I never thought I’d unravel the mystery of the Sfinx opposite a famous swinger’s club in Attercliffe, but you never know where a food reviewer’s job will take you.
Sfinx on Staniforth Road isn’t an Egyptian restaurant with a trendily-spelled name but a Romanian restaurant named after a famous natural landmark.
The Romanian Sfinx is a rock formation that looks just like the ancient Egyptian statue and that is the Romanian spelling.
The restaurant’s owners Camelia Colnic and Adrian Briciu are pondering a name change, but I think the original is memorable.
The couple started Sfinx just over a year ago because they wanted to bring the food of home to their homeland to their adopted country.
They only knew of one Romanian restaurant in the region, which is in Halifax, when they set up but now there is another serving Romanian and Turkish food in Doncaster.
Camelia said: “We wanted to be closer to town but everywhere was expensive. What I liked about this place was the open space and we didn’t have to put a lot of money into it.”
Their roomy premises occupy what used to be Smokey's American diner, bang opposite the famous La Chambre club. They don’t get much custom from across the road but maybe the new Wednesday night buffet of popular dishes from the menu will change all that.
Adrian pointed out one benefit of a location without much passing trade: “Every time a person comes in I feel blessed, because they are coming in for us.
“We have had people coming from York, Dewsbury and Doncaster and people travelling from London to Scotland who stopped at Meadowhall.”
They have been building up their reputation outside the Romanian community with social media activity and positive TripAdvisor reviews.
They did use Groupon but have stopped that now.
Adrian said that their chef makes everything on the menu from scratch – apart from the chips - even down to souring the cream.
The menu is fairly extensive, with starters, stews, grills and schnitzels, chef’s specials, pastas and salads.
We were slightly confused when we looked at it because of the little flags at the side of each dish. We didn’t want to try Austrian or Italian dishes but when we ordered Adrian explained that the flags depict the origins of dishes that were brought to Romania by waves of invaders.
The country has been part of the Ottoman, Austro-Hungarian and Soviet empires.
He said that they have their own twists, so Romanian pasta will be flavoured with nutmeg and cumin.
You can try Romanian wines at Sfinx – including one called Dracula – and they’re currently bringing in finer wines but we opted for the Timisoreana lager. Very pleasant it was, too.
We asked for advice on food choices and went with Adrian’s suggestions of bean soup and aubergine spread. My friend Linda and I agreed to share both.
The soup was great, tomatoey and smoky and with a nice chunk of pork sitting in the middle. It came with white bread and a little plate of chopped red onion and a green chilli to add to it.
The onion worked very well. Romanians just take a bite of the chilli and luckily that one wasn’t too strong, but another one later with my main course was so fiery it made me sneeze.
The aubergine pate came with the same bread, which I didn’t think worked so well in this case, but the pate was great, again smoky in flavour and silky in texture. It’s familiar as the lovely Middle Eastern dish, baba ganoush.
My main course was a traditional Romanian dish, sarmale, but again you could see other influences at work.
The menu description said minced meat, bacon and stuffed cabbage, served with cornbread, sour cream and chilli pepper, so I was expecting stuffed cabbage.
What actually came was little rolls of pork with minced meat and finely-shredded cabbage inside, served on a block of polenta with a generous smear of sour cream on the side.
The whole dish was well cooked and tasted fine and I enjoyed the polenta, which often leaves me cold, but I thought it could have benefited from a little tomatoey sauce or a pickle on the side.
Linda really liked her chicken schnitzel, which was crunchy outside and soft within, and the accompanying little plain and spinach-flavoured Austrian spaetzle pasta, and the colourful side salad.
We did leave room for the piece de la resistance on the menu, the pudding.
I’d already spotted this with a look at the menu online (www.sfinxrestaurant.co.uk) that mentions “Cheese Dumplings with berries”.
Portions are generous here, so Linda had a very nice fruit salad with sour cream and little chocolate straws on top. She did help me out with mine, though, thankfully.
I’d go back to Sfinx for the pudding alone. The plate looked gorgeous, with one ring doughnut covered in a jammy, brambly sauce with one dumpling on top and a little crescent of dumplings on the side, sitting on a bed of cream and covered with more of the berry sauce.
It was a decadent combination of dumplings that were crunchy outside and moist on the inside and a sweet sauce and slightly sharp cream cutting through.
Our bill came to a bargain £38.35, so our expedition to discover the Sfinx was very worthwhile.