A vegan taste of the Punjab in Sheffield at Ajanta’s cafe

What claims to be Sheffield’s only vegetarian Indian street food cafe has opened on Abbeydale Road.

Thursday, 16th May 2019, 12:51 pm
Updated Wednesday, 29th May 2019, 2:49 pm
Ajanta McGuill outside her cafe Ajanta's on Abbeydale Road. Pictures: Scott Merrylees

Well, actually, Ajanta’s has now changed to an all-vegan menu, said the cafe’s young co-owner, Ajanta McGuill.

She opened up the cafe three months ago with her dad, Declan, and said initial signs were encouraging. Visitors have been posting complimentary remarks on their Facebook page and online review sites.

Ajanta said that Sheffield Vegan Society members visited at the weekend and gave her the thumbs up.

A thali at Ajanta's vegetarian cafe, Abbeydale Road, Sheffield

“We started off simple because we wanted to get everything right. In the future we want to branch out and get into a bigger space,” said Ajanta.

“At the moment it’s just me and my dad.”

She added: “We’re trying to make honest, good food you could genuinely eat every day. It will do you good.

“We want to make it as accessible as possible: good value, healthy and tasty. If you go for a meal as a vegetarian, 90 per cent of the time you’re disappointed.

Indian street food on the menu at Ajanta's on Abbeydale Road

“We also want people who eat meat to realise they don’t need to eat meat and can be happy with their meal.”

Ajanta and Declan were both taught to cook the traditional Punjabi food of her mum’s homeland, using family recipes. Ajanta’s mum works in the NHS.

She is named after a set of famous ancient Buddhist cave monuments in Maharashtra, India.

Pictures on the walls showing ornate subterranean Indian stepwells have been loaned by the Silk Road Gallery in Sharrowvale. Ajanta said the gallery owner spotted them and called in.

A display of Indian photographs at Ajanta's cafe on Abbeydale Road, Sheffield

The menu is brief at the moment, basically a couple of starters, five main courses and simple side dishes.

It’s bring your own alcohol at present, although there are plans to get a licence.

The main specialities are the thalis, which cover most of the menu on one plate.

Samosas were off when we visited, so my friend Sara and I shared golgappas (£3). These are little balls of crisp puri pastry stuffed with chickpea and potato and a tamarind sauce.

Pop one in your mouth and get a great punch of spicy, sweet flavour and crunchy and soft textures.

So far, so good, although I wasn’t keen on the paper bowl.

We ordered both the thalis on the menu. Both feature chana masala, dal, aloo and basmati rice.

Mine also included peppers and ‘chicken’ and Sara’s had the addition of naan bread.

The dal lentil dish and the chana masala, which is a spiced chickpea curry, were both fine, good Indian comfort food, but without the more imaginative spicing that would take then to a higher level. Still perfectly tasty, though.

I really didn’t like the chicken dish at all. They use Quorn pieces with a spicy coating, fried with red and yellow peppers. To me, the Quorn had a slightly unpleasant, floury texture and there was a distinctly fishy taste.

I heard other diners saying they really enjoyed it.

The aloo dish – spiced potatoes cooked with cumin seeds – is meant to be warm, we learned, but because other dishes weren’t piping hot, it wasn’t evident.

Sara liked her very soft, fluffy nan bread.

We finished with two – paper – bowls of vegan ice cream and ordered masala chai Indian spiced teas. We got undrinkably strong ordinary tea.

It’s early days for this place and I hope it does well, maybe after some tweaking. Our bill came to a very reasonable £28.98.