Restaurant Review: House of Spice - Lesley Draper visits the aptly-named House of Spice, a hot new option for aficionados of classic Indian fare

House of Spice . Head Chef  Suhel Ahmed with Ahmed Sham
House of Spice . Head Chef Suhel Ahmed with Ahmed Sham

But the House of Spice, just above Hunter’s Bar, is different. For a start they use more than 20 different spices – and that’s just in one dish.

The place is run by chef patron Suhel Ahmed, who was born in Bangladesh and arrived in Sheffield 12 years ago. In charge front-of-house is his brother Ahmed Sham, who’s justly proud of their new venture.

“My mother taught us how to cook when we were children,” he says. “Suhel was always the best. When he was 13 and I was eight I remember him cooking a meal for me.

“Some of our specials are dishes my mum made, others have been created by my brother, inspired by her. We use up to 20 different spices, some of them specially brought over from Bangladesh.”

Although based in Sheffield, the brothers opened their first restaurant, Mumtaz, in the Peak District town of Matlock. The business flourished but they found the town too quiet and too far to travel.

Ten years on they decided the time was right to move closer to home and take on a new challenge in an area where there was more competition.

They looked at potential premises in Woodseats, Dore and Crookes before hitting on the former lighting shop in Ecclesall Road at the end of last year and setting about turning it into the restaurant of their dreams.

“We could have taken on a place that was already done but if you start from scratch it’s really exciting,” says Ahmed. “The liability is yours but all the credit is yours, too, as word spreads.”

They began by turning a warehouse area at the back of the shop into a second dining room; then they put in a kitchen, stairs and a bar.

Finally they transformed the whole place with a rich purple colour scheme: wallpaper, carpets, chairs, table runners, even menus, flowers and wall plaques blend in and focal point of the lounge area is a plush purple sofa.

The effect is striking and surprisingly atmospheric when coupled with traditional Indian music. It’s a shame the music has to compete with a television playing too loudly in the lounge.

One thing that the House of Spice does have in common with other Indian restaurants is good service. Staff are friendly, attentive and serve the food with a flourish – dishes are wheeled in ceremoniously on a trolley, accompanied by the sizzling of freshly-cooked food on cast iron platters.

We are shown to a window seat and left to peruse the menus.

Drinks are fairly standard; we order Tiger beer and mineral water. Papadums are available (50p each) but they’re not offered and we don’t ask for them – I’m always stuffed by half way through an Indian meal anyway.

The menu is comprehensive: tandoori sizzlers, balti and karai dishes supplement the more common ‘classics’, a range of ‘authentic’ regional dishes and house specials.

Those sizzle plates look appetising, so tandoori platter is an obvious starter. The presentation is a work of art: a swirl of sauce and salad garnish adorn my plate and pieces of sizzling chicken, lamb and seekh kebab are carefully served on to it and topped with fried peppers and onions.

The spicing is subtle, the meat still juicy and there’s a wedge of lemon and a bowl of minty raita to add the finishing touches.

My companion’s chicken chat is equally good, though the ‘flaky pastry’ base is misleading. The chicken, onion and tomato mix – again subtly spiced – come on a folded puri bread.

We both choose main courses from the selection of house specials (lured by the sub-heading which tells us, charmingly, that a diverse range of spices is used to create ‘spelended’ taste)…

Lazeez chicken is Suhel’s invention: pieces of tikka cooked in a smooth, richly-spiced sauce, not hot in the mouth but with a distinctive after-kick.

Maachli Jhul is another of his specialities: four pieces of succulent fresh salmon, spiced and crisp fried, with a separate dish of potato in a pungent, slightly sweet curry sauce. The spicing is a masterful blend of flavours with enough heat to punch without overpowering.

Both come with fluffy, fragrant pilau rice. We also share a good peshwari naan and a side dish of sag aloo.

Desserts are entirely of the prefabricated ice cream variety, so we give those a miss and settle for decent cups of filter coffee, with a jug of cream and very English Elizabeth Shaw mints.

Dinner for two, including drinks, is £40.70.

lVerdict: the aptly named House of Spice is a hot new option for aficionados of classic Indian food.

lOpen: Daily, 5.30-w11.30; until 11pm only on Sundays.

lHouse of Spice, 842 Ecclesall Road, Sheffield (0114) 266 6681.