A WARM welcome is standard fare at Otto's. Now you would think that would apply to all restaurants but as you and I know, that is definitely not the case.
Treat others as you would want them to treat you is Moroccan-born Otto Damahi's mantra and that's no mean task for a man who owns two restaurants within a few hundred yards of each other on Sharrowvale Road at Hunters Bar.
He divides his time between them, nipping from the well-established Mediterranean, which he co-owns with business partner Majid Mrabit, to the recently opened Otto's.
Most evenings are spent at the latter, where he meets and greets customers old and new in the typical, cheerful Otto way. His teacher-wife Theresa takes care of things behind the bar.
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It's not rocket science but it rubs off on his staff as they go about their business with a smile and old-fashioned courtesy that a few places I've come across over the years would do well to follow.
Then again, a warm welcome is of little use if the food doesn't match up. I'm happy to say there's no fear on that score.
We were the first in but within an hour the place was buzzing with nearly every seat taken in the L-shaped downstairs location, complete with pianist, and a fair smattering of people in the beamed upstairs room.
Otto's is a Bring Your Own establishment which applies to both dining areas, although they're not licensed to sell alcohol upstairs.
There's a fairly comprehensive wine list that includes house wine from around 12 a bottle and by the glass for 3.
Not surprisingly there are Moroccan influences on the menu which, basically, has a strong Mediterranean feel and by that I mean the region, not Otto's other restaurant…
A bowl of mixed olives are already on our table and they're quickly followed by a complimentary tomato and garlic salsa appetizer.
There's a specials board with five starters, ranging from 4.95 to 5.75, and nine mains which include paella (13.50), three different steaks, lamb couscous (12.50), spaghetti seafood (8.95) and venison pie (14.95).
Both my choices come from the blackboard and are from Otto's native country while M takes hers from the equally diverse main menu.
My four Moroccan meatballs (5.75) – they use lamb – have a subtle rather than spicy flavour and are covered in a rich tomato, onion and corriander-infused sauce which I finish off with the aid of a spoon – waste not, want not is my motto.
The surprise is an additional 'white square' which I thought at first could possibly be cheese but very soon realised it was hard-boiled egg.
M goes Greek with a chicken liver kataifi (5.50) which is unusual in that the soft pieces of liver are topped with discs of finely shredded pastry coupled with a contrasting, highly-flavoured cassis sauce.
It's just one of 15 starters: there's also Zaalouk – warm aubergines, courgette and mixed peppers with cumin (4.50) – a chowder belle mere of smoked haddock, prawns and sweetcorn (5.25), traditional Moroccan Harira soup (4.95), Moroccan sardines (5.75), crab and prawn spring rolls (6.25) and cozze marinara in a tomato sauce with garlic, white wine and basil (5.75).
My pastella – Moroccan chicken pie – is another dish which provokes a deal of comment. There's plenty of chicken pieces along with slices of egg and almonds, all encased in a filo pastry (13.50). It comes with a dish of stock in which the chicken has been cooked and cinnamon and garlic added, plus a green salad. Satisfyingly good.
M's halibut sauce Albert (15.50) has two good-sized pieces of well-cooked fish on a bed of leeks with a light cream sauce. We shared the carrots, broccoli and potatoes.
Along with the fillet dolcelatte it was the most expensive on the menu but there are cheaper options such as grilled swordfish couscous (11.50), lamb tagine (12.95), Moroccan lemon chicken (12.50), roasted seabass (12.95) and a wild mushroom risotto (9.95).
Desserts are also a hit; for a start all seven are homemade and come in at just under a fiver (cheese and biscuits are 5.50).
My apple tarte tatin is a take on the original – a thin pastry base with slices of apple and half an apple, plus raisins and sultanas and finished off with a helping of vanilla and thyme ice cream.
The 'posh' croissant butter pudding contains walnuts, raisins and sultanas and is served with vanilla ice cream.
Our total food bill came to 49.65.
Verdict: A taste of the Mediterranean with something out of the ordinary that should tempt most people. Service with a big, big smile gives an instant lift.
Opening times: Monday to Thursday, 6.00-11.30pm; Friday and Saturday, 6.00- midnight; Sunday, 6.00-11.00pm.
Otto's Restaurant, 344 Sharrowvale Road, Hunters Bar, Sheffield. Telephone: 0114 2669147.
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