Sizar at work in the kitchen Rowsha

Rowsha offers a taste of Lebanon in Sheffield

SU contributor, Emma Wells, investigates the story behind popular Sheffield restaurant Rowsha, after hearing rave reviews about it’s Lebanese cuisine.

Rowsha, on South Road in Walkley, is owned and run by chef Sizar Alandari, aged 41. Sizar (pronounced like the Roman emperor) has been running Rowsha since 2012, and was responsible for a significant expansion of the premises in 2014 into the adjacent unit.

The restaurant is named after the residential and commercial neighbourhood of Al Rowsha in Beirut, Lebanon. Al Rowsha is located by the sea, and is home to upmarket apartment buildings, numerous restaurants, and cliff-side cafés. It is also well known for its natural landmark called Pigeon Rocks, two huge rock formations off the western-most tip of Beirut, which are a popular destination for both locals and tourists.

Originally from Syria, Sizar came to the UK in 2005 as a student. He studied in London, and then lived in Leicester, before moving to work in a restaurant in Sheffield. He liked the city so much he decided to stay with his wife and two children. Sizar said:

I love Sheffield; I love to work and live here.

I asked Sizar about the influence behind his passion for food:

I just love to cook; even before I came here I cooked. I would even help my mother back home.

Sizar at work in the kitchen at Rowsha, photo by Emma Wells

Sizar at work in the kitchen at Rowsha, photo by Emma Wells

Having studied at a catering school in Syria before coming to the UK, Sizar has worked as a chef for the last eighteen years. Being no expert on this type of cuisine, I asked Sizar what it is about Lebanese food that makes it particularly special.

We have lots of starters and lots of main dishes too. They are really nice; some spicy, some dry, some juicy with lots of variety.

Sizar explained that there are so many different Lebanese dishes that he cannot possibly make them all at Rowsha! I asked what his favourite dish is, but he said there are too many for him to choose from.

I really like the grill, especially white meat; chicken is my favourite. I like to cook everything!

Selection of mezzes at Rowsha, Photo by Emma Wells

Selection of mezzes at Rowsha, Photo by Emma Wells

Having successfully run the restaurant for a couple of years, Sizar decided to expand, and Rowsha’s new extension opened in December 2014. The restaurant is around double the size; he has expanded the kitchen, and he feels the restaurant is more comfortable and welcoming for customers.

Rowsha EW

Inside Rowsha,  photo by Emma Wells

The restaurant is going from strength to strength, something which is reflected in the number of good reviews on Trip Advisor. Customers come to Rowsha from across Sheffield, many of them regulars, but also from further afield. The restaurant recently hosted a 21st birthday party for thirty-two people, who had come all the way from Worksop based on the restaurant’s reputation.

Sizar is the only chef, so life has been very busy for him since the expansion. Rowsha is open seven days a week and on Fridays and Saturdays when they are busiest, Sizar’s wife helps him in the kitchen. Sizar tells me:

People come every day; we had fifteen this Monday night. I come early every day to prepare the food; there is so much to do. I hope by the end of the year I can relax a bit!

I asked about the ingredients which go into Rowsha’s dishes and Sizar said that he sources his meat from a local halal butcher in Bradford, and that Lebanese beer and wines come from London. The dessert dish of Baklava also comes from London, as do the olives. Special Lebanese bread is brought in from a bakery in Manchester because it is not possible to make it at the restaurant.

Samakara Harra Rowsha_full_compression

Samakara Harra, courtesy of Rowsha

Sizar explained that there is a wider choice of both Lebanese suppliers and restaurants in London, as there are many Arabic and Asian people living there. However, in Sheffield Lebanese cuisine is not as popular as the more well-known Italian or Indian.

Although Sizar believes this is changing, partly due to websites such as Just Eat and Hungry House, where you can order take away food from Rowsha, which is encouraging people to try it. Sizar said that he has used advertising to promote the restaurant in the past, but he no longer needs to.

Sizar is already planning for the future, and wants to open more restaurants in Sheffield and possibly Leeds. He tells me that he would like to have a restaurant in Crookes, as he really likes the area, and having two restaurants close by has worked well in other areas. But for now, Sizar is happy in Walkley.

I hope I’ll continue to do well with my customers.