Eating out: Flavours of Middle Eastern street food

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A new eating place inspired by the street food of the Middle East has already become a popular destination within a few weeks of opening.

Avi Derei, co-owner of Just Falafs on Chesterfield Road, said: “We’ve been open about six weeks and it’s been a bit humbling.

“We didn’t advertise in many places but word of mouth in Meersbrook is very strong. It definitely got out there.”

Avi said that Just Falafs was an idea that he and one of his best friends, business partner Hadar Mazor, came up with when chef Hadar was a cookery student in London.

Avi, who is originally from Barnsley, and Hadar both grew up in Israel.

They met as teenagers in an online chat room for Israeli punk fans, which Avi joked is a pretty small community.

Just Falafs, Chesterfield Road

Just Falafs, Chesterfield Road

Avi decided to head back to Britain rather than do his national service with the Israeli Defence Force, moving to Sheffield 15 years ago.

Avi said he and Hadar were inspired by the street food in Israel, which reflects the influences of all the places that Israelis came from.

His family has Turkish and Moroccan roots, whereas Hadar’s are Iranian and Iraqi.

He said: “It’s probably cheaper there to go out and eat something simple like a falafel, rather than cooking food at home.

Main dishes incuding falafels, spicy potatoes, hummus topped with spicy mushrooms and baba ganoush at Just Falafs, Meersbrook

Main dishes incuding falafels, spicy potatoes, hummus topped with spicy mushrooms and baba ganoush at Just Falafs, Meersbrook

“We decided to keep the price point pretty similar.”

They are trying out the initial menu, which has dishes from countries including Palestine, Iran and Iraq, to see how it goes. Eventually they would like to expand across the city and perhaps wider.

The food is 100 per cent vegan, said Avi, although firstly it should be seen as a Middle Eastern restaurant.

“It coincided with a vegan renaissance in Sheffield. That’s worked out well.

A vegan chocolate mousse and malabi, an Iranian panna cotta, at Just Falafs, Meersbrook

A vegan chocolate mousse and malabi, an Iranian panna cotta, at Just Falafs, Meersbrook

“The idea was always vegetarian but it changed as I became vegan again.”

They are in good company with vegan restaurant Make No Bones a few doors away.

Local pub the White Lion is so keen to support vegan businesses that it allows its customers to order food to eat in the bar if Just Falafs is full, said Avi, who is keen for Sheffielders to support all independent businesses

The tiny restaurant and takeaway has two long tables with bench seating, plus stools next to a window ledge.

Avi said: “Communal dining adds to the experience, customers end up talking to people next to them.”

The restaurant is unlicensed but diners can bring their own alcohol.

A Palestinian pudding called knafe at Just Falafs

A Palestinian pudding called knafe at Just Falafs

The decor is pretty functional but the atmosphere is relaxed, with dance music playing and a friendly young team warmly welcoming diners and takeaway customers.

The counter where orders are taken doubles up as a blackboard displaying the menu and specials.

A hatch behind eveals the kitchen and to the left is a salad bar, topped by a lightbox that says Tahina Turner.

Someone has a sharp sense of humour, evidenced by the restaurant’s name.

There are also menus on the tables and we sat down to browse. Main dishes are either served up in a pita or on a plate with bread on the side.

Go for the plate option and help yourself to the salad bar, which is full of great tangy flavours, contrasting ssweet, pickled and salty.

My co-diner Matthew chose hummus topped with spicy mushrooms and I went for falafels, although we shared everything.

We also tried a special, baba ganoush, and spicy fries.

Prices per dish range from £3.50 to £5.

Service is prompt but not rushed and we were soon looking at three good-sized plates of food. The crockery has lovely, colourful Middle Eastern patterns on it.

The five falafels were perfectly cooked, crunchy outside and moist enough inside.

The spicing was really good on all the dishes; Hadar knows what he’s doing.

Both dishes were heaped with delicious hummus and accompanied by lovely, pillowy warm pita bread.

The baba ganoush aubergine dip was gorgeous, fluffy in texture with the chilli heat turned up a few notches, topped with beautifully soft slices of fried aubergine and tahina dressing.

The spicy chips – potato wedges – gave a different texture and charred taste.

We didn’t bring booze, so Matthew ordered Turkish coffee and I had mint tea.

He also tried an incredibly sweet canned Rani strawberry and banana drink.

There are glasses on the tables and you help yourself to water from a dispenser.

Although Matthew said that it was like eating a lot of starters, the portions are generous and we had to wait a bit before tackling dessert.

Actually, we tackled them all, both the malabi and the knafe on the menu and the chocolate mousse special.

The kitchen slightly overcooked the knafe, so our waiter gave us a malabi to try while they put it right.

The Palestinian sweet cheese pastry topped with sugar syrup, was delicious, like a warm baked cheesecake surrounded by orange vermicelli-like pastry.

The malabi, an Iranian panna cotta topped with pistachio, tasted lovely but the rose syrup topping was again way too sweet for me.

Our waiter rightly said the chocolate mousse was “another level”. It had a luscious texture and a syrupy topping that tasted of marzipan.

A great meal in relaxed surroundings that cost £26.50 but you could eat very well there for £10 less.