2015 UPDATE: Dhanistha’s is now under new management and is called Arusuvai. The food is pretty much the same i.e. very good.
Dhanistha’s, 74 Abbeydale Rd, Sheffield S7 1FD, Tel. 0114 255 0779
Unbelievably, it’s quite hard to get a good curry in Sheffield. If you’re prepared to pay you can get good food at places like Nirmal’s on West St and the Ashoka on Ecclesall Rd. The only half-decent cheap place though, until now, was the Mangla on Spital Hill, but the food can be variable there too and they seem to have the same complacent attitude as the rest of the curry restaurants in the city. What’s more, all these places serve Pakistani or North Indian food and seem to have the same predictable menu. So, the market was wide open for a newcomer and when East & West arrived on Abbeydale Rd with their new Sothern Indian/Sri Lankan angle, that gap seemed to have been filled. The food at East & West is great, however their prices are rather high given the plastic tables and cafe environment. For example, their Mango Lassi is fantastic, but you get a tiny amount in a takeaway cup for a tasty £4.
Now another Southern Indian & Sri Lankan restaurant has sprung up to compete, a bit further along Abbeydale Rd from East & West, in a space formerly occupied by an Italian restaurant. Dhanistha’s has great food for next to nothing in a simple but pleasant atmosphere. Vegetable curries are either £2 or £3 and meat or seafood around £5.50 or £6.50, really great value. Mr Dharma the manager is from Galle in Sri Lanka and his head chef is from Hyderabad (Biryanis a speciality) in Andra Pradesh in Southern India, hence the two influences.
So what’s the difference? My understanding is thatbroadly speaking Southern Indian cuisine is more rice based whereas breads are eaten more in the North of the country. It’s also characterised by the liberal use of coconut for flavouring and thickening and as oil. Sri Lanka by turn also uses a lot of coconut in its cooking but also includes ingredients such as lemon grass and pandan aka rampe leaf which are also used by Thai chefs. The menu at Dhanistha’s, although predominantly Southern Indian, does feature a few uniquely Sri Lankan dishes which the staff will be more than happy to point out.
My favourite starter is a Dosa, a filled pancake (made from rice and urad dahl/black lentils, therefore gluten free) served with a wet coconut chutney (made I think with desiccated coconut, chillies and mint), red chilli chutney and Sambar, a soupy spicy vegetable stew. It’s typically eaten as a snack or for breakfast in India. Particularly famous in Southern India is the Masala Dosa, so called because the onion and potato filling is fried with a spice mix. They’re quite large so would make a light meal in themselves or could be shared as a starter, although mini-varieties are on the menu too. A well made dosa is a beautiful thing. Also on the starter menu are Idlis, a small steamed bun version of the dosa, using the same batter, and served with the same red and white chutneys.
On my second visit, I celebrated my birthday here with a group of fourteen friends. Normally I avoid eating in large groups as it can put too much pressure on the kitchen, but this didn’t seem to be a problem. Although understandably we had to wait a while, the food arrived at the same time and couldn’t be faulted in terms of preparation. The advantage of being in a large group was that we could all taste each other’s curries, and what curries they were. On the vegetarian front, the Potato Malabar (a region in Northern Kerala, the dish uses tomatoes), Veg Malabar, Brinjal Curry (aubergine), Spinach and Coconut were all absolutely stunningly whereas Avial (a Keralan mixed vegetable curry including ‘drumsticks’ which are the fruit of the Moringa tree) was unusual but still very nice. We didn’t have any meat dishes on this occasion but the winning dish for me was the Fish Moillee, an incredibly fully flavoured soupy curry made with imported Kingfish. My neighbour had Kothu, a Sri Lankan dish of meat or seafood with veg and short broad noodles, all chopped up, which is not the most appealing dish to look at but still tastes very nice. The Coconut and Pilau rices were also perfect and the Green Chilli Paratha was scorchingly good!
Even with a host of Cobras our bill still only came to around £15 a head which sent our gang of hardcore curry heads home very contented indeed. Dhanistha’s is the new queen of the scene as far as I’m concerned. Go and have your mind and taste buds blown.