Senor Jamon plans a Spanish Conquest

Jamon, jamon at IberiCo from Daniel Pedrosa

IberiCo, that lovely little Spanish deli off Ecclesall Road, is on the move . . .

THE FiRST time I met Daniel, the owner of Spanish deli and tapas bar IberiCo on Hickmott Road, his Northern accent with a slight Sheffield twang led me to think he was a local lad with a liking for that country’s food.

Then when he effortlessly slipped into Spanish to greet an expat customer I thought ” By ‘eck, he’s got the lingo!”

He certainly has. But it’s our lingo. Although he doesn’t fit the stereotype of a Spaniard – he is tall, pale and laid back rather than short, dark and animated – Daniel Marquez Pedrosa is from Cadiz although, as he will tell you, his family comes from Cordoba. The city apparently had an influx of German immigrants a century or so ago.

He’s been in Sheffield since September 2014, arriving under the Erasmus scheme to study English at university. He obviously liked what he saw although South Yorkshire couldn’t be more different to the South of Spain. But he wasn’t so keen on teaching, his job after university, so looked around for something different.

The shop, a combination of grocery, coffee bar and cafe, opened last August Bank Holiday and brought an exotic flavour to the already vibrant mix of places on Hickmott and Sharrowvale Road, the lively area off equally Cosmopolitan Ecclesall Road.

Cheeses and meats at Iberi.co

While it has become a favoured destination for locals lured by the tempting sight of hams, hanging from the hook and on the cradle, it is also a rendezvous for expat Spanish, of whom there seem to be many in Sheffield.

“The Spanish say prices are higher than back home but they would be, wouldn’t they?” he jokes.

Until he speaks his native language you’d never guess he was Spanish although there’s a little clue on the menu with its idiosyncratic spelling of ‘ sandwhiches.’!

IberiCo almost never happened. The premises, owned by Martin Flowers, the developer of nearby Dyson Place, had been earmarked as a greengrocers but that fell through. Daniel had earlier been interested and got a call.

The deli is the heart of the business, stocked with hams, cheeses and boxes and tins and packets of Spanish produce – everything from anchovies to tins of beans and excellent olive oil.

The shelves are full of goodies

It won’t be there much longer. IberiCo is moving . . .but not far. August 13 has been pencilled in for transfer to the former premises of Olive & Joy in Dyson Place.

The larger premises will allow for a wider range of deli items and increase the offer not only from the shelves and counter but on the table.

For Daniel the move into bigger premises so soon wasn’t part of his business plan. “But you have to take your chances when you can. When we first opened this place didn’t look as it does now.”

Daniel, already Senor Jamon to local foodies, has made the little shop a favourite with many as an enoteca or bodega where they can sit down with a plate of meats or cheeses with a bowl of olives, glass of wine and bread from Phil at nearby Perfectionery. Seats are limited although in warmer weather they spread outside.

With more room in Dyson Place there will be tables inside and out. “There will be much more food. We will have a young Spanish chef and she has written a very good menu. It’s going to add a lot to Dyson Place,” he says.

Expect the transition to take a few weeks before it gets fully into gear. There will still be those plates of meats and cheeses plus a menu for more casual dining.

And as IberiCo moves out another food business moves in, upmarket patisserie Gilt from Abbeydale Road.

Looking romantic: IberiCo

Cary heaves to with another fishy catch

Cary Brown: No longer all at sea

CHEF Cary Brown, one-time Bad Lad (reformed) of Sheffield restaurants, is in full flood with his intentions for his latest seafood venture: Neon Fish.

Builders are still working on the interior of what was the elegant Marco @ Milano on Archer Road but, as is always the case with Cary, the floor is littered with metaphorical donkeys hind legs and the occasional gastronomic sound-bite.

So when Cary rings his suppliers around the coast he’ll get the catch so quickly that when he calls “Tomorrow’s fish is still in the sea.” Heave-ho my hearties, the captain is speaking.

