side at some curry establishments but crisp, tasty and a little on the spicy side here, and the tandoori king prawns, described as succulent and flavoursome by our resident prawns expert who has eaten them on almost every corner of the globe.
The spicy chicken wings and vegetable samosas were hailed as full of flavour, but the star turn was the aloo chop; a delightfully simple Bengali offering of potatoes in golden breadcrumb crust. If the description sounds a little underwhelming, the real thing is anything but.
The gap between starter and mains allows for a little exploration of the building. It turns out that Allam first had a prophecy about it when he was a teenager delivering takeaways to the Cutlers Arms; he walked in and decided the pub would make a great restaurant. Fifteen years later, the dream was a reality - but only just.
Allam and his father narrowly missed out when the Cutlers Arms originally went up for auction. But when the sale fell through, they weren’t to be denied for a second time and the rest, as they say, is history.
“Dad says it was meant to happen,” Allam smiles.
The knockout of the evening came with the main course, and from the extensive special menu which runs alongside the curry offerings and offers a selection of chicken and lamb chops cooked almost every way you can imagine.
The chicken tikka tandoor sizzled, quite literally but also a little metaphorically, on a bed of crunchy white and red onions. The chicken was tender, the dish’s tikka flavour was delicious and the compromise between healthy eating and flavour was a fair one.
The lamb bhuna was flavoursome but let down by the slightly gristly lamb, the chicken korma was perfectly spiced and the king prawn vindaloo met the exacting standards; not overdone - a common complaint - and juicy.
Including poppadoms, starters, mains, naans, rice, drinks and tip, the evening was decent value, too, at a shade under £24 each. An atypical dessert menu, featuring classics like sticky toffee pudding, raised a smile, although no-one could possibly have stomached one. And there were naan breads.
n Cutlers Spice, 1 Leighton Road, Sheffield S14 1SP. Tel 0114 241 6868. Web: www. cutlersspice.co.uk. Takeaway available.