THIS is the time of year when I loosen my belt a hole or two and look back on a year of meals out, reflecting on the state of local restaurants – and my stomach.
Despite the recession there has not been the kitchen cull some of us expected. Of all the eateries I reviewed only one has since fallen by the wayside, although many are grimly hanging on.
It has a been a good year for eating out. In Sheffield and the surrounding area you can find some enterprising cooking, as the food guides are only just realising. And we’re spoiled for choice.
For the statistically-minded among you there were reviews of seven Indian restaurants, six Italian, including pizza joints, three Chinese, two French and one each offering Caribbean, Persian and Japanese food. Apologies to the Thais.
The rest were English although these range from posh Modern British restaurants in the guide books through decent little independents to one at a dog track, taking in along the way at least half a dozen pubs and bars, four cafes, a trio of bistros, two fish and chip restaurants, one stately home and a department store cafe.
Not all of them were dinners: I managed to pack in five Sunday lunches and three afternoon teas.
Actually there was one more which you never read about. I went to a new place with high hopes but while the service was fine they really ought to fire the chef so, after an early rush of Christmas spirit, we left not wanting to kill someone’s business.
My most expensive meal out topped £70 for the two of us, the cheapest had change from a tenner. The year’s dining out confirmed what I have always known: while the size of the bill is often a reflection of the quality, it ain’t necessarily so. I’ve done some good eating on a shoestring.
So I’m pretty optimistic about the local restaurant scene although I can’t say the same about my stomach.
The year has seen a renaissance in Chinese restaurants, taking advantage of the thousands of Chinese students studying here (and giving us the chance to taste something more authentic). And as the number of Indian eateries continues to expand like a poppadom under the grill I do wonder how many more this city can take.
We end the year with a split personality. You may have seen the premises of Steel City Guitars turn into the Shah Jahan restaurant and takeaway and thought, oh no, not another Indian restaurant. And you’d be right and wrong. It’s not until you go inside and peek at a menu that you realise it combines Indian and Turkish dishes.
Now there are nearly 4,000 miles between Istanbul in Turkey and Madras in India but not in the mind of owner Hampa Russool, who has moved in from Manchester.
“I was trying to do something really new,” he told us after we had settled the bill. He has.
One side of Shah Jahan, named after the builder of the Taj Mahal, featured on the menu, is a takeaway section with char grill and some tables. The other is the 60 cover restaurant which is pretty bare with unadorned walls and a large space in the middle as if it’s waiting for a belly dancer. Hampa plans more tables.
Makes sure you don’t go in the wrong door as right next to it is the entrance to the Candytown Chinese restaurant above.
It is a little parky as the door doesn’t fit too well but the food should warm you up.
Now putting two different cuisines under one roof could be a recipe for disaster but Shah Jahan avoids it. Indian food comes from Bangladeshi chef Aziziur Rahman, a partner in the business.
I ate Indian and the missus went to Turkey. Let’s start in the sub-continent, first. My mixed kebabs (£3.20) featured a really gutsy sheek kebab and a filo wrapped samosa. Lamb jalfrezi to follow (£7.50) may have had slightly chewy meat but it was bathed in a gorgeous sauce.
There are no daals on the menu so I had a nifty vegetable and lentil dansak (£4.50), with pullao rice and a bathmat-sized, expertly done naan (both £2.10).
My wife enjoyed four little crispy felafel (£3.99) which came with ‘Turkish beans,’ suspiciously like cold baked beans!
The most expensive dish of the night was her main course, tavuk izgara (£10.95), some exquisitely flavoured chicken kebabs with salad, rice and cacik, yoghurt and cucumber.
We washed it down with a thinnish sour lassi and a cola (60p and 70p) and rounded off our meal with Turkish cardamom flavoured tea from a metal Ali Baba style pot and glass cups, very refreshing and refreshingly free of charge.
It was a very enjoyable meal, served by a delightful waitress, to end the year and a reasonable bill. We paid £35.64.