A FRIENDLY villager engaged us in conversation in the centre of Penistone last Friday.
He was out walking his grandchild in a wheelchair wife Carol and I had just been shopping at the supermarket. The conversation soon turned to food.
He extracted his pipe from his mouth and became quite excited: “Are you on holiday? You should try t’Indian at bottom o’ t’road thea,” pointing.
“We ger thea. It’s good – best Indian i’ Yorksher.”
I smiled and explained that we lived nearby and had frequented the restaurant since it opened, but thanked him for his kind advice.
As we walked back to the car Carol stopped suddenly and said that it had been some time since we last called in at the Penistone restaurant, so why didn’t we pay them a visit?
At around a quarter to seven that evening we were being shown to a table at The Taste Of India. We had been given the warmest of welcomes from the friendly staff.
With the poppadoms, pickle tray and drinks duly ordered, we could relax and survey the scene.
We developed our penchant for Indian cuisine in our days in South Yorkshire in the late 1960s and early 70s when we used to go into Sheffield. Then we rented a flat off Ecclesall Road where there were several Indian restaurants within walking distance. Happy times.
Back in the Huddersfield area and in 1987 The Taste of India opened in a former cycle shop at the Bridge in Penistone, one of the first such pioneering restaurant ventures out in the ‘sticks’ in this area.
It soon built up a faithful following, going from strength to strength.
The restaurant is run as a family-based co-operative who hail from the Keighley area from where they transported their culinary skills to tickle the palates of the Penistone area folk. This they have been doing for nearly a quarter of a century.
The restaurant had been completely redecorated since we had last called. Back in 1987 it was decked out in dark red wall coverings – yes, the then-traditional flock wallpaper and domed arches were much in evidence.
The Taste Of India also featured a large, integral fish tank with an interesting array of tropical fish. The split-level eating area is small but intimate and the food and service was of the highest order right from the start.
The therapeutic fish tank is still there, but the restaurant decor has changed significantly over the years. Now, with its latest makeover, it is lighter, airier, with subtle, pastel shades in evidence.
The attentive waiters brought the menu, a veritable small telephone directory, featuring an extensive range of dishes of varying origins. The Taste Of India families came to England from Bengal and so the food has a distinct north eastern flavour.
I remembered the starters as being delicious, but recalled the generous portions of the restaurant’s main dishes and resisted the temptation to over order. We contented ourselves with the poppadoms and the pickle tray for starters and then moved on to the main course.
A long-standing ‘Taste’ favourite of mine has been the chef’s special chicken Ceylon – a rich-flavoured dish of chunks of chicken breast cooked with ground almonds, coconut, fresh lemon juice, fresh garlic and ginger. It is billed as being ‘hot and spicy’, but I find it exactly to my taste. Tandoori balti prawns was Carol’s choice and we shared a serving of Bombay aloo – potatoes served in a rich piquant sauce, pilau rice and I had a butter chapatti.
The whole eating experience was better than I remembered, a sentiment echoed by Carol who could not resist trying a couple of spoonfuls of my Ceylon sauce just to compare notes.
Friday night and the restaurant was doing a brisk early evening trade. Chatting with one of the amiable partners, Nizam, after the meal he told me that things in his business had changed over the years. Nizam had been at A Taste of India since 1989 and timings had altered significantly. Many of the diners used to call in for their curries after the pubs had closed, but unlimited pub opening had meant that diners come earlier and the late night rush was nowadays a rarity.
The comprehensive range and quality of the home-cooked dishes produced by such a small team, three in the kitchen and three front-of-house, is astonishing – condiments, starters, tandoori, massala, thalia, biryani, balti, garlic, korahi, jalfeezi, dansak, pathia, rogan josh, methi, saag, korma, dupiaza, bhuna, madras, vindaloo, Ceylon and Malaysian dishes abound and then there is a varied choice of accompaniments, rice and tandoori breads.
The chefs are proud of their ‘House Special Dishes’ – the latest being fish ocean, chicken/tikka sylheti – which nizam describes as “fiery” – and chicken tikka tenga.
All the dishes and accompaniments are available on The Taste of India takeaway service.
The restaurant has a fully licensed bar serving draught and bottled beers and lagers, wine and spirits.
The Friday visit to the restaurant was a most pleasant experience. I’d like to thank that chatty local with the pipe and pram for serving to remind us just how good The Taste Of India really is.