FRIDAY night is curry night for many of us, so I stayed with tradition when I went to check out the refurbishment of a restaurant that is a favourite with many Sheffielders.
The name also changed slightly from the New India Garden to the Original India Garden on London Road in Meersbrook when Miron Rahman took over from the Ullah family, who have moved on to Cutlers Spice in Gleadless Townend.
Miron, who also runs the Dil Raj in Barnsley, claims that the New/Original India Garden is one of Sheffield’s oldest Indian restaurants but I think he is being a little over-enthusiastic in that claim.
When I arrived with a couple of friends on Friday evening, the place was fairly busy.
I should mention that a lot of diners were taking advantage of a discount advert offer that was running in the Telegraph and Star but that was strictly a coincidence as far as my visit was concerned. I also forgot to take an ad along to claim the discount myself!
It’s interesting to see a restaurant so proud of its four-star hygiene rating that it is on the cover of the menu.
Manager Mahmoud Hussain says that the restaurant has a lot of loyal regulars and customers are mainly families.
He has been at the restaurant for 10 years, staying on when Miron took over.
The refurbishment has smartened the place up, without changing the atmosphere. The look is updated without being severe and the dark wood is offset by cream walls and blinds and dark pink seating and tablecloths. The seating booths have crushed ice-style glass dividers which are a nice touch.
There’s no shortage of staff so service is efficient and friendly enough.
The menu is pretty long, so we made the most of the poppadoms and dips while we dithered a bit over choices (poppadoms 50p each, pickle tray £1.50).
The usual yoghurt sauce, lime and mango pickles and onion salad selection were a good blend of sweet, sour, piquant and spicy without being overpowering.
The starter choices are all pretty familiar Indian restaurant fare and range in price from £2.50 for soup of the day, onion bhaji or samosa to £4.95 for a chingri sizzler with Bengal tiger prawns or a mixed tandoori platter.
My friend Phil chose a chana chatt puree (£2.95), which is spicy chickpeas in what is described as flaky pastry (the puree) but is really more of a flaky mini wrap rather like paratha bread.
There are also meat, potato, chicken and prawn versions.
He enjoyed it and I thought it tasted good too but it can be a filling starter choice and so it proved here.
Kate’s king prawn tandoori (£3.95) was well cooked but unfortunately had cooled down too much waiting to leave the kitchen, so being lukewarm took away from the smoky tandoori flavours.
The same could not be said of the noisy arrival of my chicken tikka sizzler (£3.95), with pieces of meat, onion, pepper and potato served on a cast iron skillet, which was plenty hot enough.
The chicken was tender and spicy and the vegetables were also beautifully cooked, which made it the winner of the first round.
The menu is split into main courses, tandoori, chef’s speciality, biryani dishes and India Garden specials. For most, you pick a sauce and order it with chicken or lamb or chicken or lamb tikka, fish, king prawns, prawns, keema (mince) or vegetables.
As the restaurant mentions Bangladeshi food in its description of itself on the menu, it could do with making Bangladeshi dishes easier to spot.
I tried to ask for a fish curry with a Bangladeshi-style sauce but was steered towards having it Tamil style (£9.75).
Main course prices range from £5.50 to £10.50.
Phil went for a lamb biryani (£5.95) and Kate one of the India Garden spacials, lime chicken (£7.95).
We also ordered pilau rice (£1.95) and a beautifully fresh and deliciious garlic nan bread (£2.50).
There is a pretty reasonable and reasonably priced wine list but we went instead for bottles of Cobra beer (£2.75).
My Tamil-style white fish was pretty good with plenty of green chillis and garlic and interesting, unusual spices; I think they included tamarind. There was no hint of sweetness at all. The fish used is imported from Bangladesh.
Kate’s dish, which is from Hyderabad, had lots of garlic and the distinctive sour tang of lime pickle adding to the heat.
But the revelation in many ways was Phil’s biryani. The generous amount of lamb was beautifully tender and the biryani rice, which can often be disappointingly heavy and greasy, was exactly the opposite. I had given up on biryani but I’d definitely order it here.
The accompanying vegetable curry was pleasant and interesting.
One disappointment was the sweet menu which featured that depressingly familiar array of strange plastic toys filled with ice cream so mysteriously beloved of Indian restaurants, so we gave it a miss. The kulfi that looks like a yellow Dalek always gives me a laugh.
Our bill came to £62.95.
lVerdict: quite a lot in the Original India Garden is rosy and it’s worth a visit.
lOpen: Sunday-Thursday, 5.30-11.30pm, Friday and Saturday, 5.30pm-1am.
Original India Garden, 659-661 London Road. 0114 250 0059 or 0074. www.india-garden.co.uk