Here’s another. He detects people’s eating and social habits are changing so that “Saturday afternoons are the new Friday nights. They can come home, watch a bit of telly and fall asleep on the sofa.”

Neon Fish should be opening late July. He’s not in a rush, what with Covid still stalking in the shallows like a piranha – one fish not on the menu. Those who remember the heyday of Slammers on Ecclesall Road or recall his monkfish at Carriages will be licking their lips.

He chose the name after seeing an eatery in New York called the Neon Burger and signed by one: no letters, just the electric logo.

Neon Fish will be signed the same way and the decor will be full of glowing neon fishes. In a sense Cary is his own logo. At his last place his cartoon was on the menu. There has never been a Cary’s Cuisine but there was a Brown’s restaurant before the similarly named chain came to town.

Gracie Anderson: Stage front at Neon Fish

The restaurant has not been finished or dressed for pictures but I get him to pose underneath a picture, appropriately, of fish inherited from previous owner Marco Giove. They are pals and Cary used to help him in the kitchen so he is no stranger to that.

This is the 14th place he has either owned, managed or cheffed and that’s not counting consultancies. “This is my last one. If it doesn’t work out I have no excuses,” he says.

It’s not entirely his. He is in 50-50 with co-director Gracie Anderson, a 23-year-old aspiring actress who has, at least for the moment, chosen the dining room as her theatre. She has already starred at the Devonshire Arms, Middle Handley, where they first met, and went on to manage front of house at the Tickled Trout, Barlow.

Ñeon Fish, in what is arguably one of the prettiest restaurant buildings in the city, has two dining room and a heated terrace on three levels seating 50 or so with sails and canopies.

There will be a bar, driftwood tables and, the centrepiece, a seafood ice bar in the lobby piled high with oysters, lobsters, crab, langoustines, buckets of mussels and everything else that could possibly go in a fruits de mer.

In addition there will be a reprise of Cary’s celebrated fishy Slammers, in some cases “pulled up to date,” those Basque tapas pintxos, good old-fashioned fish and chips for those with the word Whitby written in their hearts, a day boat menu ( turbot sir?) and yes, if you want it, meat. A cote de bouef (rib eye) will be on the menu.

And did I mention the revival of ‘chicken in the basket,’ given a 2021 update?

Cary reckons he can do all this with two more chefs in the kitchen because, with fish, it’s minimal although accurate cooking with first class ingredients and presentation.

He gets serious, pointing out that post-Covid the hospitality industry is finished as it was. Already it is struggling to get staff no longer prepared to work long anti-social 60 to 70 hours a week.

The venue: Most attractive in Sheffield?

“We will open on Thursday at 12 and go right the way through until Sunday (when there will be a return of Cary’s orgasmic roast dinners). That way staff have three full days off. More and more places are not opening earlier in the week for this reason.”

It will be interesting to see how he fares up against Christian Szurko’s recently opened Native fish restaurant. Prices will be similar. Cary says they are different sides of town with different client bases. As to prices, people must be prepared to pay for first class ingredients.

He is 55 now, a plumper, older version of the cocky young head chef (at 23) I first interviewed at the Charnwood Hotel. There have been successes and shipwrecks along the way since then: the Rock Inn, Carriages (his longest port of call), Simply Carriages, Slammers, Brown’s, The Limes (in Barnsley), Mini Bar, London Club, Royal Oak, Devonshire Arms MH, Barlow Woodseats Hall, Earnshaw & Brown at Hathersage Social Club, and now here.

He’s also reanimated. “In the past two years I have never been in a darker place. At one stage I thought I was never going to cook again,” he tells me. Then he brightens up.

He’s looking forwards to working with Gracie. To coin a phrase, they’re in this together, sink or swim.

“Seafood speaks for itself. All the glamour is there, all the theatre, if you know how to cook it,” he says. With Gracie holding the stage, Cary at the helm, many in Sheffield can’t wait for them to drop anchor . . .or should that be curtain up?

