The main attraction at new London Road restaurant Mirpuri Tawa is so amazing that one guy filmed it on his phone and put the video up on YouTube.
I’d already heard how good the food is from a friend who’d been and raved about it.
A tawa is the name for a shallow, wide, round-bottomed cooking pan like a wok that the tiny restaurant’s gigantic signature sharing dish is served in.
My friend Bahia, who came with me, is originally from Algeria and she said the word is also used in Arabic, which led to some lively speculation about how the tawa might have travelled from place to another.
Whatever its origins, there’s no doubt that the idea has proved very popular on London Road. Owner Kaleem Akhtar said that customers who arrive when the place is busy are happy to sit in their cars and wait outside for 45 minutes for him to call their mobiles and tell them their table is ready.
He reckons that Kashmiri families generally don’t hang around when they eat out, so tables can free up quite quickly.
Kaleem is originally from the beautiful Kashmiri city of Mirpur and he arrived in Britain with his family in 1978.
He and his family already run the Mirpuri Dhera buffet restaurant in Attercliffe but he wanted to do something different and has ambitious plans to take the tawa idea to other northern curry centres like Bradford, Leeds and Nottingham, to show them Sheffield restaurateurs can cook as well as them.
His brother persuaded Kaleem to train as a chef when he left school with the promise of a car but now food is his passion.
He said: “We cook every day fresh. A lot of people leave things in the fridge. We don’t do that.
“I taste the food and if I can eat that dish, it’s going out. If I can’t, it’s not.”
He added: “We wanted to do what we eat at home, so when people are coming in, we want them to enjoy it.”
The restaurant has a tiny, narrow dining room that’s been given a sort of 70s-style makeover that looks like it was cleverly done on a tight budget.
The ambience is very pleasant and it’s added to by a warm welcome from the charming female serving staff. They swiftly dispensed menus and an earthenware jug of water.
All the crockery is intended to look like you’d find for everyday use in a home in Azad Kashmir, in line with the home-cooked style of food.
That means a good amount of spice in the dishes.
Individual curries appear in wide-lipped pots that look like they are made to a centuries-old design.
Apparently one elderly lady who’s lived here for years made her very first visit to a restaurant in Britain because she’d heard about the crockery and had to come and see it.
She was thrilled at the sight from home, said Kaleem.
The speciality part of the menu boasts lots of favourite Kashmiri dishes, with unusual meats including quail, goat, venison and even camel, that Kaleem’s butcher sources from Saudi Arabia.
Several of the others with untranslated names feature offal, so ask if you’re not sure what you’re ordering and you’re not keen on brains etc.
As well as the specialities, there are more familiar dishes for curry lovers, such as balti, palak and chicken masala.
However, on your first visit you’re likely to go for the tawa, as we did. Save the camel dish for another visit and give yourself a treat.
They do appetisers and starters but this dish was a whopper, featuring several of them anyway, so we passed.
We’re gonna need a bigger table, I thought in Roy Scheider/Jaws style, as a tawa the size of a dustbin lid hove into view.
For a mere £9.90 per person, we were served up with chicken wings, seekh kebab, chicken tikka, fish pakora, chicken masala, karahi gosht, channa biryani, chips, roti and naan bread.
The curries nestled in the middle and the little starter dishes were scattered around on top of piece of the bread, with a heap of chips to one side.
You can ask for a vegetarian version, too.
Our poor waitress was startled when Bahia asked this of her just after she’d served us, thinking she’d misunderstood our order.
We also somehow fitted two tiny pots of lovely, yoghurty raitas and a dish of mixed salad on the table.
Everything in our tawa was delicious and we ate more than we’d intended.
Bahia, who’s a professional cook herself, couldn’t decide what she liked best.
I particularly loved the fish pakora with its tender flesh and crispy coating, the wonderfully moist meat curry, the fantastic, lively spicing of the chickpea biryani, the lovely soft breads, wonderfully spicy chicken tikka…
Bahia had a point, it was all great, even the chips, although we didn’t eat many. You don’t want to fill yourself up on them when there are great spicy treats in store.
As well as water, we had a jug of freshly-made sweet mango lassi for £5.
Kaleem is catering for families and he’s not even allowing people to bring in their own alcohol.