Review: Street food without the gimmicks
It was too novel a dish to resist - an intriguing blend of East meets West on the menu.
One of the best things about Indian food is the sides - everyone loves mopping up a curry with naan, roti or poppadoms.
But with a buttered bap? Curry and a breadcake? It sounded like something I might rustle up the day before the food shop is delivered - but turned out to be so-wrong-its-right combination of heat, meat and carbohydrate.
The dish was listed under Mumbai specials at the new Urban Choola, which has just moved to Ecclesall Road after three years on London Road.
“People do find that a bit strange with the baps but that is the way they have it in India”, said head chef and co-owner Rohan Karkhanis, who has cooked across the world.
“They always expect it to come with a roti or naan but they find it does work.”
The reason for the move across town, and into the former House of Spice restaurant, was down to capacity.
Rohan added: “Basically London Road was getting too small so we had to turn people away - especially at the weekends.
“It’s twice as big here.”
There is much more room at the new site, but many things have stayed the same.
There are familiar faces as the entire team has made the move from S2 to S11. The original Urban Choola was, when it opened, the latest outing from Khalid Wani, who also opened the Mexican Amigos.
Menu-wise, the focus is very much still on street food, which has exploded in popularity since 2013, with scores of traders, cafes and markets in Sheffield now inspired by the dishes locals dine on across the world.
“The move has been very positive, we’ve had lots of our regular customers coming in and have been welcoming new ones from the area”, said Rohan.
“The food is pretty much the same with some new additions - we wanted to keep it to authentic street food like Indian does.
“A lot of Indian food now is not actually Indian food anyway - we want to make the real thing so that’s what we are trying to do here.”
Street food has a welcome informality to it - but at some venues it can feel like more effort has been put into the branding and Instagram account than the actual food.
Urban Choola doesn’t go there.
It looks like a restaurant, the food is served like it is in restaurants (on a plate rather than on a slate, in a bucket or atop a spade) and it is spices first, social media second.
We had booked and were shown to a table close to the door - which proved too cold with the comings and goings.
Service was a little slow to begin with but improved once we’d been moved to a spot next to a heater.
The interior has some interesting features, with sparkling fairy lights on the front window, tiled walls in the back room and a generally cosy but basic feel
You can bring your own wine as there is no booze on the menu but we started with mango lassi - creamy, sweet, delicious - plus poppadoms with four different dips.
The poppodoms weren’t warm but the mango and onion chutneys were spot on.
For starters he had gone for the often unfairly maligned chicken seekh kebab at £5.50.
There were three slabs of high quality, juicy chicken, bursting with coriander as well as mint flavours, and a vivid green sauce for dipping to the side.
I hadn’t expected the prawn karare to involve breadcrumbs - it did.
But the crustaceans were chunky and succulent inside a surprisingly fresh and soft exterior.
A tomato and chilli dip was satisfyingly spicy and tangy sour too.
And so to the baps - which won the day over the various thalis on offer.
They are the restaurant’s most popular options, offer a little bit of everything in one and cost up to £13.50.
There are three options for the Mumbai specials, a lamb keema pav (meaning bap), vegetable curry and, intriguingly, spicy scrambled egg.
I spread spoonfuls of fiery minced lamb, peas and potatoes from the silver serving dish on to crusty circles of buttered bread.
The two parts worked in harmony; there was plenty of heat from the curry, layers of spices gradually revealing themselves spoonful by spoonful, with great punches of garlic and ginger.
They don’t make the baps on site yet, with four on the plate, there was rather more bread than curry to go around.
On the hastily texted advice of an Indian friend, he’d gone for lamb palak.
High quality diced meat was wrapped in a tomato and spinach gravy, laced with garam masala.
He mopped it up with a sensibly sized garlic naan (a snip at just £1) and we struggled to finish off the salty, well seasoned masala powder sprinkled chips.
There are a few desserts on offer, but after that feast we stuck to the ubiquitous complimentary chocolates.
You might not Instagram pictures after a meal at Urban Choola, but the odds that you’ll be full of authentic Indian food at a decent price are high.
Our bill was £43.40 all in.
Urban Choola, 842 Ecclesall Rd, Sheffield S11 8TD
Tel: 01142 666681