Cary Brown: In full flight

Grobbly bits? They don’t like it up ’em!

Leg of lamb: with knuckle

IT CAN’T just be me, surely? I am at the butchers ordering a nice leg of lamb for Sunday dinner when I catch him about to saw the knuckle off.

” Whoa! Stop! That’s the best bit,” I cry and the knuckle hangs limply but still attached. My brothers and I used to fight over who was going to get that. . . as well as a teaspoonful of the blood that leaked from the joint into the runnels of the carving dish.

“It tastes so sweet,” I add and he nods. ” But our customers don’t like it and don’t want to pay for it.”

I sigh – not just because we now have a generation or two who have no idea how to use and eat the grobbly bits of meat – but because he should know me better.

It’s here I come to order breast of lamb because, if it sells at al, it goes to the dog, or give notice I’ll have some cheaper tail-end beef fillet because it’s going to be sliced up for a stroganoff. No point in paying good money for the meat further up the joint. It’ll taste the same.

I try and buy all my meat from a butcher, grobbly bits and all, but cry inside at supermarkets when I see labels telling me the innards of chickens and turkeys are not included “for your convenience.” He or she who cannot make a giblet gravy does not deserve the name of cook.

I am not going to rant on here that if you are a carnivore you respect the animal by eating most or all of it and not just the ‘best bits.’ I like to eat as if there’s a war on and it’s waste not, want not.

I have noticed big loins of pork for sale at The Moor Market for very reasonable prices – from £10-£14. Now one of these will give me some home-made middle cut bacon, spiced the way I like it, plus I can cut up the rest for a roast loin joint for two and still have enough meat left over for a stew or curry.

But hang on,, all these loins have been trimmed of skin and most of the fat. I want my bacon with the rind on because even in my favourite butchers’ it’s been taken off, doubtless for my own ‘convenience.’

This is part of the reason I make my own bacon, as you can see here. I like bacon rinds. They provide fat to fry the rashers and are great to eat crozzled up. Think mini pork scratchings.

Pork loin: untrimmed, rind on

So I have to ask for a joint specially cut with the skin left on but boned. I mutter something about people not knowing their meat, expecting the butcher to cluck in sympathy. He doesn’t. ” People like it this way.”

Now, wait for it, this’ll make you laugh: the joints are sold with ‘crackling for free. It’s only the skin and fat which has already been taken off!

While I’m about I ask for the bones. They will still have meat on and make a nice supper, marinated then roasted slowly in a barbecue sauce as spare ribs.*

So that’s bacon, a stew and a nice greasy gnaw on some grobbly bits from one piece of pork for under a tenner.

Call it nose-to-tail eating or think there’s a war on, it doesn’t matter. I know what butcher Cpl Jones from Dads Army might say: “They don’t like it up ’em!” Or should that be, in ’em?

Spare ribs: tasty

* These are my free spare ribs from the loin of pork. There’s not really a recipe, I marinated them overnight in a mixture of soy and black bean sauces, ketchup, Sheffield Relish, coriander powder and so on, then roasted at 150C for three hours under tin foil. The pan was a bit dry but a few tablespoons of water, some honey and tomato paste stirred in made a lovely sauce.

Marco takes it easier

AT THE age of 57 Marco Giove has seen all the varieties a life in Italian catering in Sheffield can offer – so he is going to take it a little easier from now on.

“I never saw my children growing up because I was always working. I want to spend more time with my five grandchildren,” he says.

Which is one of the reasons top city restaurant Marco @ Milano is no more.

After 21 years in the former Archer Road cop shop Brindisi-born Marco is handing over the keys to friend and fellow chef Cary Brown, who will reopen the venue as Neon Fish.

Marco, second generation of a Sheffield-Italian catering family founded by his late father Marco Senior, was one of those who took local Italian cooking up a notch or two from cheap and cheerful to fine dining.

