THERE’S a familiar face waiting to greet me at Mirpuri Tawa on London Road, Sheffield. The last time I saw Afaz Mohammed he was tootling around the car park of his Estikutum buffet restaurant in a tuk-tuk taxi he’d just bought.
He tuk-tukked all over Darnall and Sheffield with the name of the restaurant emblazoned on the side, a one-man mobile sandwich board.
I have a memory of him in the vast former pub, clad in flowing robes of white and gold, ushering in burkha-clad women to the enclosed family booths which lined one wall.
The Mirpuri Tawa, named after the Pakistan Punjab town from which many of Sheffield’s Asians originate, and the flat metal cooking pan traditional to the area, is much smaller than the Estikutum. And Afaz is in a suit.
There’s an old adage which says if you want to see if a Chinese restaurant is authentic then check out the customers. If a lot of them are Chinese, you’ve struck lucky. The same goes for South Asian restaurants. Most of the customers at Mirpuri Tawa on our night (or most nights) are Pakistani.
They’re mostly men but here and there is a woman diner and headscarves seem to be optional.
If you want authenticity, then you can get it in spades here. I can’t recall a single ‘Indian’ restaurant aiming at a European clientele which has curried camel, deer, tripe, brains or sheep’s trotters on the menu.
The food makes no concessions as far as I can see to Western tastes and palates, although it does include chips in a starter selection of dishes for groups of dinners. There are no dinky little images of chillis to designate the heat of various dishes. You are expected to know. And like it.
And, as Afaz likes to say in a kind of mantra, you won’t find dishes marked Bombay, Madras or even that Made in Glasgow (or was it Birmingham) Anglo-Indian favourite, chicken tikka masala on his brief, compact menu.
There is, though, a chicken masala. My wife chooses that, apprehensive about things like brains and feet, and clings to things she knows. Except it isn’t.
Instead of breast meat in creamy tomatoey sauce with a gentle heat it is dark meat. No point in telling a Western woman that dark meat is tastier than white. She’s lucky it isn’t on the bone although that would have made it even tastier. But the sauce has an undeniable searing quality.
It is hotter than mine and I’ve taken the advice of our friend, fellow blogger and curry aficionado Craig Harris, in ordering the lamb balti. I wonder at this because baltis were invented in Birmingham, weren’t they?
That aside, it is on the bone which adds for succulence, richness and sweetness and the sauce is thick and clinging. I love it. But it is not as hot as my wife’s masala. And that’s not as hot as Craig’s wife Marie’s paneer and spinach dish. It defeats her.
Food here comes mostly in ethnic looking clay pots and jugs with wooden spoons. Cutlery, as at the old Kashmir on Spital Hill, is optional. Otherwise you can use the excellent naan bread to mop things up.
We had enjoyed good starters. My spicy chicken wings were certainly that but little different to those the world over. Craig’s grilled chicken livers tasted fine and gutsy with cumin, none of the Western ‘we cook them pink’ here.
There’s no booze and you can’t bring it in. And that, says Afaz, perhaps a little wistfully, stops some Westerners coming in. Now I’ve never been one to scoff a curry with a pint because weird things happen to my digestion so I’m more than happy with water and a jug of mango lassi Afaz provides.
The ladies will not be back. Traditional Indian cooking does not agree with them. Craig, who has reviewed Mirpuri Tawa here most certainly will. And I’ll be happy to join him. Might skip the camel, though.
Mirpuri Tawa, 162 London Road, Sheffield S2 4LT. Tel: 0114 258 0805. Web: http://www.mirpuritawa.co.uk/