Good Cod! Bruce worries Brexit will hit the price of fish and chips

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Bruce Payne – free fish taste test

ACE chippie Bruce Payne will be offering customers on Sheffield’s Moor Market free fish if they agree to take part in a blind taste test of mystery fish.

He’s worried the price of the city’s favourite fish, cod, will hit the deep fat fryers after Brexit.

“I need a back-up plan if the price soars. It’s got to be white, it’s got to be flakey and it’s got to be bland,” he says.

Bruce, who runs the Market Chippy, doesn’t know what fish he will be using until the day before the taste test, from 10am on Saturday, October 26. It will depend on what is available – and sustainable.

While the price of haddock has more or less remained stable  that of cod has steadily risen. Normally it  drops after Christmas but this year they didn’t.

“Sixty pounds of frozen-at-sea Icelandic cod cost me £210 currently. At the moment it’s caught by the Spanish. It has been Russian or Chinese. As we don’t have much of a fishing industry left we will be buying another country’s fish and if they land here there will be a tariff,” he adds.

There is already to be a seasonal 20p price rise on his regular prices (fish and chips is currently £4.60) and Bruce needs a Plan B if prices hit the psychological £5 mark.

“I don’t want to be caught flat footed. Suppliers can be ruthless. They will use Brexit as an excuse anyway,” he adds.

Bruce will not stop selling cod (or haddock and plaice) but among cod substitutes are coley, hake, catfish, gurnard, pollock, New Zealand hoki and tilapia (which some chippies are rumoured to be already using). However not all fit his criteria.

When he ran a stall on Sheffield’s old Castle Market he tried using Scarborough woof (also known as catfish or wolf fish) which has a white firm flesh but customers rejected it. Traditional as always, they wanted cod. Perhaps it is time for Bruce to give woof another go.

The taste test is free. All people have to do is rate what they eat. “Even if it costs me £50 in fish I am going to have a better idea than if just cooking a couple of pieces. I have three fryers so it can b e A, B and C. It’s like fishing, the wider you cast your net, the better the result!”

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Flying high: Silver service at the Silver Plate

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Some rather good pork belly

I SHALL probably never fly first class and get served dinner at 50,000 feet with silver service but at least young Chloe is giving me a taste of it at zero feet.

We are lunching at Sheffield College’s admirable Silver Plate training restaurant on the main Granville Road campus and the vegetables – broccoli and green beans – are being served silver service: that is directly from a dish via fork and spoon on to your plate by the waitress.

I smile wryly. Didn’t this sort of thing go out with the ark, along with synchronised cloche lifting and serving gloves?

The reason, says instructor Shelley Kirk is that Chloe and co are on the Cabin Crew Course and need to know this sort of thing. Well, chocks away as waitresses unfold and place our (paper) napkins in our laps. At 50,000 feet it would be linen. But you might not get Sheffield cutlery as you do here!

I haven’t eaten at the college, one of the best for catering in the country, for years. Lunches are a steal: £11 for two courses, £13 for three, while you have to book the evening wine and dines months in advance. There is a waiting list.

It’s ideal for silver surfers wanting a taste of middle of the road dining they might not be able to afford regularly, or those who just want to support the next generation.

Things don’t start well: we are all squashed like sardines in a lobby with the size and atmosphere of a dentist’s waiting room before the doors open. Silver Plate’s predecessor, Sparks, had a decent lounge where students could practice their drinks ordering skills.

It’s a highly enjoyable meal, cooked for us by eight second year level 2 professional cookery students under the supervision of lecturer Andy Gabbitas, formerly chef-proprietor of the Wortley Arms.

The menu is short with just three choices at each stage but first some really good breads (focaccia, black pudding and herbs) and a sip of better than expected pinot grigio.

For starters there is mushroom soup, goats cheese parfait and red mullet on shaved fennel, which I have. My pan-fried fish has only just been cooked – it is on point, as they say – with the flesh a little too translucent but still acceptable. My wife approves her parfait as ‘not too goaty.’