After learning his trade in the family restaurant he had run Rossi’s from 1990 to 1995 before being approached by Nonnas duo Maurizio Mori and Gian Bohan to manage the venue, then called Milano, which they owned with Robert Brady. “I said no but I’d buy the business off them,” he recalls.

It was a bit of a struggle at first but he persevered and with head chef Franco Esposito’s cooking the place got noticed, nationally as well as locally: In The Guardian’s Italian Top 10 and the Independent’s Top 15 for alfresco dining – there is a beautiful terrace out the back overlooking Millhouses Park.

Then came the Pandemic. “I’d already been thinking about going back to casual dining, pizza and pastas, before it happened. I started doing takeaways during lockdown and found it was easier,” he says. And that’s when he decided not to return.

His Facebook and Instagram pages have been full of appreciative comments from customers and mournful messages and he says that is what he will remember from his time there – diners who have turned into friends. But they haven’t completely lost him.

He is continuing the takeaway business so the Marco @ Milano name will continue. He might be quitting the Milano kitchen but he’s just crossing the road to take up residence in Hazel’s Quality Catering kitchen. And the collection point will remain, the garage forecourt opposite the restaurant.

Ironically, it doesn’t look as if there will be a third generation Giove family in catering. Things are a lot different now than when he and his brother Vincenzo, with whom he worked, were growing up.

“We didn’t have a choice. They were different times. We worked in the restaurant as a family. I was put into the kitchen at nine and Vincenzo was put on the floor with my Mum. We have not imposed anything on ours (he and his wife Yasmin have three daughers who have gone their own ways).

Marco, who also got a couple of local awards for best restaurant of the year, has been equally at home front of house as well as in the kitchen but, I wondered, which gave him the bigger buzz? He doesn’t have to think about it: cooking.

Now cooking by himself for the takeaway trade he will still be getting a buzz. And from his grandchildren.

It’s hello to John and goodbye to Eric

Changes at two Hathersage venues. MARTIN DAWES reports

John Parsons: back in Hathersage

JOHN PARSONS has taken over as head chef of Hathersage Social restaurant, replacing Cary Brown who has left to pursue a new venture in Sheffield.

Cary enigmatically announced on Facebook that the business, previously known as Earnshaw & Brown at Hathersage Social, was now simply Earnshaw.

For John, who had been cooking at the quirky staff canteen at Breedon Cement Works, it was a chance to return to his home village, where he has worked at different venues over the years.

Breedon was perhaps the only canteen which served tomatoes on toast with za’atar spices, Japanese noodles and other world foods and was also open to all-comers.

It had been a nice little number, acting as a base for outside catering, until Covid restrictions barred the canteen to its own workers. John survived by cooking takeaways for the surrounding villages.

“It’s been two and a half years since I have been in a serious kitchen and did I feel it!” he said on his first day back. His first menu has John Parsons written all over it from the beef cheek Marmite and sauce gribiche to the much-copied Three Little Pigs ‘with pig sauce.’

Owner Earnshaw diplomatically declines to discuss past events althoiugh he did say he had sold his Aston Martin to tide restaurant and staff over during Lockdown in the absence of furlough funding. Instead he enthuses about the menu including “a spectacular Paris Brest.”

Lisa Everest, known to many from years front of house at Yankees on Ecclesall Road, Sheffield, will manage the restaurant.

Eric Marsh: bishop blessed his hotel

ERIC MARSH has sold the three star George Hotel which he took over a quarter of a century ago as “a rundown pub with rooms and a toilet with a condom machine” and turned into a plush three star hotel.

It is now being run as a companion hotel to The Maynard at Grindleford, owned by care home millionaire Peter Hunt, and Maynard general manager Rob Hattersley has taken over the lease.

Eric. who jokingly referred to the George as his pension fund, for many years also ran the Cavendish Hotel at Baslow on behalf of the Chatsworth Estate. Observers referred to the George as Cavendish-lite; he himself called it as “like the Cavendish but without the view.”

One of the old school, he encouraged loyalty in both staff and customers. He could work a dining room with consumate ease, leaving guests feeling they had known him for years, not minutes.

