RESTAURATEUR Allam Shah Ullah is a man who knows what he wants – and will go to great lengths to get it.
As a teenager, making his first Indian takeaway delivery, he walked into the Cutlers Arms pub at Gleadless and decided it would make ‘a cracking restaurant’. Fifteen years on, that ambition has finally become a reality with the launch of Cutlers Spice.
It’s no mean feat. Allam has spent the intervening time working in his family’s restaurants in Sheffield, Chesterfield and Doncaster but he never forgot his dream.
When the Cutlers came up for auction last year, he and dad Noim narrowly missed out. But when he heard the sale had fallen through, he dropped everything and ran to the agent’s office to secure the deal.
They finally took possession of the building in January – and by that time Allam’s plan was already well under way.
For the past 18 months he has combined his night-time duties in the restaurant with daytime classes at Sheffield College.
“I was 31 and I’d spent most of my life in Indian restaurants but I wanted to do the job properly. I wanted to stand out from everybody else,” he says.
The course deals in traditional cuisine; Indian cooking doesn’t come into it. But he has learned how to bone everything from a quail to a cow, as well as the principles of classical cookery.
He has also undertaken work placements in three other restaurants around the area to broaden his experience: “I’d always worked for my parents before.”
Allam’s input since has had an impact on the Cutlers kitchen, even though he remains a junior member for now: “My ambition is be become head chef but my dad wants me to earn my chef’s jacket.”
Until then his parents, Noim and wife Ashfurn Nesa Begum, will continue as head chefs, a tradition they began with the New India Garden at Heeley in 1988.
Cutlers Spice, which opened earlier this month, is a hugely ambitious project.
Under the guidance of an architect and a designer, ceilings were raised or lowered, concealed lighting installed, false walls constructed and a new kitchen created, complete with tandoori oven.
The decor is striking: a mix of white leather and neutral backgrounds with flashes of rich colour and texture and contemporary crystal chandeliers to add a touch of opulence.
The focal point – and the only ‘Indian’ thing about the place – is a dreamy, full-length mural of the Taj Mahal from across the river Yamuna.
So large is the space that there are several different areas: one for intimate dining, another for larger parties and a third with an exclusive table for 12. Event catering and private functions are also available.
And there’s more to come. Allam is planning to build a sandstone wall outside to create a private garden and al fresco dining area, while phase three will include a second-floor extension with a second kitchen.
But that’s for the future.
We arrive to a warm welcome that brightens up a murky Tuesday evening. There’s a real ‘wow’ factor about this place and service is excellent.
The only black mark is beyond the restaurant’s control: a badly-behaved child. Bring back good old-fashioned table manners!
We order drinks – Indian beer for him, fresh lime and soda for me – and trawl through the vast menu; there’s really too much to choose from. But the biriyanis, baltis and classics are supplemented by Signature Specials and Cutlers Specials, which is where the authentic Bangladeshi cooking comes in.
Poppadoms come with an interesting assortment of pickles: onion, mango, raita and three others in varying stages of heat. We tuck in happily until our starters arrive.
Massala fish is two firm white fillets, lightly spiced, pan fried and served with a simple salad. It’s beautifully balanced and deliciously savoury.
Across the table, my companion is enthusing over shinghara: Punjabi vegetable samosas deep fried in slightly thicker-than-normal pastry.
His main course is Afghani lamb, recommended by Allam from the Cutlers Specials.
Tender morsels of meat cooked with chickpeas, tomatoes and spices and served in a stylish white china bowl – a refreshing change from the usual metal dishes.
My Cutlers king prawns, confusingly from the Signature Specials, are juicy and intense, with a sauce of peppers and potatoes, bay leaves, coriander and spices.
If spicing is an art, then this is the Van Gogh of its field.
We share a bowl of keema rice and a puffy peshwari nan.
Indian food is invariably heavy and we’ve eaten our fill by this time, so we pay the bill – only for Allam to insist that we try his desserts.
This is not the typical frozen fare but freshly-made gulab jamun with balls of creamy malai ice cream (a kind of vanilla kulfi). If only we had room to do it justice.
Dinner for two, excluding drinks and service, is £34.70.
lVerdict: Good food, skilfully spiced, in an atmosphere that’s comfortably luxurious.
lOpen: Daily 12-2.30pm (not Friday) & 5.30-12pm.
lCutlers Spice, 1 Leighton Road, Gleadless, Sheffield (0114) 241 6868.