The first in an occasional series on former Sheffield restaurants and personalities.
THERE was lino on the floor, the three dining rooms were filled with mismatching Formica-topped tables and, so popular legend had it, a notice on the wall had declared ‘Today’s special: chicken curry’ for the last 20 years.
Apart from the twinkling fairy lights in the window looking onto Spital Hill, Sheffield, this could be the Asian equivalent of Butlers Dining Rooms, the ethnic Sheffield workman’s café par excellence across the city on Brook Hill.
The Kashmir Curry Centre, one of Sheffield’s oldest curry houses – restaurant is too strong a term for what was essentially a caff with great food – closed in November 2010 after 36 years. Such was its reputation that some people thought they’d been there when all they’d done was read about it, as one writer ruefully admitted.
Behind a counter sat the owner Bsharath Hussain, who’d worked there from the start, as a boy of 14, in the business started by his Mirpuri-born father. Bsharath was affectionately known as Paul by his customers and by me when reviewing until the time he told me apologetically that the elders in his mosque had asked him to use his proper name.
The clientele was mostly white, very often wimmin from Walkley, at least on our visits. “If you can get past the Guardian reading clientele and the woefully outdated decor, there’s an excellent curry waiting for you,” said one contributor to a local website. The Harden’s Guide echoed that: “Great cooking if you don’t mind the bare tables.”
I remember the breads, wonderfully light. “The plain naan is unlike any other – in colour and texture somewhere between leavened bread and Yorkshire Pudding,” said one currylovers’ blog. Others praised the Kashmiri lamb, the “near sublime samosas,” the vegetable thalis and the fact that the food was not overladen with ghee.
It was also inexpensive. Well, you weren’t paying for the surroundings or the waiters. With two cooks in the kitchen Bsharath, who avoured traditional dress, did most of the front of house himself. A carafe of water went on the table when you arrived and if you wanted something stronger you could bring it yourself from Morrissey’s East House pub across the way. Incidentally, the upper room of this pub once housed the city’s first Japanese-style restaurant.
Bsharath, who whiled away the quieter restaurant moments reading a copy of Vikram Seth‘s almost 600,000 word novel A Suitable Boy which a customer had recommended, had a good sense of humour. He styled himself the Curry Philanthropist because prices were so low. In 2008 starters seldom topped £2 and mains a fiver. But that didn’t help profits.
Around 2006 the place got a makeover. There were pictures on the walls and each Formica table was covered with identical plastic gingham tablecloths. “After 30 years I realised that if you buy some plastic it all looks the same,” he said dryly.
The menu was also jazzed up. South Indian dishes such as idli and dhoka made an appearance as did his famous ‘poppabombs,’ golgappa or pani puri, crisp little spheres of semolina flour stuffed with chutney and tamarind. It was quite possibly the first appearance of this Indian street food in the Sheffield.
Sadly, it wasn’t enough and he and his wife made the decision to close in 2010. It all happened rather suddenly. Bshareth, then 49, could no longer afford to, in effect, subsidise his customers’ dining.
The Kashmir was the nearest thing Sheffield had to the stripped-down curry houses that Bradford is famous for. Almost ten years later it is still missed.