FOOD REVIEW - Viraaj, 743 Chesterfield Road, Woodseats, Sheffield S8 08l. Telephone: 0114 250 9066.

I'VE been in the soup quite a lot recently on your account. First there was that splendid Brown Windsor at the York pub in Broomhill a few weeks back.

Now to another half-forgotten soup that once put hairs on our chest and made we British what we are to day: mulligatawny.

You may know it as a sort of chillied-up oxtail soup bought in tins but it dates back to the British Raj and is a take on a vegetarianTamil dish, molegoo tunes, which means pepper water.

Anglo-Indians know it fondly as pep'water and it may or may not be based on lentils, as it is at Viraaj, the new Indian restaurant in Woodseats.

I'm expecting quite a blast on the old tastebuds but what I get is a fairly bland infusion with not much in the way of spice for 2.50. The sahib would certainly have had a word with the kitchen in the days of the Raj.

We're at Viraaj because it is one of Sheffield's newest Indian eateries, opening recently in the old Woodseats Hotel on Chesterfield Road. There is scope for someone to do a PhD on the uses of dead pubs and how many have been turned into Indian, Chinese and Thai restaurants.

In fact, an architecture student contacted me recently on that very subject but then went off the idea.

The Viraaj still looks like a pub but has been done out in a black, white and red livery (the waiters have matching black shirts and red ties) with wall recesses containing rather nice pots.

The other reason we're here is that its executive chef, Abdul Rouf, has been voted chef of the year by Curry Life magazine, promoting the work of Indian chefs who, unlike their European counterparts, tend to stay at the stove and not get any of the glory.

Since the Viraaj has only been open since October we wondered how Abdul had got the award so quickly.

It was for him and not the restaurant, says owner Sufi Miah, who, like his chef, has moved over from the Dilshad nearby.

But back to our dinner. My wife has ordered rashmi kebab (3.60), best described as a burger inside an omelette. "A bit bland," she reports.

We've already sampled the poppadoms (good) and pickle tray (interesting). Sufi has tarted up the latter so there's a tamarind chutney instead of lime pickle, a carrot chutney, yoghurt cut with mint and the onion has joined forces with the mango chutney,

I'm not convinced this is a great success. Since mango chutney is one of the sub-continent's great gifts to the world, why mess about with it?

My main is gust satkora (7.50), a Bangladeshi dish of lamb with lemon and it gets a three (out of four) chilli rating on the menu. But it 'aint hot mum and apart from the base spices in the sauce it's another bland dish. I got bored with it pretty soon.

By now I'm beginning to worry that I've accidentally left my taste buds at home. Our vegetarian side dish, gobi aloo (2.60), cauliflower and potato curry, is another party pooper with not much spice and the cauliflower has lost its bite.

We usually order the tarka daal but since it's made of lentils (as was the mulligatawny) we've gone for something different.

My wife orders the balti fish which, at 9.50, is going some for an Indian restaurant. Visually, it looks almost identical to mine (presentation is not a strong point at Viraaj) but it's pretty good with some nice peppy spicing. In fact, despite a two chilli rating, it's hotter than my dish.

The fish here is pangash, a south east asian variety of catfish which, despite Sufi telling me is a seafish is actually a freshwater fish.

We order a peshwari naan (2.50) which must go down on record as the smallest we've had. It's no bigger than a poppadom. Abdul, when comes to naans, size matters.

It's two courses for us because Viraaj does not do anything in the way of proper Indian sweets.

With pullao rice, a lassi, a mango juice and coffees (topped up as much as you like) our bill comes to 41.70.

Now either Abdul was having an off day or a day off because as I was just finishing writing this Roger from Chesterfield rang to recommend the Viraaj after an excellent meal. And he recommended the Bengal chingri sizzler.

On our way out I ask Sufi what Viraaj means. "Brilliant," he says.


Viraaj, 743 Chesterfield Road, Woodseats, Sheffield S8 08l.

Telephone: 0114 250 9066.

Open all week, evenings only. Monday buffet nights (9.95). Licensed.

Vegetarian dishes, some gluten-free. Disabled toilets and access.

Street parking.

My star ratings (out of five):

Food **

Atmosphere ***

Service ****

Value ***

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