IT’S always great to meet someone with vision and Ali Khan dreams of a restaurant with an open kitchen where diners could sit round and see their food cooked in front of them.
He also wants to run cookery courses to show people how to cook Asian food in an authentic way. I think he may be on to something.
In the meantime, Kashmiri Kitchen on Ecclesall Road is already innovative as the menu has a choice of only six starters and seven main courses.
And at last someone does home-made puddings.
Ali did his research and decided: “This is all I’m doing. I’m sick to death of having to travel to Bradford, Manchester or Birmingham just to get good food.
“Here you go to an Indian and by the time you’ve read the starters you think, just give me some food. How can you excel at 373 dishes? You can’t. I’m a perfectionist.”
Behind him is another perfectionist, his mum Belquis Khan, who taught the chefs to cook all the dishes, using fresh spices, which are what she cooks at home.
Ali says that she will often drop in unannounced during service to see what he’s up to.
The restaurant, which has taken over what used to be MishMash, is as unadorned as the menu, with bold paintings enlivening cream walls, dark wooden flooring and dark red tablecloths.
For the time being you have to bring your own until they get a licence and Ali says that will still apply when they are selling alcohol.
We decided on soft drinks and I had a good mango lassi and we had poppadoms and pickles (£1.25). The pickles were good but I thought the poppadoms were too dense in texture.
The starters, although all familiar, are what some Sheffield Kashmiri families eat at home, I know from experience, although I was surprised to see onion pakoras, not mixed vegetables.
The choice includes meat or vegetable samosas, chicken tikka and seekh kebab. Prices are £1.95 to £2.75.
Linda decided to try the veggie samosa (£1.95) and, as promised on the menu, they tasted freshly made with crispy pastry encasing a good, vibrant filling.
We kept our pickle tray but otherwise they are served with a fresh chutney.
My three tandoori chicken wings (£2.50) also hit the spot nicely as the meat was moist and the Kashmiri spices were a cut above the usual.
The menu will be extended a little by specials – masala fish is tantalisingly promised soon.
For now the choice is chicken or lamb handi, slow-cooked minced lamb dish keema mutter, chicken pulao and three vegetarian dishes – aloo gobi, which is potato and cauliflower curry, tarka daal made with yellow lentils or Kashmiri bindi, which is pan-fried okra.
So nothing particularly unfamiliar for curry lovers, which I think could be rectified on the specials board. Prices are £4.25 to £5.95.
We went for the gosht (lamb) handi (£4.95) and chicken pulao (£5.95), plus a spinach bhaji side dish (£2.95), the special of the night.
The pulao is a biryani and the rice, cooked with chicken, spoke for itself as Ali is not a fan of tarting up the rice with food colouring.
It was all tender and well cooked and subtly spiced and was accompanied by an excellent mixed vegetable curry.
The handi, described as spring lamb cooked with chilli, onions tomato, ginger and spices, was lovely and full of great, distinct flavour. The menu says that all the spices are medium but to ask for extra chilli if you want it. Only heat fiends will really need to.
The spinach dish split the jury. Linda wasn’t bothered but I liked its juicy, melting spinach and nice spicing.
Everything was served in little white bowls but we didn’t manage to test whether you’d get a refill if you emptied them, as happened once to me memorably in a hotel in Muzaffarabad in Azad Kashmir one Christmas Eve. We were trying not to waste food in an earthquake zone not long after disaster had struck...
We also had a good, light and almost crisp plain nan (£1.50) but authenticity would really demand rotis.
Overall, the food was really good with great tastes but it hasn’t quite got the wow factor that some of the great restaurants and cafes in those other cities can boast. I’m sure Ali and his mum will be working on it.
We finished with coffee (£1.50) but afterwards when we were chatting Ali treated us to mango and pistachio kulfi, delicious rich Kashmiri ice cream on a stick (£1.95).
It’s embarrassing but I had managed to miss the home-made desserts on such a short menu after banging on about the subject in other reviews.
Ali is experimenting with chocolate gulab jamun, which are fluffy fried milk cheese balls, but in the meantime rice pudding fans might like to try kheer, the drier Kashmiri version.
The upstairs function room seats 40 and is free if you order food.
Ali wants diners to design their own Christmas menu and the one he chooses will get to taste it for free with their family.
Our bill came to £30, another first for Ecclesall Road, surely.
* Verdict: Go and try Kashmiri food just like mother still makes.
* Kashmiri Kitchen, 617 Ecclesall Road, Sheffield S11 8PT. 07870 495874.
* Open Monday to Friday 4pm-11pm, Saturday and Sunday noon to 11pm.