Dhanistha’s Southern Indian & Sri Lankan cuisine

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.

DhanisthasNow 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.

dosa and iddly dudeMy 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.

9 thoughts on “Dhanistha’s Southern Indian & Sri Lankan cuisine”

  1. Hello Raif !

    All this is so impressive and helpful to our tribe when we’re abroad ! Thank you. Always knew you were a good ‘un.

    Have you been out foreign lately ? I’ve been in Senegal and Gambia (not Trinity !) and I imagine you wouldn’t have been inspired there.

    Loved Madrid with you and Nicky and her Dave. Hug and beam. John C

  2. Had a masala dosa here last week for lunch as a sort of test visit after seeing the reviews, excellent, up to the standard of Keralan/Sri Lankan places in London (e.g. Ragam on Cleveland Street and the various places in Tooting – especially ‘Chutney and Dosas’ just down from Tooting Broadway tube). Going back tonight with my partner for a full meal, will post review later, expectations good.

  3. I agree about the relatively poor standard of curries in Sheffield these days. I’ve soft spot though for Kebabish Original on The Wicker (I’ve never tried the other branch up in Sharrow) for both eat-in and takeaway. I’d say this is essentially Pakistani rather than North Indian food.

    It’s been variable over the years but I’ve had more good ones than bad there (in fact I haven’t had a bad one merely medioicre ones) and the grills (especially the lamb chops and seekh kebabs) are consistently better than anywhere else in town and as good as I’ve had at places like Tayyab’s or Needoos in London. It’s also clearly popular among Asians in Sheffield which is a lot more than can be said for nearly everywhere else. Love the Achar Ghosht.

    It was at its best for me when the cockney guy was running it a while back, let’s hope the new management can restore it to its best.

    1. Yes, Kebabish is great and gets a universal shout from all my mates. I’d forgotten about it as I haven’t been in a while but will drop in next time I’m passing to see how they’re doing. I remember the cockney manager too, top geezer!

  4. Went to Dhanistha’s last night. Service is still a bit flaky (especially if you’re in the hidden bit round the corner) but the food was top notch: excellent masala dosa between the two of us (tremendously good sambhar with it) then prawn cucuma for herself, mutton malabar for me and beans in coconut and plain rice between us. Prawns really good, cooked just right (not mushy or hard but firm and juicy) with a substantial hit of tamarind in the sauce, mutton very flavourful (but could have done with more meat in it and it tasted more like lamb than mutton so the sauce overwhelmed it a bit), beans a more liquid version, with tomatoes, of this dish than I’m used to, previous ones I’ve had tended to be dry fried with just mustard seeds and ginger (e.g. at Ragam and the good old India Club in London where I first had this dish over 30 years ago) but still very good.

    All this and five (small) Cobras for just over £30. Portions are not large but then one of the besetting sins of Sheffield restaurants has been providing large portions but neglecting quality. For cooking of this quality that it is very good value indeed. Miles better than any ‘Italian’ food I ever had there in its previous incarnations.

    Only fly in the ointment is that there was a family in with three (very) shouty children, which in a small room like this was rather disturbing if you’re out for an intimate Sunday evening meal, but preferable I suppose to the lagered up suits you tend to find elsewhere. On the subject of lager it would be good if they started doing the large Cobras which would reduce the number of times we would have to bother the waiter.

    Definitely a place to go. I won’t complain if I have to wait for a table in future if that means they get enough customers to keep going (at least until I’ve tried the rest of the menu). Support your local Keralan!

    1. I agree with all your comments Iain, especially about the beans which were the only dish that disappointed me the first time I went. When I had it in Sri Lanka there were no tomatoes and the beans were crisp, not soft. It was my favourite dish when I was there. May mention it to Mr Dharma next time I go, along with the Cobra size issue!

  5. The Kashmir kicked the mangla’s ass, sadly it is now closed. Have you tried the Indus in attercliffe? Only been open 25 years or so… Fantastic place. If you get the time nip over to the Karachi on neill street in Bradford. Mmmm curry….

  6. As this is a sort of general ‘curry in Sheffield’ thread, I thought I’d add a few comments about Azaad’s on Woodbourn Road in Attercliffe, especially after the good reviews this place has had elsewhere (e.g The Star and Sheffield Forum) recently. We went there last night and were very disappointed. There may have been problems in the kitchen as it was the last day of Ramadan and a Bank Holiday to boot but the food was fairly bog-standard curry house glop. Veg samosas were three of the small ‘£5 for 50’ kind you can get frozen at Asian supermarkets (all right in their way but you expect better from a restaurant) on a plate with the usual ‘salad’ (rapidly browning shreds of lettuce and a couple of lumps of carrot). Seekh Kebabs (a good test for an Indian restaurant) were, again, supermarket frozen ones and microwaved not grilled (and that none too thoroughly). Largely tasteless and not a patch on the kebabs at Kebabish Original (and many other places). Mains were both a standard all-purpose lamb curry (way overcooked) gussied up at the last minute with additions: in one case, supposedly Lamb Achar, which should be lamb cooked in pickling spices with chillis, a load of mixed pickle had been stirred in (again nowhere near as good as the one at KO), in the other, Lamb Kalia a few (dried) mint leaves had been added. The best thing was a stuffed paratha but this was, again, a frozen one microwaved with none of the crispiness that comes from cooking on a tava. Looking at the menu this looks like their standard mode of operation (it’s no coincidence, I think, that Azaad’s runs a ‘buffet menu’ several nights a week – often a bad sign). There are people who like this kind of place, I don’t, chaque un a son gout. But there’s much better Asian food elsewhere in Sheffield (KO, Dhanistha’s, Ashoka) for no, or not much, more money. Don’t believe the hype.

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