When an Indian restaurant is recommended to you by Stephen McClarence, you’d better believe he knows what he’s talking about.
My esteemed former colleague on The Star gently prompted me to review Kerala Spice on Abbeydale Road, and I’m very glad he did.
Stephen, now working as a travel writer, has visited India many times and was pretty impressed by what he found almost on his doorstep.
Chef and owner Hameed Puthan Pura was at Rama’s Bridge in Crookes for four-and-a-half years.
When that partnership split up, he and his family took over the former south Indian restaurant premises near Mount Pleasant Park in Sharrow last August.
The old name didn’t come with them but they have had a stream of loyal customers travelling down from Crookes.
Hameed said he has been working in restaurants in London and Sheffield for three decades and has been running his own places for the past 13 years.
His love for his native Keralan food is infectious and he happily fired up the grill again when we spoke at the end of the evening to show me how he makes dosa pancakes.
He can produce dosas up to six feet long for special occasions.
You can see him in action on a video on the Telegraph website.
The restaurant has a small party room upstairs and they can make special dishes like sea bass wrapped in banana leaves for celebrations.
Hameed, who is from the coastal city of Kozhikode, said: “It’s like home food. We cook the dosa and everything fresh, there’s nothing out of the freezer.”
He added: “I like cooking, I never tire of cooking. Everybody likes the food, it’s fresh food and there’s never anybody complaining.”
Hameed’s son Adhil works front of house and his wife Rashida and daughter Fatima were helping in the kitchen when we visited.
The restaurant was quiet when my friend Janet and I visited last week but we got a warm welcome from Adhil.
The restaurant decor is predominantly red and it’s a bright, comfortable space.
Pictures of Kerala dotted here and there, taken by family members, are the only reminder of the region and overall the look reminded me more of a Chinese restaurant.
We shared a big bottle of Kingfisher beer and settled down to study the menu.
Janet is pretty much vegetarian and the menu was great for her as a lot of the dishes are veggie. There is also a full vegan menu, good news if you’re doing Veganuary.
However, they’ve currently stopped doing the weekend thalis.
Fish curries are a speciality of Keralan cooking, so there’s a delicious-sounding selection, and there are also chicken and lamb dishes on the menu.
We shared two starters, the intriguing-sounding cashew nut pakoras and chilli idly. I wonder what an idle chilli would taste like?
The pakoras were like a lovely cocktail snack, the nuts covered in a lightly spiced batter and served with fried curry leaves. They were very moreish.
Idly (pronounce the ‘id’ as in idiot) are delicious little spongy-textured steamed cakes made with ground rice and urad dal – split black gram lentils –that were served in a mildy spicy, tomato-based sauce with lots of sliced red and yellow peppers. The cakes soaked up the sauce beautifully.
For the main course we shared a masala dosa and a dal and spinach curry, plus two chapatis and some lemon rice.
The dosa is a typical Keralan dish that Adhil said is often eaten for breakfast.
It certainly wafted Janet back to her own travels in Kerala, sitting on a terrace in the sunshine eating the same dish.
A dosa is a crispy, thin crepe-style pancake with a batter made from fermented ground rice and lentils and the masala filling is spiced crushed potatoes cooked with cracked urad dal, mustard seeds, onions and curry leaves.
The dish was accompanied by a little bowl of vegetable lentil stew called a sambar and two fresh chutneys, one made with coconut and the other with tomato.
The lovely, light dosa was crunchy in some parts and softer in others and the masala filling was so good I wanted more.
I enjoyed the sambar but preferred the gorgeous chutneys, bursting with fresh flavour.
The tomato one was creamier and richer and the coconut one was sharper and slightly salty, so they provided a great contrast to each other.
The dal and spinach curry was equally good, with a buttery sauce infused with aromatic flavourings.
The chapatis were maybe a little dry but the lemony rice was very good, unexpectedly spiked with spiced nuts.
The pudding menu wasn’t inspiring so we opted to finish ins tead with spicy masala tea, which was good.
We had a very pleasant evening and enjoyed some good food and really this place should be busy, even on a week night just after New Year. Our bill came to £40.15.