Food Review: Zaal-ing in love with the hottest of hot curries at Prithi Raj

Prithi Raj, Ecclesall Road.
Prithi Raj, Ecclesall Road.

First, as the heat began to rise, the nose began to run.

Then the face reddened. The lips began to tingle and the eyes even started to run, just a little bit.

Ze zaal at Prithi Raj

Ze zaal at Prithi Raj

The tongue, by now, was on fire and even long after the white flag was raised, the hands began to shake.

Such were what I am now coining as the six stages of the 'ze zaal', something of a specialty at Prithi Raj curry house at the heart of Sheffield's trendy Ecclesall Road.

It was, amongst friends, the stuff of legends. One even heard a story about some poor soul trying it and having to de-robe, right there in the restaurant, as the heat became too much.

Billed on the menu with a 'extremely hot and flavoursome' warning, ze zaal is chicken or lamb cooked with slices of wild west Indian naga in a garlic and ginger sauce.

Mixed grill starter

Mixed grill starter

Our waiter warns us that it's around ten times hotter than a phaal, the previous benchmark for a curry that has the potential to blow your head off, and asks a couple of times if we're sure about trying it; something that, I admit, does register as a potential red flag.

Full disclosure; I didn't try it. My palette is, for the want of a better word, more delicate than that and, in I'm of the old-fashioned view that food is better when you can taste it, rather than it trying to kill you.

But that would make a pretty boring review (what's new, I hear you ask?) so fortunately, I have some curry experts to call on - one of whom apparently gets a masochistic kick out of trying to find the hottest food possible and then conquer it.

The guy used to bring ghost pepper sauce out with him to put on his burger, which is the kind of level we're dealing with, and the ze zaal was the natural next step.

Out of morbid curiosity more than anything, I had a try.

By 'had a try' I mean put the tiniest, most miniscule speck on the end of a naan bread and prayed. The first ten seconds or so, not that bad. Then it hits you.

Credit to him, he finished perhaps a quarter of it before giving in. Apparently many others try it but almost everyone fails to finish it; apart from, we're told, one woman in her 40s who orders it regularly and polishes it off with no issues.

Probably after a hard day at work fire-breathing or something.

Luckily for those of us without mouths made from school-gym asbestos, Prithi Raj is more than just an outlet for those who want to destroy their tastebuds with fire, curry and naan and do, actually, offer a range of curries actually fit and recommended for human consumption.

Housed in a narrow corridor of Ecclesall Road, formerly Ayesha’s, Prithi Raj was wholly pleasurable.

The place is small without feeling cramped - establishments of this size have a horrible habit of packing tables in, so you end up sharing rice with the party to your left as well as your right - and although a wooden bar could easily make the place look like an 1980s cruise ship, it works here, amongst the wooden floors and glass partitions dividing diners for a feeling of comfort and intimacy.

We did wonder aloud, though, whether the glass was by accident or design; one panel is at the bottom of the stairs where waiters bring down food from the kitchen above, and one missed step would spell trouble for the patrons sitting there.

Especially if it was ze zaal.

But so far, so good. My better half tests the waiter by asking for a recommendation - throwing in something of a curveball by asking for a creamy or tomato-y madras-style dish - and is pleased with the outcome, a shobuz masala with crushed chilli, peppers, garlic and coriander in a hot and spicy sauce.

Ever keen to impress her, I redressed the balance with a trusty tikka masala, excellently creamy with a distinctive seasoning to the chicken.

The shobuz was given the thumbs-up, for fans of hot curries who are seeking an alternative to madras, and the flavoursome sauce packed a serious kick.

For an alternative to the alternative, try the Raj sizzler - chicken and lamb tikka, tandoori chicken, seekh kebab and jumbo king prawn, with a naan bread for good measure.

Impeccably presented, the lamb and prawns were easy-going and succulent but the highlight was possibly the chicken chaat starter, with its slight hint of spice and impressive-looking cloud of pastry.

The mixed kebab is a staple of every curry place, but only if it’s done well. I racked my brains to remember a better one and failed.

And I couldn't even blame the zaal for my temporary memory loss.

The bill, for six, came in at a reasonable £153.20 including drinks and the consensus was that this place is well worth a go.

Whether you can face the zaal or not. 

Prithi Raj, 407 Ecclesall Rd, Sheffield S11 8PG. Website: www.prithirajrestaurant.com. Tel: 0114 266 6002. Takeaway available. Opening times: Monday to Thursday and Sunday, 5.30pm to 11.30pm, Friday and Saturday, 5.30pm to 12.30am.