Ready to order your ethnic authentic? It’ll take 30 years

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Lamb on the bone

FOREIGN restaurants go through a period of evolution when they arrive in this country. The first Indians, Chinese or Greeks might want to give their English customers a taste of what they eat back home but they soon realise it doesn’t pay to be that authentic.

Indian restaurants, in reality Pakistani or Bangladeshi, for long had dishes that wouldn’t be recognised in their own countries. Many still do. Chicken tikka masala? Pull the other poppadom!

I still remember Sompranee Low, who opened the city’s first Thai restaurant, the Bahn Nah, back in the Nineties (Sheffield has always been late for dinner compared to the rest of the country) telling me that she ” dialled down the chilli heat” for customers.

It wasn’t good business for a pallid Englishman, more used to the tranquil flavours of cottage pie or bangers and mash, to be left reeling by an authentic but fiery chilli.

So what we got was a pale shadow of a native cuisine, filtered through several layers of difficulty. The first restaurateurs may not have been natural cooks (many, particularly, Italian and Indian, were redundant steelworkers), the ingredients, herbs and spices were often not available, and Mr and Mrs English knew no better.

If they thought spaghetti carbonara came with cream and complained when it didn’t, unaware that the creaminess came from the emulsion of egg, water and cheese, they got cream.

Then things happened. The first was foreign travel. Holidaymakers in Italy realised that pasta didn’t grow on trees or come out of a tin. The sharper ones, who didn’t high tail it down to the English pubs on the Costa Brava, realised there was a difference.

Secondly came the wider availability of exotic ingredients. Avocados and aubergines started appearing on menus, and much else.

And, thirdly, there are now other customers to please besides Mr and Mrs English: Their own countrymen and women.

Earlier on, immigrants were too poor, too busy or just not in the habit of going out to eat so there was then no need to cater for them. And they would probably have something sharp to say if they did.

When, say, the Pakistani, Chinese or Italian diasporas in Sheffield got to a certain size and had the habit of eating out and money to spend, they could support their own authentic restaurants. This is not true yet of all communities. A Thai woman told me recently: “Why should I eat out when I can cook it myself?”

So we have seen little Pakistani and Kashmiri restaurants spring up in the city, unconcerned about Anglo trade, and just think what has happened to the Chinese restaurant business with the influx of students from Mainland China. Suddenly restaurants other than Cantonese have appeared, along with noodle bars and hot pot eateries. Some have not even bothered to have menus in English.

Not too long ago my wife walked into a place full of Chinese. We were the only Europeans and the waiter confidently expected us to take one look at the menu, which contained not a word of English and leave, so he didn’t bother to come across and ask our order. We stood (or sat) our ground until he did.

I don’t suppose that would happen now as there is a band of ultra foodies who delight in finding the most obscure ethnic places and reporting their finds enthusiastically on social media and blogs. (I have followed up some rave reports with less than euphoric results.)

So where is this leading? These thoughts were triggered by a visit recently to one of those little ethic restaurants, Apna Lahore, on Abbeydale Road, Sheffield, with fellow foodie and blogger Craig Harris. Now Craig majors in Italian cuisine but is currently studying for a critical Dip Ed in Pakistani food and this is one of his regular haunts. He’s written about it here

Its sit down custom is almost exclusively Asian, although this place started life as a takeaway. I’m scanning the menu and see among the specials is maghaz, which means brains.

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Samosa and pakora starters

I have eaten brains and trotters, also on offer, before, although in very upmarket restaurants, so miss these and take Craig’s advice to order lamb on the bone. It is a robust, earthy, fiery curry with plenty of chopped bone but I am a natural gnawer so that no problem. And it’s the bone which gives it a deeper flavour.

He has ordered chicken daal, not on the menu, but basically chicken in a sauce of large, soft lentils still holding their shape.

Gutsy is the word I would use to describe both dishes, good nourishing stuff without any hairs and graces.

The decor is bright and basic and very blue. There is music but not too loud. It is of course, alcohol free. You get a bottle of water and glasses when you sit down. Most customers eat with rotis, just workaday bread in my opinion, although cutlery is available.

Pickles and fajitas are very good. Meat samosas come man-sized with proper crisp pastry not filo. The chicken pakoras aren’t bad either.

Two courses, with rice, comes to £26. It’s a bargain. Probably not a first date night place but one to put on your list.

We finish with unspiced Pakistani tea with condensed milk. And a plate of ginger biscuits. Dunking away, we are both impressed by these. Did they make them themselves?

“We get them from Lidl,” said Ali, our server.

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Chicken daal

Apna Lahore is 342 Abbeydale Road, S7 1FN Sheffield.
Tel: 0114 258 8821

Konrad’s last day

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Konrad Kempka and his bacon slicer

IT’S Konrad Kempka’s last day in his Abbeydale Road, Sheffield, butchers shop, and he might be forgiven for looking a little bit sad. But he isn’t.