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Instructor Andy Gabbitas

For mains there is roast belly pork with a parsnip mash, pan-fried salmon and a butternut squash and spinach tart.

My pork is a treat. The meat is soft and sweet, cutting almost like butter. The skin, detached, is crisp and crunchy. It’s on a bed of mash, possibly slightly over-nutmegged, with some partially dehydrated apple rings for garnish.

Here come the vegetables. Of course students must learn but silver service does muck up the kitchen’s presentation skills, which are good. I adjust my napkin on my lap. Experience has taught me stray vegetables served this way can end up there but Chloe’s trajectory is true.

That broccoli came with a hollandaise sauce, by the way, and like lecturer Andy, I agree it was very creditably done.

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Steamed pudding and custard

My dessert, a simple steamed, not messed about with syrup pudding with a thin custard, rounds off an  excellent meal. My wife’s chocolate torte is a belter. “Didn’t have to touch the sable pastry,” says Andy later.

A final accolade: the coffee is first class with a good crema.

You’d have easily been happy to pay £22 for this at a little side street bistro and it’s not hard to see why the college and the restaurant keeps earning plaudits. It only just missed out being in the AA’s top three training restaurants this year. Don’t miss out on a visit.

*Lunches run Tuesday-Friday in term time. To book call 0114 260 2060 or e-mail thesilverplate@sheffcol.ac.uk

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The Silver Plate

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now for something completely different

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Ashley (left) and Luke in cheffy mode at Airoma

LUKE Hanson flashes me a wide grin. “We’re just two big kids messing about. We enjoy having a laugh.”

By ‘we’ he means himself and best mate Ashley Bagshaw, soon to re-open Silversmiths as head chef, who run pop-up restaurant Airoma, named after a dish that has not yet been set before the public palate, in the Loft Bar at Kelham Island, Sheffield.

It’s their third outing and Luke, from the British Oak, Mosborough has e-mailed offering me a free ticket for favour of review, and a discount for whoever tags along. I bring a mate, ex-pub landlord, Masterchef contestant (floored by a fish) and food blogger Craig Harris, so the lads were getting two bloggers for the price of almost one.

When we get over the shock of being charged £8 for a pint and a half of Kelham Island’s Easy Rider (the brewery is bang next door so those beer miles which upped the price must have been via Newcastle) we settle at one of three tables. There are 30 guests.

Tickets are £45 so I joke that we could have done Joro for lunch at that price. What we are about to get turns out to be thoroughly entertaining.

It’s a sort of tasting menu in a series of small plates, some more serious than others, featuring world classics. We begin close to home with Bacon Butty, a teeny-weeny yeasty white loaf with a brown sauce butter and crunchy little bits of salty bacon, the sort of thing you might get as an amuse in a posh restaurant.

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Crocket or croquette – it tasted great

We move on (when the beer runs out we stick to water) to what is to my mind the night’s star dish. Instead of a menu there’s a screen and flashed up is “Bubble & Tweet: roast chicken dinner crocket, crispy cabbage.”

For crocket read croquette, chefs never could spell. I love it. Encased within the breadcrumbed exterior is a complete mini meal: roast chicken, vegetables and stuffing, all precisely flavoured. It sits on the now fashionable crispy cabbage and, carefully balanced on the croquette, is a wafer-thin crispy shard of chicken skin, which everybody knows is the best thing about a Sunday roast.

Not sure how they did the skin (was it dehydrated first?) but it was impressive.

Next we go all oriental with hot and sour flavours from a langoustine gyoza (Japanese dumpling) coupled with a Thai marshmallow, except that something’s missing. I stop a passing waitress and report I am a gyoza-free zone. It turns out that several other diners are in the same boat.