Very much hands on, it was his voice you heard on the recorded announcement if you rang while reception was engaged.

Outside the hospitality business he built and flew his own aeroplane.

At both the Cavendish and George, he had a gift for public relations and PR spin. A few years ago, to drum up business, he threw a party to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the latter. That would date it from 1515 but the earliest records are from the 1700s.

Nothing daunted, he offered an overnight stay to anyone who could come up with documentary evidence to back his claim. As far as is known the prize was untaken. But he did get the George blessed by a bishop.

Rob paid tribute to Eric as “an inspiration for Derbyshire hospitality for many years.”

An idea Flowers at Dyson Place

Martin Flowers: Dyson Place is his Lego set

THIS IS developer Martin Flowers, the man behind that new lively little square of shops, flats and restaurants which is Dyson Place, not far off Ecclesall Road, Sheffield.

On a sunny weekday morning the place is vibrant as people stroll in to buy a coffee, stop for lunch, get their hair cut, shop for vegetables or seek a little therapy in the tweely-named but correctly apostrophied Artisans’ Yard around the back.

Martin, aged 63, with no thought of retiring, sips his double expresso outside Tonco, his first tenant, and tells how he had to battle with planners to get his concept off the drawing board.

He’s a tactful man so we’ll brush over the original Town Hall veto of no shops. “Think how boring it would have been,” he says.

It would. The square is overlooked by 14 triple-glazed two-bedroomed apartments with ample balconies from which to survey the scene below. All but one are rented. That is occupied by him and his wife Wendy so living above the shop helps them keep a benign eye on things.

Shops and flats: a lively enclave off Sharrowvale

“I’d never done anything like this before so I had no idea how it would turn out. It has raised the standards in Sheffield. It’s even got decent toilets,” he says. His previous schemes were residential.

Right from the start, when he heard the site was coming up for sale on the death of Ron Wetherall, owner of garage firm Champion & Emmett, he knew he wanted a mixture of residential and commercial. The problem was getting the planners to see that. They just wanted flats.

He also wanted good restaurants. He likes his food. “I find Sheffield a frustrating city . . . I get tired of having to go out of Sheffield to eat decent food.”

The idea for Dyson Place, named after the cigarette stub of a lane between Mann’s fishmongers and the Mediterranean restaurant on Sharrowvale Road, first emerged in April 2013 but it wasn’t until just before Christmas 2019 that it received its first tenant, restaurant Tonco.

He met would-be restaurateurs Joe Shrewsbury and Flo Russell, who were then also considering another location in the city, on site. “It was an article of faith,” he says as the young couple were looking for their first bricks and mortar business. He’s been proved correct. Joe has no doubts he made the right decision. ” It’s really busy here. The city centre is dead.”

The other hospitality outlets are Vietnamese restaurant Nam Song, vegan coffee and cakery Olive & Joy, and from late summer a new Italian-style restaurant, Cornerstone, in what was the old Mission Hall.

Nam Song on Dyson Place

Ironically, this was the one place planners did originally approve for a restaurant. The origins of the hall, built in 1905, are something of a mystery, as is its location, someone’s back yard.

If the original occupants raised the roof with their singing, Martin and his engineers have done it again literally. The roof was raised over a foot in the renovation.

The restaurant offer is going to stop there. ” I want Dyson Place to be somewhere people can kill time, look around the shops, while waiting to meet someone,” he says.

The Mission Hall

Other businesses include Inco Interiors, furniture and furnishings; men’s hairdressers Rapscallions in a former lock-up once used to store Christmas trees, and Unit 6, currently fronted by Doncaster-based greengrocers K.D.Davis & Sons.

The fruit and vegetables bring a splash of colour to the square. ” It’s a different culture to Doncaster ( where the firm has a big stall on the market). People don’t start buying until much later,” says Andrew Davis. His grandfather started the business in 1938. He is third generation, his sons are the fourth.