There has been a steady stream of customers all morning collecting their orders, already bagged up, which have been phoned and texted in that week.

Less than two years ago this blog and local media were celebrating the shop’s 60th anniversary, a business founded by his Polish father Frank who fled the Nazis in World War Two and found sausages and love in Sheffield.

Earlier this year Konrad and his wife Pat reckoned they’d had enough of spending their days in a cold shop and planned semi-retirement. Konrad put himself out to hire as relief butcher and the shop was opened up on Saturday mornings only to regulars and anyone else who walked by and fancied the best bacon you’ll get in Sheffield, sausages, a few chops or a pound of mince.

Now Konrad has an operation looming on his shoulder. “Surgeons also get it,” he says cheerfully, putting it down to all those years swinging his cleaver and sawing through bones.

So I, like lots of other customers, are stocking up. I’m buying several pounds of rind-on bacon, smoked and unsmoked, for the freezer before the shop closes for the last time.

It will be sad not seeing those home smoked hams hanging in the window at Christmas or the dark red kabanos sausages on the counter.

But Konrad is not quite leaving the world of pork loins and tomato sausages, a Sheffield speciality. After the op he will be working for the butchery at Whirlow Hall Farm, there for a couple of days a week, and is thinking of taking the antique bacon slicer with him. After all, it’s older than he is and older than the shop. It couldn’t be scrapped. It’s a museum piece.

Things are a bit hazy at the moment but hopefully he will still be curing his bacon at Whirlow. And making those celebrated pork pies.

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Christmas hams in the window at Kempka’s

 

 

 

 

 

 

Eddie ran it come what may

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The restaurant on Abbeydale Road

Another in my series of bygone Sheffield and South Yorkshire restaurants and personalities

IF there was a prize for the best restaurant name in Sheffield it would have to go to Kumquat Mae, the vegetarian eaterie on Abbeydale Road. Unless, of course, you wanted to award it to Sam n Ella’s on Ecclesall Road.

Kumquat Mae was that rarity in Sheffield, a vegetarian and vegan restaurant, founded by Eddie Poole, a name to play around with. Eddy in a pool, geddit?

I first came across him running a Japanese restaurant from a room at Morrissey’s East House pub on Spital Hill, although I am not sure whether that was also called Kumquat Mae.

Nor am I sure when he opened the premises at 353 Abbeydale Road but I visited at least twice, in 2004 and again 2007 and almost certainly on previous occasions.

What you could say about the place was that it was quirky. Certainly in design because the rear of dining room was up a couple of steps so it acted as a kind of stage, from which you could gaze down over a balustrade at other diners if you had a table ‘upstairs.’

The menu was on a big blackboard and dishes included fried halloumi, pea and asparagus risotto, vegan Thai red curry and so on. I don’t remember any kumquats although stuffed aubergines were popular. I always thought it was more expensive than a BYO veggie place should be. Wednesdays were cheaper.

It was also quirky because it had a very relaxed attitude to life. On one visit, in 2003, we arrived, found no one to greet us, sat ourselves at a table, borrowed a corkscrew and poured our wine. It was a good ten minutes before a waitress wandered through from the kitchen and acted as if there was nothing untoward.

Four years later on one blowy January night we found the door locked although there were people inside. Eventually a customer got up to let us in. The catch didn’t work properly and the door kept blowing open so it was locked.

By that time Kumquat Mae had been taken over by Eddie’s assistant Nicky Harris, partner of Martin Bedford, the illustrious poster designer. She inherited the place’s quirkiness. On that visit she wandered out of the restaurant, rucksack slung over her back, midway through service. “I do need a night off occasionally,” she said. She left the cooking to her son, Morgan.

Not too long after Kumquat Mae closed for good and it has had many identities since but none as quirky as its veggie days.

It did resurface for a time as a ‘roving restaurant,’ or what would now be called a pop-up, on at least two nights at different pubs. It had a Facebook page through which people could book and order their meal in advance.

It was still quirky. Kumquat Mae, which had proudly flown the veggie and vegan flags, was now offering a meat option.

NOTE: Previous posts in the series were the Kashmir and Pepe’s

Take cover – it’s a panzarotti!

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Lorraine and Saverio at Urban-Ita

MY wife takes a knife to cut the panzarotti – a sort of deep-fried Italian calzoni which looks like a pregnant Cornish pasty – on our sharing plate at the new Italian Urban-Ita cafe on Sheffield’s Abbeydale Road. She’s aiming to cut it precisely in two.

Unbeknown to her the little blighter, its insides bubbling hot with tomato and cheese, is also taking aim in a desperate rearguard action.