It’s quickly remedied and yes, there was langoustine, but the dish was hot, hot, hot, the marshmallow only providing light relief. Craig detected Szechuan pepper, and then some more.

“It tasted well when we made it but the flavours kept on giving,” said Luke later.

My tastebuds soon got some comfort from what looked like a Fab ice lolly from the Sixties, complete with sprinkles. This was the girly rival to the boys’ Zoom, linked to the Fireball XL5 and Thunderbirds series. I never knew Lady Penelope put gin in her lollies. Great fun.

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Beef shin, corned beef, crisps

During a break I ask why they are doing this. Do they have their own place in mind? Not if Ashley’s going curtain-up on Silversmiths Mark 3 (or is it 4?).

Turns out they feel mildly constrained by working to order, worrying about meeting profit margins and getting the knock-back from owners on ideas they like.  There are times all chefs will feel like gastronomic Pythons and say ‘Now for something completely different.’

“With this, we can do whatever we want and, hopefully, build up a bit of a reputation,” Luke says.

The lads have spent time working together, chiefly at the Rising Sun, Fulwood, and Chequers at Froggatt Edge, and developing the pop-up took about two years. Hardest part was finding the venue and Airoma was the first ‘do’ at this new function room.

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Did Lady Penelope have gin in hers?

Next up was the dish which came closest to the croquette for me, a roundel of oh-so-soft and melting beef contrasting with some home made corned beef.  “We used beef cheek for the corned beef and the shin was braised for nine hours in black treacle,” said Ashley, a chef who is all curls and tattoos.

The dish had what I thought was a second outing for the brown sauce seen in the opening dish, in the form of a jel, but it turned out to be greatly reduced Henderson’s Relish. That brown sauce was actually good old HP!

There were a couple of home made potato crisps as garnish, so good they can always go into business making them if restaurants pall.

There was more, notably a very well-judged piece of parkin and some fun bourbon biscuits with a parmesan shortbread.

So if I had paid the full whack, was it worth it? Certainly. Not everything worked completely but enough for me. I reckon you can always tell when a kitchen is having fun. Some dishes may never be seen again, others will be ideas still in the making.

Just like that airoma which, I gather, was to be a take on Aero. Hasn’t made it yet but it did spawn a pop-up.

*Luke and Ashley will next be messing about and having a laugh with Airoma at the Loft Bar on November 28. Book on https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/airomaonce-upon-a-time-tickets-75578576557?aff=ebdssbdestsearch

*You can read what Craig thought of it  here

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Luke (left) and Ashley

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fischers loses its Michelin star

 

 

 

FISCHERS of Baslow Hall has lost its Michelin Star after 25 consecutive years. It’s the second time this decade that a North Derbyshire restaurant has tumbled from the guide.

Four years ago, in 2015, Tessa Bramley’s Old Vicarage at Ridgeway lost hers, an award held continuously since 1998.

Some may point to the departure of Baslow’s head chef Rupert Rowley earlier this year following changes at the country house, owned by Max (above right) and Susan Fischer, after almost 17 years at the helm but the Guide is as taciturn about its reasons for exclusion as it is about inclusion.

There was a bit of a fanfare locally about Fischers’ quarter century of glory so it is all the more bitter the star was lost this year.

I can claim to be the person who first told Max he had earned a star, quite out of the blue. One autumn day in 1994 I was at my desk at the Sheffield Star when I opened a Press release from Michelin to read of the award. These were the days, long gone, when the Guide never bothered to tell the recipients in advance.

Naturally I rang Max for a quote and to my surprise found he didn’t know. To my further surprise he also said, during the conversation, that “I suppose we shall get all those people coming wanting steak and strawberries,” referring  to some (but not all) types of Guide groupies and box tickers.

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How Michelin announced the losses of stars

I gently managed to persuade him to let me do a big interview later, pointing out that Baslow Hall was not your steak and strawberries kind of place. I haven’t got that interview to hand but recall asking him his favourite dish. It was something his mother used to make.

