His Mediterranean restaurant has been a ray of sunshine on Sharrowvale Road for a quarter of a century and few would dispute its merits.
But a makeover has given it a fresh radiance – not least because you can spot the bright blue exterior from 400m away, ensuring that no-one will overlook this established cornerstone of Sheffield cuisine.
“People see all these flashy new restaurants, especially the chains, and they’re attracted by the presentation no matter what the food is like,” says owner Otto Damahi.
His answer was to refresh the Mediterranean while maintaining its standards.
So the old green has been replaced by a blue as bright as a Sicilian sky. Inside, the walls gleam like stucco in the sunshine, with deep blue archways and matching upholstered chairs. Crisp white linen adds the finishing touch.
Also refreshed are the staff: “They’re all professionals, not just students, but they’ve got new life in them since we reopened,” says Otto, who has introduced the changes following the retirement of his business partner earlier this year.
It has to be said that service is, for the most part, outstanding and leading the field is front-of-house manager Aziz Zebari, a long-serving member of the team who has recently returned after a three-year absence.
The secret of good service is to anticipate a customer’s needs before he realises them himself – but this was the first time I’d seen such excellence in practice.
“Would you like more sauce with that?” inquired Aziz, appearing mid-course.
Well, since you ask, yes please… “Although I hadn’t realised I needed it until now,” admitted my companion.
The other key change is in the menu. While some restaurants continually expand the number of dishes on offer, Otto has refined the selection to concentrate on quality.
Fish remains the principal focus, with seafood accounting for 90% of dishes, but there is more than a token option for meat eaters, The specials board too has been refined, from 18 dishes down to six.
We’ve heard much about the Mediterranean over the years but it’s been a long time since we’ve ventured through the doors, so the new reality is a welcome surprise.
Laid-back acoustic guitar music sets the scene as we’re shown to a table behind one of the arches. I don’t know how they do it but you could almost believe you’ve abandoned blustery Sheffield for a bistro overlooking the Med.
Slices of crusty bread and herby marinated olives are already on the table and we settle back to enjoy ourselves.
The wine list offers a decent choice, priced from around £13 (£3.50 per glass). House red is a fruity South African shiraz that’s mellow enough even for fish.
It’s here that we encounter the only black mark: our waitress brings the bottle and pours without offering a chance to taste it. Okay, so it’s probably fine, but there’s no excuse for lack of courtesy.
The menu, as promised, is concise: two sides of A4 plus the specials. It’s the kind of selection that takes some whittling down; my mouth waters at just about every item on it.
The goat’s cheese wins. A thick, creamy slab is topped with caramelised red onions and encased in crisp, paper-thin filo pastry, with a leafy garnish and balsamic dressing.
My companion’s ‘sausage and mushrooms’ is not what he expects, but he’s soon a convert to the Mediterranean version. Portobello mushrooms are topped with slices of spicy salami, anointed with cheese and cooked to juicy succulence.
“Would you like more bread with that?” Yes please!
It appears, with more of the delicious olives too (the marinade, Aziz tells us, is a mixture of lemon zest, four different kinds of herbs and a hint of chilli, plus garlic and olive oil). And it tastes even better when we discover that there’s no extra charge.
On to main course: Moroccan Chicken for my non-fish-eating companion, best-selling paella for me.
It’s easy to see why the paella is so popular. The rice is finely seasoned, spiced and cooked with a glorious mixture of fish, seafood, chicken, chorizo, peppers and peas.
I can identify mussels, squid, clams and scallops as well as the shell-on prawn perched on top along with dill, rosemary and a wedge of lemon. Wonderful!
Chicken breast is just as good, judging by the appreciative grunts: “It’s unusual to find a seafood restaurant that’s as good at meat and poultry.”
It’s cooked in a rich sauce, aromatic with honey and cinnamon (no wonder he wants more) and finished with sliced almonds. There’s a side dish of mange-tout, carrots and new potatoes – no skimping on the veg here.
Desserts are just as good. Baklava, fragrant with pistachios and a hint of rosewater, is sweet, nutty and just as it should be, with a generous dollop of tangy Greek yoghurt.
Bread and butter pudding would have been better without being drowned in custard but the flavour is all there.
We finish our meal with a cafétière of coffee and chocolate-covered coffee beans, reluctantly turning down the complimentary liqueur.
lVerdict: A new look has made this old favourite a real breath of fresh sea air.
lOpen: Daily, 6pm-11.30pm (Fri-Sat until midnight, Sun until 11pm).
lThe Mediterranean Restaurant, 271 Sharrowvale Road, Sheffield (0114) 266 1069