Greengrocer Andrew Davis at Dyson Place

Behind the aubergines and grapes is an area for a mix of micro-businesses, a sort of posh flea market.

Martin finishes his coffee and leads me into Artisans’ Yard, housing skin clinic Arubia, acupuncture and lifestyle practice Life & Lemons and handmade children’s clothes makers Bear & Babe.

This area was originally meant to be the beer yard for the Mission Hall project but developed “organically,” his favourite word.

Dyson Place has had a spin- off effect on the local area. “It’s brought increased footfall on a Sunday from people attracted to the place,” says Marvin, who runs nearby curios emporium Trove.

Dyson Place is the latest sector of an area of Sheffield which has seen its fortunes transformed in the last half century. Ecclesall Road started things with its shops and boutiques, earning it the sobriquet ‘Bond Street of the North,’ before going over to restaurants and micropubs.

Then it was the turn of Sharrowvale and Hickmott Roads, cheaper rents attracting a variety of independent shops, as off-Ecclesall Road. Dyson Place leads off Sharrowvale so in reality it is off-off Ecclesall Road.

It is only with great reluctance that he agrees to be photographed and then when I threaten to take his back view. “Even worse!” he protests.

Developers are often categorised as greedy but you sense Martin has a heart. Consuming food and drink bought off the premises in the square is banned except for fish and chips from local chippie Two Steps “as we love them,” says a notice board.

Dyson Place: fish and chip friendly

It also appeals to the little boy in him. ” This to me is a game of Lego – taking bricks and reshaping them.”

* web: http://www.dysonplace.co.uk

How I bottled Spring

Noyau

THE COLOUR is a shimmering greeny-gold, the aroma is like that of a damp morning and the taste is nutty, warm and smooth.

I think I have just bottled Spring!

A couple of months ago, you may recall, I picked young, fresh leaves from a beech tree overhanging my garden to make noyau, the French liqueur. I posted then because there was only a short period when the leaves are at their best.

I promised to let you know how I got on. The answer is splendidly!

To recap, I picked and washed enough leaves to almost fill a one litre jar and poured over a full bottle of gin, making sure the leaves were submerged, then left it in the dark to infuse. As you can read herehttps://www.facebook.com/134017336759551/posts/1832493040245297/

Some weeks later the leaves at the top had turned brown – not really a problem but it explains why recipes call for them to be ‘tightly packed – but those at the bottom were still bright.

Leaves in the Kilner jar

The colour as I strained the gin off was brilliant green ( it looks darker in the picture as I photographed it after adding brandy ) but I wouldn’t want to drink it ‘neat’ as the taste was rather harsh.

This was solved by adding a strong sugar solution, 150g of caster sugar in 200mls of water. It was a lot better! But, of course, the alcohol has been diluted ( the gin was 37.5 ABV ) so 125ml of brandy brought it back up and added pep and smoothness.

It’s a really pleasing drink, ready to drink now but will, they say, improve over time.

I can see this being a regular nightcap, bringing back memories of spring. Now I wonder what other leaves I can turn into a tipple . . .

Noyau – a glorious colour

Is it any good? You can bet his shirt on it!

Vito with his fritto shirt

THERE REALLY wasn’t any doubt about what we were having for starters at Grazie, that buzzing Italian restaurant on the corner of Leopold Street, Sheffield. Owner Vito Vernia had it plastered across his chest.

“I’m having what he’s wearing” I said, pointing to the tempting looking picture of a fritto misto on his T-shirt.

Well, it’s one way to sell a dish. There used to be Pepe Scime, who billed himself the Talking Menu. Meet Vito, the Walking Menu.

Grazie has just been voted TripAdvisor’s top city eaterie and for once we can’t argue with a site that so often deserves the brickbat of TripeAdvisor from outraged chefs and foodies.

The local Press picked up the story but in today’s Poundland journalism simply rewrote from websites rather than pick up the phone and speak to someone for a brand new quote or a different angle.