A few years later Max rang me with an idea. He was looking to groom a future replacement, ideally a local lad, who eventually would take a share in the business, enabling him to take a back seat. Could I put something in? Max had been long in the business, previously in Bakewell, some readers will remember.

One person who read that article was the father of Rupert Rowley (pictured below), who was then cooking away. He had a cv to die for, having worked for Raymond Blanc, John Burton Race and Gordon Ramsay. He sent the cutting to his son.

The upshot was that Rupert joined as sous in 2002 and was made head chef the following year.

Much later the couple and Rupert bought a pub in the village and turned it into a restaurant, Rowleys. Rupert, now studying international hospitality management and working as a development chef, no longer has a stake in it.

The Old Vicarage was to join the Michelin stellar elite four years later, giving us two in the area. Ironically, now Baslow loses its star four years later.

Sadly, when I put down my fork and spoon eating for The Star some five years or so ago I also handed in my expense account, so have not eaten at either place recently so cannot comment on the merits of the Guide’s decision.

But there are fewer people who go around with a copy of Michelin than there are, say, the Good Food Guide or Hardens. let along the AA Guide and I fancy holding a star has more publicity value than anything.

Still, it is the ultimate accolade yet fatal to take it too seriously like French chef Bernard Loiseau who thought, wrongly, that he had lost one of his three stars at Le Cote d’Or in Burgundy. He shot himself. And yes I have eaten there, too, but that is another story . . .

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Tears as hotel ‘jilts’ 50 wedding couples

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The Maynard in Grindleford is to close

FIFTY couples who thought they going to marry at The Maynard in Grindleford will  be looking for a new venue after the shock news the hotel is to close by the end of October.

The Downing family, who have been losing money on the hotel they bought 16 years ago, have accepted an offer from buyers who insist on remaining anonymous.

It’s a big blow to brides wanting large wedding venues in North Derbyshire, coming as it does after the closure of another, Hassop Hall. That has been bought by local care home businessman John Hill and his wife Alex.

Contrary to rumour, this is being converted to their private house and not as a nursing home.

Within hours of the announcement going up on The Maynard’s website the rival East Lodge Hotel at Rowsley tweeted it was standing by.

The tweet said: “We are a similar sized venue to The Maynard, also set in the beautiful rolling hills of the Derbyshire Dales. We still have a few slots for weekend weddings in 2019 and can pull out all the stops to make your wedding happen.”

Paul Downing, aged 50, said his family would be ending their involvement in the hospitality business after more than 60 years. The hotel had been on the market for the last two years.

It is understood the initial asking price was £2.4 million but local gossip has it being sold for considerably less.

Their company previously held catering franchises at Sheffield’s Cutlers’ Hall and Whirlowdale Hall, among others.

Paul, who said the closure meant 18 staff losing their jobs, added he genuinely did not know what the new owner planned but hoped that it could eventually continue as a hotel. It has not been refurbished for 13 years. “I hope it will reopen in the not too distant future.”

(Locals are speculating on what it might become, possibly private apartments as it is way too close  to the main road as a private family residence.)

The Maynard has a capacity for almost 140 wedding guests but “weddings are not that big any more and people are not spending the money,” he added. And the number of  guests has halved to around 50.

Half a dozen couples who had planned a Maynard wedding will be immediately affected in the next two months, 50 in total in the next two years.

Paul said weddings, on which many hotels rely to survive, had declined enormously. “There has been a 50pc decline in the couple of years. It is not a case of if another one (hotel) goes, it is when.”

As a restaurant critic I always rated the view from the hotel’s dining room as one of the best ‘chews with a view’ in the locality. It was noted for a mural which showed the view as it would look towards Hathersage if the trees weren’t in the way! That was painted over a couple of years ago.

The Maynard, a hotel for about a century besides the old turnpike road, now the B2651, was previously known as the Maynard Arms. It changed its name in 2007 in a burst of modernisation.