As she cuts a jet of sauce shoots out towards her from one end. Luckily it misses. Well, mostly.

This is cucina with attitude and what’s more it tastes good as well. You feel that if you could swap the view of Abbeydale Road for owner Saverio’s native Sorrento the food would be the same.

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The panzarotti is at the front

“We get a lot of Italians here,” says his missus Lorraine Dixon, bringing us cups of excellent crema-topped coffee after our meal. In that case it has to be good.

I’ve met them both before. The first occasion was reporting on a Slimming World Italian evening for the Sheffield Star at their old restaurant Dino on London Road some years since.

The second time was a couple of years ago when daughter Kym opened the Italian takeaway Italia Uno on Ecclesall Road. I recall being tickled pink hearing she turned vegan after wearing bearskins and butchering a deer for the Channel 5 series 10,000BC.

Urban-Ita makes a thing about offering veggie, vegan and gluten-free dishes (it’s not hard to be a Italian veggie if you don’t dodge dairy) but meat eaters needn’t feel excluded. There’s plenty for them. As it was, most our lunch turned out to be veggie or vegan but that was more by accident than design.

The premises used to be Bardwell’s, an electrical shop for half a century, but you wouldn’t know it. Saverio, who also runs a small building company when he’s not cooking or designing menus for other restaurants, converted it himself. I’m impressed.

The wooden floor has been cleaned up, walls stripped back to reveal wood cladding, an alcove constructed, a bar designed, kitchen and toilet installed and decking built for tables outside. It looks like it’s been that way for years instead of three months.

There’s also a tiny deli section and a mini library of cookery and travel books.

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Melanzani Parmigiano

We shared a plate of nibbles (buono misto, £10.50) across the menu for starters, the highlights being that panzarotti and a spinach and chickpea polpette, full of flavour. The focaccia (and flatbreads) is homemade here. I was a little surprised it came toasted with chilli jam but we soon got oil to dip it in.

My last meal on earth would probably include melanzane parmigiana ( £5.95) and if I had it here I wouldn’t feel cheated. It looked a little rustic but the aubergine was silkily good, bathed in rich tomato and mozzarella. My wife’s calamari special (£5.50) was light and crispy.

We ended with cake and coffee and one of Saverio’s homemade cakes, a moist Victoria sponge.

When they sold Dino Lorraine said no more restaurants but here they are again. It’s really more of a cafe, opening for breakfasts and lunch and now running through until 9.30pm with a trattoria-style slate of pizza, pasta, chicken and salmon. It’s not licensed but if you feel you need a drink with your pasta then BYO is £2.

I recommend the panzarotti but stand well back!

288 Abbeydale Road, Sheffield S7 1FL. Tel: 07305 181 890. Web: www.urban-ita.co.uk

*This blog settled the bill in full.

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The café on Abbeydale Road

Radioactive days

Polonium restaurant in 2006

Polonium restaurant in 2006

With the inquiry into the polonium poisoning in London of former KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko revealing dramatic new evidence almost every day, this might be the time to recall how those events led to one Sheffield business becoming the Most Famous Restaurant in the World, albeit briefly.

It is 2006 and I’ve not long reviewed a meal at travel agent Boguslaw Sidorowicz’s Polish restaurant Polonium on Abbeydale Road, Sheffield, when the Litvinenko story breaks.

I give Boguslaw a call and, tongue in cheek, ask him if his food is also radioactive. He plays along, I write a story and then all hell breaks loose. The world’s press, looking for a new angle, loves the story. Boguslaw’s phone doesn’t stop ringing. The story goes radioactive.

I met him at his restaurant in the middle of it all – at first we couldn’t get in because he didn’t have the keys and his cook from Kazakhstan (no, not Borat) was playing the radio too loudly to hear – to see how he was getting on. “It started with you and it went all round England, then Europe, then the world. I got a call from Tokyo when I was shopping in Nottingham. I’ve said I’ll stop it when I get a call from the Moon,” he told me.

He opened specially for The Sun reporter who then wrote he was the only one in the restaurant and found Russian and Polish TV crews turned up without appointments. One day his website had 728,000 hits and he featured on Have I Got News For You. No wonder people pointed him out in the street.

Boguslaw, who was born in Sheffield to Polish parents, was not slow in cashing in. The new James Bondski menu featured Live and Let Pie potato pancakes, Goldfinger Golabki (stuffed cabbage), Steak Spy and The Pie Who Loved Me as well as Flamin’ Polonium dessert.

With what we know now, it is unlikely this would be repeated but back in 2006 this was quite a story. And does a Polish restaurant with a Kazakh cook sound authentic? Well yes because that nice Uncle Stalin deported thousands of Poles there.

As for the restaurant, named after a Polish folk band Boguslaw had played in during the Seventies, it closed after another year or two.

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