Il fritto

It’s third time very lucky on our resume of eating out after the long lockdown: one decent meal, one overpriced disappointment and now Grazie which provides good atmosphere and authentic, honest, tasty regional food – from Puglia – at commendably decent prices.

That fritto, at £18.50, had some of the best king prawns I’ve tasted since the great days of Franco Tarusico’s Walnut Tree, Abergavenny, (but three on a sharing plate for two?), along with smaller prawns, chewy baby octopus, tempura squid and courgettes.

Another good reason to go is the pasta, all home made and freshly prepared every day – and you can’t say that about many Italian restaurants, can you?

I have to restrict my carbohydrate intake because of Type 2 diabetes – too many good dinners down the years – but this wasn’t going to stop me sampling Grazie’s once again.

Lasagna

I had the lasagna, a thoroughly satisfactory dish at an equally satisfactory tenner, and what impressed me, apart from the richness of the sugo, was the thickness of the pasta sheets. Normally they are wafer thin but these were quite thick and gave the dish an even meatier edge.

The overall effect is a solid, gutsy dish. I’ve had politer, more genteel lasagnes but this was just what I wanted.

I’ve already reviewed Grazie before lockdown so just let me say everything here is made from scratch with care . . . and boy does it show!

For a fuller account of our meal nip across to my dining partner Craig Harris’s blog at https://craigscrockpot.wordpress.com/2021/06/01/review-grazie-sheffield-everything-is-oma-ma-made/amp/?__twitter_impression=true

Elsewhere it’s quite clear that the local restaurant trade is not yet fully up to speed. It’s having difficulties in finding chefs and waiting staff. Inexperienced youngsters are being pressed into service without adequate training. For goodness sake, keep to your section so diners are not harrassed with the same questions from successive waiters.

And please, if you are going to serve water in jugs, put in some ice and don’t leave it to warm in the dining room.

Customers, too, need to smarten their game. There have been far too many no-shows where diners do not turn up. An already struggling trade can’t stand too many more blows, particularly those out of the way places which can’t rely on walk- ins.

Grazie’s logo

Hope springs eternal in the catering trade and fishmonger Christian Szurcko has opened Native in the city centre, scooping up the lobster and caviar market for those who find Kelham Island too plebby!

Still on seafood, Cary Brown is having his umpteenth transmogrification with new restaurant Neon Fish. There’s plenty to get my teeth into.

*Grazie is at 1-3 Leopold Street, Sheffield S1 26Y. Tel: 07308 028 864. Web: http://www.graziesheffield.co.uk

Hoping I’ll be nuts about this liqueur

Washed beech leaves

SOMETIMES EVEN I am surprised how stupid I can be. I was out collecting nettles for beer (post coming up) and keeping an eye out for a likely looking beech tree. I fancied making noyau, that liqueur made from its leaves.

Of course, I didn’t find one and only later did I realise there was one less than 20 feet from my kitchen door – my neighbour’s but one which I had paid expensively some years ago to lower and give me a little more afternoon sun.

That realisation stung more than the nettles.

I am posting shortly after picking the leaves and before the noyau is ready to be drunk but if I leave it until then your chance of following suit will be over until next year.

There is only a short ‘window’ when the leaves are fresh, green, tender (and edible) and delicate enough to make this drink. That is now. So I will update this post as the drink develops.

In a nutshell (pun!) the idea is to macerate big handfuls of beech leaves in gin (or vodka) for five to six weeks, strain, add sugar syrup, fortify with brandy, mix, leave for a bit longer and drink.

Leaves in the Kilner jar

They say you can eat the young leaves in salads or sandwiches as they have a citrus taste. I chewed through five or six and only got the merest hint of lemon although that could have been auto-suggestion.

Now technically a noyau is made from nuts and this uses leaves. They say it was devised by foresters in the 18TH century who used beech to make furniture.

First find your tree. Then stuff as many leaves as you can into a carrier or paper bags, avoiding as much as possible any detritus such as the flowery bits which would eventually become nuts.

