EATING OUT REVIEW: Choudry’s Orient Express - Oriental buffet’s on right line

Food station: Choudry's Orient Express.
Food station: Choudry's Orient Express.

Masbrough Railway Station; oh the memories, writes Jo Davison.

My grandparents took me on my first ever train trip from here.

Tuck in: Qadir Choudry with chef Azam Shah at Choudry's Orient Express.

Tuck in: Qadir Choudry with chef Azam Shah at Choudry's Orient Express.

It was a treat, sitting in the draughty Victorian waiting room for our carriage to roar up to the platform and transport us to the seaside.

The station closed down in 1987, when a shiny, new, much more accessible yet utterly characterless station was opened in the city centre.

After that, folk only went to Masbrough if they were heading to the footie. Then, when the Millers had to move to Don Valley, they barely went there at all. The station, once the gateway to the world for Rotherham-ites, fell into decline. Eventually it got turned into industrial units, which seemed like such a waste of a grand old building which had been a portal to another world. Sheffield and Donny at the very least.

Now it’s an Indian restaurant; once again it’s transporting South Yorkshire people to another land - if only via the tastebuds.

Choudhry’s Orient Express is owned by the son and daughter-in-law of a Sixties immigrant Pakistani who alighted the train at Masbrough to start a new life. He’d only travelled from Halifax, where he’d first settled, but never mind; it’s romantic enough for me.

“When the station closed he always said it would make a wonderful restaurant,” says his daughter-in-law Attiya. “When we opened seven years ago it felt like we were fulfilling his dream.”

Choudry’s, which extended upstairs in 2010 to cater for functions and Asian weddings, has a full a la carte featuring tandoori specials and Apna-style chef’s specials which can be cooked to your heat preference, and a takeaway service.

But we bargain-hunters are here for the £9.99 all you can eat buffet. The staff seem to assume everyone is a regular, which left us a bit at sea on arrival. We sat there for a bit, then called over the young lad we presumed to be the waiter, even though he was dressed in T-shirt and shorts. Granted, it’s a very hot night. And he was a lovely lad (the owners’ son). But I like to see waiting-on staff in some sort of uniform.

He politely directed us to the poppadom table and the chafing dishes containing the starters and his dad Qadir Choudhri (again, no uniform) delivered our jug of salted lassi, which tasted great but was absolutely huge. A £4.50 bargain, but seriously there was enough for eight people easily.

Our poppadoms were warm, crisp and light and the accompaniments plentiful; salads, sauces and pickles in profusion.

I loved the big, crunchy onion bhajis and had high hopes for the lean chunks of chicken tikka, though they had obviously been cooked quite a while earlier and had grown cold and hard. The large samosas had a beautifully spiced, diced vegetable filling but the pastry was a little too plentiful.

Next up, the curries. There’s a constant, steady stream of people arriving, all clutching wine and beer bottles (we hadn’t realised it’s bring-your-own) so without haste we speed to the row of eight gleaming and rotund chafing dishes in case everyone gets there before us.

We open them gleefully. It feels like Christmas. And as you do when it’s an all-you-can-eat affair, we have to have a bit of everything.

We do it in two stages, four curries at a time so our plates don’t look too enormous. Only the too bland korma disappointed. The sauce tasted of little more than sweet cream. The other seven were fantastic, though. And considering it’s Ramadan and none of the chefs we could see toiling away in the open kitchen were allowed to taste anything, they did a mighty fine job.

A great chicken bhuna, a potato and caulifower aloo ghobi, a minced lamb kheema, a smoky tikka dahl... We loved them - and cardomon-scented pilau rice and the piping-hot nans fresh from the griddle.

Lean, boneless lamb jalfrezi was my favourite. The flavours were dense, but smoothly and subtly combined and with heat.

I learn afterwards from Mrs Chodhry that the chefs, brought in from Pakistan, grind whole spices to make all their own pastes and sauces and pride themselves on it. The best dishes, she says, are the home-style Handis - and the tandoori mixed grill at £6.80, with lamb chops, chicken and lamb tikka and seekh kebab with sauted onions and mixed peppers in their best dish.

We sampled the desserts that were in with the price - a bought-in chocolate was a bit disappointing but the sweet, creamy kheer rice pudding hit the spot beautifully. Our bill came to £24.48 and we could barely waddle to the car, so full were we. That’s the only problem with these buffets; they bring out the glutton in you. They should be renamed far-more-than-you-can eat.

Just the ticket, Choudhry’s. We’ll be back for that Special mixed grill.

FOOD REVIEW:

Choudhry’s Orient Express, The old Railway Station, Princes Street, Masbrough, Rotherham S60 1HX. Tel: 01709 555527. Web site www.orientexpressrotherham.com. Open: Sunday-Thursday 5pm-12am, Friday and Saturday 5pm-1am. Large car park. Cards accepted

My star ratings out of five:

Food: ****

Atmosphere: ***

Service: ***

Value: *****