Parental guidance

Downtown Akbars Restaurant on West Street in Sheffield
Downtown Akbars Restaurant on West Street in Sheffield

IT’S great to see that some Asian mums are sending their boys out in the world with great cookery skills that the rest of us can then enjoy.

Chef Randhir Koli, who has only been in Sheffield for a few weeks now, came down from his home town of Dundee to help set up Downtown Akbar’s, a restaurant and takeaway that has just opened on West Street in the city centre.

Koli said his food, which is influenced by his family’s origins in Delhi, is all based on what his mum taught him at home when he was growing up.

He has worked in a lot of restaurants and has in the past been an executive chef and has cooked many types of food, including Italian and Chinese.

He had some input into the menu, which currently runs to two sides of A4, but may add in a few dishes when he’s figured out Sheffield tastes a bit better.

In the meantime, diners are welcome to request dishes or ask for tweaks to what’s on the menu.

Koli’s wife Sara has joined him and runs the front of house operation.

The restaurant, which is run by Harun Rashid, has no links to the famous Akbar’s brand.

It is a big place which has been split in half for a separate takeaway.

Koli wishes that the restaurant side was bigger, as he said they had to turn away customers on Saturday. It is still a big dining room, though, with space for two large parties when we visited, plus lots of smaller tables.

The look is fairly plain, livened up by some bright paintings of tigers, elephants and the inevitable Taj Mahal, plus a long bar with lights that regularly change colour.

The restaurant is fully licensed and has a wine list, offering glasses at around £4 and bottles from about £11 to £15.

Linda and I opted for bottles of Cobra lager instead.

It’s fair to say that service is patchy at the moment and we got menus but our drinks took quite a while to arrive.

When Harun arrived to take our food orders, he was called away to sort out an issue at another table before he got started, but was all charm and apologies when he came back.

And when the starters arrived, we had to point out to Sara that the poppadoms hadn’t come and she apologised and brought us a couple of free ones.

Unfortunately, we spotted that we had still been charged for then when the bill came but this was politely rectified.

Let’s put all this down to teething troubles and see if things improve.

The menu goes for the trick of including all the popular choices and adding in some specialities for someone looking for dishes that are unusual or more authentic.

Dishes with the word desi in the name indicate home-style cooking.

So the starters, which are priced from £2.50 to £5.50, include onion bhajis, samosas and king prawn tikka, but also malai chicken and chilli pakora.

I went for my favourite fish masala (£4.95) and Linda chose chilli pakora (£3.20).

We were tucking in enthusiastically when we realised that Linda had got chicken pakora but they were so delicious that we ate them anyway.

The fish was absolutely beautiful, three generous pieces of haddock that had been lightly dusted in a spice mix and fried to perfection. The fish was wonderfully tender and the spices brought out its flavour.

The pakora were three nice chunks of chicken breast and pieces of onion coated in herbs and spices and a gram flour batter, then deep fried. The meat was well cooked and the flavours and spiciness came through really well.

That all boded well for the main courses and we weren’t disappointed at all.

Choices include section of popular dishes, plus chef’s and home-made specialities and ‘flavours of Punjab’. There are also one or two healthier choices and Koli may introduce more soon.

We noticed that the description of one lamb dish, dayghi gosht (£12.50), says it takes hours to prepare, so we thought we should try it.

The meat is cooked on the bone in a sauce after it has been marinated overnight so that the flavours penetrate all the way through it.

It was well worth the effort as the meat was excellent and the spices were described as aromatic, so the heat level was about medium.

We also shared a nirali special (£9.95), a dish of diced chicken marinaded in yoghurt and cooked in a masala sauce with fresh tomatoes, ginger, onion and cream, plus Linda’s favourite, cashew nuts, to add some crunch.

The cream made this a much richer dish with a smooth sauce, unlike the gravy-like sauce the lamb was served in. Again, the spice level was medium.

Even with cream in the chicken dish the whole meal felt very light and you didn’t have a bloated feeling you often get from a curry.

Just for fun. we’d ordered a giant family-sized nan (£3.95), which comes upright on a special hanger. It was so delicious that we ate a lot of it.

I asked about pud but the promised chcolate butter pudding never arrived. We did have a pleasant coffee and an Indian tea, though.

Our bill came to £41.80 but ask about their bargain opening offers.

lVerdict: this place is already busy but the service needs to come up to the superior level of the food.

lDowntown Akbar’s, 95-101 West Street. 0114 272 5747.

lOpen seven days, 5pm ‘till late’.