It’s a faff picking the leaves but as the tree badly needed a prune I broke off twigs and branches and sat down to strip the leaves. I quite like tedious routines but prefer to do it seated.

They need washing. Put them in a bowl and hopefully some of the detritus will float off. Wash them again and then drain, each time picking off bits of flowers or brown bracts.

I finished them off in the salad spinner. If you have any detritus left at least it will be clean.

Every recipe I have seen uses the phrase ‘pack loosely’ when putting them in your sterilised jar. I have only heard one dissenting voice. As I had a two litre Kilner jar my 80g of leaves was never going to fill it.

I poured in a 70cl bottle of cheap gin (you can also use vodka) and kept the leaves submerged with an old yoghurt pot lid before sealing the jar.

It is now in the cellar with a note to go on to stage two in a month’s time: I have yet to decide how sweet I want it and how much brandy to add.

So if you’re up for it, go out and find those beech leaves. I’ve read you can also make a liqueur from the nuts so I may give that a go later in the year.

Either way, I hope to be raising a glass of noyau to the tree at the bottom of the garden come summer.

I’ll keep you posted.

My neighbour’s beech tree

Like salmon? Here’s a cure for it!

IT was a bargain too good to miss: a whole side of salmon, weighing a kilo, for just £10 using our Tesco Clubcard. But we only wanted a couple of fillets to steam for tea and the small ones on the lower shelves cost a fiver.

Naturally I bought the side, cut off my two fillets and didn’t really have to think too much about what to do with the rest.

A nice plump section would make me gravadlax, cured pressed salmon, an excellent alternative to smoked, with the chance to add subtle flavours. The rest went in the freezer for a family dinner later in the week, cooked Chinese-style, with even more, the tail end, reserved for soup.

It was the Scandinavians who came up with gravadlax as a way of preserving salmon, smothering it in salt and herbs and burying it in the ground. That’s why you’ll see it alternatively translated as buried or pressed salmon. I have heard it had a bit of a reek!

Things have moved on a bit since.

Essentially you cut your salmon into two equal pieces, leaving the skin on, smearing it on both sides with sugar, salt, herbs (fresh dill gives that distinctive flavour), peppercorns, and a splosh or two of spirits, in my case gin, although alcohol is not essential. If you’re teetotal crushed juniper berries will give the same kick.

Now sandwich the two pieces of salmon together, fleshy sides inwards, wrap in clingfilm or put in a ziplock bag and nestle the whole thing in a handy container. Raid the pantry for two or three tins to press down on the salmon and pop it in the fridge.

Curing can take between one and four days, depending on the result you want or how long you can wait. Just remember to turn the salmon every 12 hours.

When ready, drain the liquid from the salmon, wipe clean and lay on a flat board. Now find a very sharp knife (I use a fish filleting knife) and cut the thinnest slices you can, on the slant, starting at the tail end. Hold the salmon still with a pad of kitchen paper.

Don’t worry about the skin. Curing will have toughened it up and you won’t slice through it, cutting at an angle.

You may disagree but I think gravadlax, as with smoked salmon, gains in texture by being sliced as thinly as possible.

I like it in thinly cut sandwiches with cream cheese or on blinis, little buckwheat pancakes (recipes are everywhere on line) with sour cream.

It’s improved by marinating briefly with a little lemon juice but taste first for pepper.

My cure is taken from Shaun Hill’s Salt is Essential but it is much the same, whatever your reference. Quanitites are for a kilo fillet, scale down if necessary.

You need 4 tablespoons each of rock or sea salt and granulated or Demerara sugar, a bunch of chopped dill and a tablespoon of crushed peppercorns. He adds two tablespoons of brandy to the mix. I used gin plus crushed juniper berries.

Now enjoy it. Gravadlax will keep for at least a week in the fridge, depending on the length of cure, and will freeze, keeping it in one piece. Obviously you won’t refreeze it.