Tagine genie Otto wins double five-star rating.
It’s easy to spot the signs of success, those unmistakable indicators that a restaurant is doing well.
Repeat bookings, tables full of happy diners of all ages, plates going back to the kitchen empty.
But you know you’re getting it spot- on when the city’s restaurant inspectors want to have their Christmas do at your place.
All of those things are happening at Otto’s on Sharrowvale Road.
It’s also the place that served the best main course I’ve eaten this year, and there have been some belters, more of which later.
Service, as Mr Dawes would say, starts when you book the table.
Theresa Damahi was the very soul of service on the phone, asking if I had allergies or preferences, telling me the restaurant’s policy on bring-your-own booze and generally being helpful and polite.
Former teacher Theresa came to Sheffield from Birmingham in 1984 to study French and Spanish at university. She is married to Othman Damahi - the man who puts the Otto in Otto’s - who she met in Montpellier, France where she was teaching in 1988. He was visiting his sister.
He’s a man who clearly knows how to run a restaurant, a master maitre d’, advising staff, chatting to customers, buzzing in and out of the kitchen.
He is one of three who greet and seat us as we walk from the late sunshine into the softly-lit room.
Olives are already on the table and water is brought over straight away.
Othman is Moroccan and he opened Otto’s in 2008.
Up until last year, Theresa tells me later, he also famously helped to run the Mediterranean restaurant just down the road which he used to part-own.
He sold his interest in the place and now concentrates on Otto’s, ending what were often 16-hour working days.
A Moroccan theme runs through the menu with lamb, fish and seafood tagines, Moroccan meatballs, Moroccan pea soup and other North African touches.
I start with a bottle of Casablanca lager - with a brilliantly evocative label - and a traditional Moroccan Harrisa soup with chick peas and coriander served with homemade bread.
My daughter Hannah has Spicy prawn kebabs, char-grilled and served with a spicy harissa dip.
My soup is a delight.
Harissa, depending on who’s making it, is a blend of chilli peppers, often smoked, garlic, olive oil, cumin, coriander and mint.
With a good hit of aromatic spice but not too much heat, the light soup has chickpeas, celery and noodles and sprinkled with chopped coriander.
The bread is baked daily and was light, warm and fresh.
The prawns are perfectly tender and given a real lift by the spicy, mayonnaise-based sauce.
Otto’s has a resident pianist whose melancholy musings gave the place a cool, film-set feel.
There’s some smooth Sinatra and a little low-key Bowie but how he avoided the tempation to play ‘As Time Goes By’ I don’t know.
People keep heading upstairs for a private party that we discover is a group of doctors on a night out. There should be a joke in that but I can’t think what it is…
Waiting staff are in abundance.
“We have some new staff and we like to train them properly,” said Theresa.
“They work very hard. Last year we took five of them to Morocco for a holiday. They paid their flights and we paid accommodation.”
What about those inspectors?
“One of the inspectors we know came in for lunch and told us that the man who did our latest inspection liked the look of the food so much he was going to bring the inspection team here for their Christmas party.”
I don’t blame him. My main course was an absolute triumph.
I had fish and seafood tagine with preserved lemons.
As soon as the lid comes off the traditional Moroccan cooking pot a rich, spicy, earthy, fishy aroma billows into the room.
The food looks and smells fantastic.
In the deliciously spiced and savoury tomato broth are prawns, mussels, in and out of their shells, and squid.
Smoked haddock, salmon and monkfish lurk in the ochre liquor flavoured with coriander, cinnamon, turmeric and cumin, and all cooked to tender perfection.
It came with a bowl of smoked harissa paste that added more depth and earthiness to a special dish.
I was full when I finished but it was so good I would have eaten another.
Hannah chose a well-done sirloin steak, a good piece of beef, nicely seared and well presented.
For dessert I had an intriguing homemade cinnamon, carrot and orange ice cream which was rich, creamy, packed with cinnamon and orange flavours and very sweet. That level of sweetness might not appeal to everyone but I loved it.
Hannah had Moroccan Almond cake with yogurt and mint. The cake was rich, syrupy and packed with almonds, the freshness of yogurt and mint nicely balances out some of the sweetness.
Those restaurant inspectors know what they’re about.
And I’ll match their five hygiene stars with five more for that tagine.
Star rating out of five:
* Otto’s, 344 Sharrowvale Road Sheffield S11 8ZP
* Open Tuesdays to Saturdays 5pm to 11.30pm. Also takes private lunchtime bookings
* Category: Bistro