“ Address: 257 Fulwood Road / Broomhill / Sheffield, S10 3BD / England „
Having used a National Express promotion for cheap coach travel and an Ibis promotion to get a deal on accommodation, we were keen to try to reduce eating out costs too on a weekend trip to Sheffield and decided to see whether there was somewhere appealing to use our Times "Dine for £15" vouchers.
There were a few places listed but none sounded as interesting as UK Mama Africa - as the name suggests this restaurant focusses on African cuisine, mostly west African dishes. An internet search found a glowing review from the local newpaper and the restaurant's own website showed a sample menu that sounded good.
The restaurant is situated in Broomhill, an area heavily populated by students. Around it there are several decent pubs for a pre- or post-dinner drink. We walked from the city centre and it took about twenty minutes; there seemed to be plenty of buses too as well as some parking in side streets near the restaurant.
We had phoned in advance to book a table and had asked for an eight o'clock booking but had been told they could only do seven o'clock. We reluctantly agreed but, looking back, I'm not sure why we couldn't have an eight o'clock table since we were in the restaurant for the best part of the evening.
The first impression of the restaurant is that it is very cheerful and homely. While I wouldn't describe it as run down, it is a little shabby in places but it was clean and cosy. The décor is bright and colourful with some pieces of African art dotted around and a huge mural at the top of the stairs. It looks as if the current owners bought the property as a restaurant and just threw on a quick coat of paint. The look has clearly just "happened" rather than been "designed".
We were greeted warmly by a young server of indeterminable gender (not African) and led to a table at the back of the restaurant. There was one other couple dining and we were placed in a tiny corner beside them. Tables were crammed in everywhere including one right outside the toilets. When a couple was later led to this table they had to ask for a second chair. The server said that a chair could be obtained when the person using the ladies toilet was finished because that is where the second chair for that table was kept. How lovely to wait for the "toilet chair"! When a large party, who had booked in advance, came in shortly afterwards the right number of tables had not been set aside but more chairs were brought and two people had to sit where the legs of the tables were and couldn't get close to the table.
The woman and her daughter at the next table were laughing hysterically as we sat down. I asked my partner if there was something amusing about my appearance. He said that, on the contrary, they must be laughing at him. We soon learned what was so funny. We explained that we had tokens for the Times promotion and a specials menu was brought. After almost fifteen minutes a friendly gentleman (Born in Africa) in a jazzy African tunic came to take our order. After ordering starters and mains we were asked to order our desserts too. We said we'd rather wait, a response that seemed to irritate the man a little. Once the staff members had disappeared downstairs, the lady at the next table said that when they ordered, the man had insisted on taking their dessert choice too. They told us that they were having a very entertaining evening and as the time passed we began to see why.
There was a decent list of African beers listed on the menu and we were excited to sample some we hadn't tried before. However, each one we asked for was unavailable and eventually I ordered a Kenyan Tusker, a beer I have had before and like very much. Himself ordered a South African lager which he'd never had before but this proved to be nothing special. The beers were really over-priced in comparison to other drinks; a large Tusker (500ml) was over £5 whereas a bottle of house wine was only £6.50. When the drinks were brought so was a little plastic dish of some snacky, crunchy things made from corn and flour which I didn't catch the name of. They were very tasty, however, but there weren't quite enough.
Our starters arrived fairly promptly. I had ordered the harrira soup which came with a vaguely sweet and quite dry Nigerian bread. The soup contained callaloo (a green vegetable similar to spinach), peppers and mushrooms and the stock was spiced with harrira paste, a mixture of herbs and spices often found in African cooking. The soup was OK but didn't give as much of a kick as I had hoped for. My partner opted for the beef moi moi. Moi moi is a traditional West African dish in which beans are steamed and moulded. It is a bit like a pate and it was served with pieces of tasty meat. The texture was interesting but the taste was overly sweet and had a flavour not unlike Spam.
Our plates were taken away not long after we'd finished the starters but the mains took a bit longer coming. At first we didn't notice, we were so busy watching what was going on elsewhere - well that part of the restaurant we could see from our corner. The large group had ordered a buffet which meant that lots of different dishes were brought to the table and the diners helped themselves. They waited forty minutes before any food hit their table. When it did they hadn't been given plates so had to wait for the server to re-appear then disappear to fetch them. While they waited their food got cold. Some minutes later the server appeared. "I've brought some plates" came the cheery call. "Some" being the right word as there wasn't one for each member of the group. After almost forty minutes we (of which ten were spent trying to get some attention -two large groups at the front of the restaurant seemed to be monopolizing the one server) managed to let the server know we were still waiting. Our food came five minutes later with a sincere apology from the man in the tunic.
I had ordered a chicken stew with rice and peas. It contained lots of chicken and was a massive portion but somehow it was just a little uninspiring with little to set it apart from any other slightly spicy chicken stew. Himself chose a lamb stew that also contained an astonishing amount of meat which fell off the bone very easily. Again it was reasonably tasty but not spectacular.He had chosen johnny cakes to accompany his main course and these were delicious and quite different to ones I'd had before or the ones we make at home. The outside was lovely and crisp while inside they were soft and fluffy.
Alas, due to a nut allergy, I could not have the so-called "daily special" which was a bread and butter style pudding with brazil nuts to give it a twist - it was called "Alma d'Ike" on the menu. I say "so-called" because it seems that this dish is always on the menu and is not just an occasional special. The only thing I could have was ice cream and we both recived two measly portions of cheap tasting vanilla ice cream.
It took another fifteen minutes to get the bill and although we clearly put out the money nobody came for it so we got up and waited at the counter. To be fair the 'be-tunic-ed' man apologised profusely for the delay in our main course coming but he did not offer any thing to say sorry - a free coffee might have been offered at some restaurants, for example. It was not until we were on our way back in the city centre that we remembered that we should have received a glass of wine as part of the Times promotion but this was never offered or mentioned although they were quick to make sure they took our tokens when we paid.
UK Mama Africa is clearly a popular restaurant; there were several large groups while we were there and the atmosphere is relaxed and fun. The large group next to us were there on the recommendation of one of their party who had been before. The food is homely and tasty though I feel that we probably paid more than we needed to as part of our our "deal" and could have eaten similar dishes for less by choosing from the standard menu. Usually the Times offer allows you to try a limited selection from a restaurant's main menu at a reduced price but I think we were slightly duped here.
The food is certainly authentic judging from the comments of some prrevious diners (some quite distinguished) which have been reproduced in the menu and the couple who own the restaurant are originally from Africa too.
The additional presence of just one more member of waiting staff would have had a profound effect on the level and speed of service that evening and the place was certainly busy enough, I'm sure, to warrant the cost. It felt as if the big parties were more valued than smaller groups and if one member of staff could have focussed on the groups, the other could have served the other tables without long delays.
Uk Mama also offer a take away service and the full choice of meals from the menu is available. They also do a catering service which, assuming it went without a hitch, would be a really different and exciting thing to offer guests at a function.
The food at this restaurant was good but not spectacular and better service would have perhaps made me look less critically at other aspects of the visit. I felt that the time we were waiting just gave me more opportunity to be picky.
I would recommend the restaurant but would say this is not somewhere to go if you are in a hurry. If you are in a large group and are making a night of it then this is probably a good choice because it seems they cater well for groups - even if it is at the expense of smaller parties.
Recommended but with reservations
257 Fulwood Road, Broomhill, Sheffield, S10 3BD
Telephone: 0114 268 7807
African and Caribbean food