The only Bengali with an English monicker who is also a Spanish senor, Howard recently opened the Bay of Bengal at Gleadless, a suburb where a new Indian restaurant seems to spring up every month.
He’s been in my contacts book for years because he knows everyone and pops up quite a lot.
My review of his place, the India, at Banner Cross, was somewhat overshadowed by other events. It appeared on the day of Princess Diana’s funeral.
Howard disappeared from my radar for a time because he went to Spain to open a restaurant in Murcia but even then he couldn’t escape Sheffield.
One day a chap walked in he recognised – it was a surprised Kelly Temple, the former Hallam DJ.
Then my phone rang and I was on the case of Howard and the Giant Fish. He’d opened an Asian supermarket, the Bangla Bazaar, in Darnall (before they became quite common) and had acquired a simply enormous fish.
It was so big it flopped out of the deep-freeze, far too big for any one family to eat so he was selling it off by the yard. I left strict instructions that no-one was to take a chunk out of it until The Star took a picture of it posing with Howard.
He was just 10 when he arrived in England and started almost at once in the restaurant business. But customers at the old Ashoka on Ecclesall Road, where he was a favourite, couldn’t get their tongues around his first name Asmath so a customer called him Howard. It stuck.
“I’m known as Howard in the Indian community,” he says. So that is why he signs his menus Senor Howard Ali.
The Bay of Bengal is his sixth restaurant, the former Old Harrow on White Lane, a barn of a place with seating for at last 80 and by 8pm on a Friday night it’s full.
Those people crowding the bar aren’t waiting for a takeaway because there is a separate entrance, room (and car park) for those with an appointment at the Dine At Home Collection Point.
Senor Ali, now 50, dressed in black and as portly as a stuffed paratha, is in charge. It’s his busiest Friday since he opened in August and staff are struggling to cope.
The menu is packed full of old favourites and some that are new, like dimm (egg) dishes given novelty names like Pardon My French (with lentils) and Lines of Duties (with herbs).
We order four plain poppadoms with a pickle tray and get six, eat four, and are charged for three (total £2.80). The pops are good but the pickles are unspectacular.
Beer or wine has no place with curries so I ask for a sour lassi and get a sweet one. It’s changed for the right one. I’ve had better but it’s OK.
Then our meal really takes off. I’ve ordered sheek kebabs (£2.95) and lamb jalfrezi (£7.80) from the house specialities. “You realise you’ve got lamb followed by lamb?” says my wife.
I say I don’t care because I just love sheek kebabs and these are just as I like them, gutsy, earthy, meaty and I’ve also got a little dip.
She has shobjee puree (£3.50), a punctured bubble of crisp pastry with a medley of vegetables instead of the usual prawns “I’ve never had this before. It’s got every vegetable you can think of and very nicely spiced,” says the Voice of Experiment.
So is my jalfrezi, the meat tender, the sauce as spicy as the menu promises. According to the Times of India, jalfrezi, which gains its heat from green chillis, has overtaken chicken tikka masala as the most popular dish in UK Indian restaurants.
No so the tarka daal (£2.50), a wishy-washy confection with none of the trademark spicing you’d expect. Still, it was wet and warm.
Pullao rice (£2.20) is fine and so is the naan. We’d asked for a plain one but got garlic (£2.20) but as the only people we were going to breathe over were each other, that didn’t matter.
Granted that our mains were from the expensive end of the menu (it rather wearily offers bhunas and kormas as ‘standard dishes’), this was a highly enjoyable meal with emphatic spicing (mostly) and unexpected fruitiness.
Which is why Gleadless is flocking to it, whether for a night out or to call in at the Dine At Home Collection Point.
Senor Ali is thinking big, offering Indian-style Sunday roasts, vegetarian and ‘food testing’ nights, cookery classes, outside catering, wedding receptions and a deli.
We paid £32.75 for food and £7.95 for drinks, including the best coffees we’ve ever had in an Indian restaurant.
bay of bengal
White Lane, Gleadless, Sheffield S12 3GB.
Tel: 0114 254 5848.
Open Daily 5-11pm (Sat & Sun until midnight). Disabled access and toilets. Music. Licensed. House wine £12. Credit cards. Vegetarian dishes. Special offers for students, NHS, police and fire. Car park. Take aways.
My star ratings (out of five):