*The Maynard will cease trading a midday on Monday, October 28. The bar and restaurant will be open on a limited basis until then.

Funchal: touts and limpets

DAWES’S Restaurant Law (and there are several) states that any place with men outside touting for business should be avoided at all costs because they can’t be any good. But every law has exceptions and this one does not apply in Funchal, Madeira.

Venture into the sidestreets off the Grand Place in Brussels and you will find a legion of men outside restaurants aggressively inviting you to eat the same miserable dish of frozen moules and packet chips at ridiculous prices.

In Greece, in the heat and the sun, it all looks so tempting but each has a geezer touting practically the same menu, whether on the mainland or islands. Beware of the moussaka, almost inevitably made and frozen in a Romanian factory.

It’s much the same menu wherever you go in Funchal: scabbard fish with banana, pork on a skewer or grilled limpets, but the food is very often fresh, always the fish, and almost always very decent for the price, even right in the middle of the touristy Old Town, two parallel streets with restaurants hugger-mugger with each other.

And outside every one, even the posh Restaurant du Forte, is a man (or sometimes a woman) inviting you in. Very often they hunt in packs. But it’s the way they do it which is so engaging : broad smiles, a little wit and just a smattering of banter.

“Hello, you’re back,” says one, arms outstretched in welcome, although he’s never clapped eyes on us before. “Hungry? Come on in,” urges another. If they recognise you, or even if they don’t, they will wave their menu frantically and run across the road.

Pass by enough times and you recognise their patter and spiel. “Mind the pavement,” warns one, pointing to a dip, as if you’ll be so grateful you’ll take a table.

They even do it in the scruffy bars overlooking the often whiffy sewage treatment works Funchal has seen fit to build on its promenade.

I ask Miguel, touting outside O Violino, where a support for the town’s cable car comes down through the ceiling into the restaurant, how good his strike rate was. One in 20 he reckons.

The town is full of English, German and some Dutch and French tourists yet inevitably they greet you in the right language. I ask how they can tell. The English have more open faces, the Germans harder, says his female colleague.

At least these touts do not stick stick to you like limpets. You’ll find those inside, on most menus as a starter. I could not get enough of this local speciality, griddled and doused with garlicky oil or butter and perhaps sprinkled with parsley. They have the texture of whelks and taste like winkles .

You can’t miss eating the local bread, bolo do caco, a sort of breadcake made of flour and mashed sweet potato (although it doesn’t taste sweet), baked on a griddle, sliced thtough and slathered with garlic butter.

Scabbard fish, a long, thin, black creature you can see at the local fish market, is quite bland but has a firm texture. It is inevitably partnered with banana, either fried plain, glazed or even flambeed. Banana trees are everywhere but they are not as sweet as the ones we see in the shops, more on the way to a plantain.

While most restaurants have more or less the same menu., you can go upmarket. Try Riso, just above the Porto Bay hotel, which specialises (but not exclusively) in rice dishes. Its setting is stunning, set into a cliff, with every table having a sea view. Here I had a superb fish soup with some of the best prawns I have tasted. Soups are another Madeiran speciality.

And, guess what? Riso doesn’t have a tout out front.

Heaven is a baked banana

WHENEVER we have a barbecue I always check that we have at least one banana in the fruit bowl. Because it’s going to end up on the grill as the coals die down for a very special dessert.

No one else seems to like it but I can’t understand why. If you could eat silk this would be it.

Wait until the banana peel has uniformly blackened, take it off the grill and let it cool slightly. Then, with the tip of your spoon gently ‘unzip’ it from end to end. It should hardly need any pressure.

Inside the flesh has cooked ultra-soft and has caramelised to an almost perfect sweetness, neither too much or too little.

Now scoop it out and eat it slowly and carefully, relishing the texture and marvelling how anything so simple can be that good.

But it is!