A meal with eel appeal

P1060054

Smoked eel with blood orange

THERE’S a special bond between chef and diner when you’ve eaten his brains and so there is between John Parsons and me. Not that I’ve eaten his but the sheep’s brains he cooked for one of his legendary offal* evenings. They were crisp on the outside and creamy inside, if you’re interested.

So the news that he had left his berth at the Druid Inn, Birchover, for the inner city Beer Engine on Sheffield’s Cemetery Road, tucked in just behind Waitrose, got me scurrying down to try his new menu.

I’m ashamed to say I had not recently visited the Beer Engine, run by Tom Harrington (who opened on April 2, 2015, a day late because he thought people might suspect an April Fool) but it’s a delightful little pub. There are three rooms, two with carpets, the main bar with a scrubbed wooden floor, and it feels very welcoming. When the sun is shining there’s a beer garden cum smoking area.“People say it’s got good vibes,” says Tom and he could be right.

There are no one armed bandits, pool tables, slot machines or a telly but there is a bookshelf or two if you’re stuck for something to do. I should imagine that’s still many people’s idea of a proper pub.

I first came across John’s cooking at the predominantly fishy Terrace at the Millstone, in Hathersage, then followed him to Food and Fine Wine on Ecclesall Road, Fancy and the Druid.

People have praised the Beer Engine tapas in the past but John and Tom have upped the ante somewhat with more complex ‘small plates’ which you can match with the beer, lager, cider or wines on offer. With John, a thoughtful chef, expect the dishes to vary between the interesting to the downright exciting. As is the smoked eel with blood orange (£6), a favourite when he’s doing food and wine tastings, but one I hadn’t previously encountered. It’s sensational.

P1060063 artichoke medley at Beer Engine 23-03-2017 16-11-14

Artichokes any way you want!

The eel, delightfully smoky and crispy at the edges, rests on a bed of firm, toothsome lentils. There’s a cylinder of salsify, a vegetable you don’t always encounter, and the dish is garnished with salsify crisps. The eel and orange is a match made in heaven because you’ve got smoke and sweetness mingled with earthiness on your palate. “I can only do it for two months a year when the oranges are in season,” he says.

You may have met Tom at the Sheaf View, Blake or Hilsborough Hotels. Prior to the Beer Engine he worked for Thornbridge Brewery. Way back when he helped out at the old Beer Engine in his youth. Now he has resumed a partnership with John they had at a restaurant they worked at in exclusive Cheshire. Finding that John was ‘resting’ he offered him a month’s mutual trial on Cemetery Road.

It looks like it’s paying off. Food sales are on the up. For me, the second dish was a toss up between pig’s cheek and black pudding with ham, cabbage and pork liquor or pollock and squid with celeriac, kale, buckwheat, lemon and squid ink (this is one of those menus which list every ingredient) but in the end I had neither. Instead, for a fiver, I had a dish which could be listed as artichoke anyway you want and some ways you’ve never thought of.

P1060050

The BeerEngine’s bar

The dish uses Jerusalem and globe artichokes, as a puree, roasted, crisps and as hearts, with the earthiness and sweetness riff replayed, this time with roast figs doing the honours. There was something labelled ‘tobacco’ which I didn’t quite register. It didn’t have the same knockout appeal as the eel but intrigued.

“I don’t want this to be my idea of a good pub but customers’ ideas,” explains Tom, who promises a series of beer and food tasting evenings. Mine, with a half of very decent Neepsend Blonde, was an impromptu mini lunch tasting.

“The menu won’t stay the same, it will keep changing,” says John. The motto in this kitchen is Everything fresh, cooked ‘til it’s gone. So get there before the Blood Orange season ends! For offal lovers, duck hearts are promised shortly.

The Beer Engine is at 17 Cemetery Road, Sheffield S11 8FJ. Tel 0114 272 1356. Web: http://www.beerenginesheffield.com Food served Mon – Thu 12–3pm and 5pm–8pm, Fri – Sat: 12pm–8pm, Sun: 12pm–5pm

P1060070 John Parsons and Tom Harrington in the Beer Engine kitchen 23-03-2017 16-24-18

John Parsons and Tom Harrington in the Beer Engine kitchen

* John’s adventures in offal http://wp.me/p5wFIX-2Q and here’s what happens to the humble sausage roll when it gets the Parsons’ treatment http://wp.me/p5wFIX-dh

Yankees – no longer Doodle Dandy

21_big[1]

Yankees closed just before Christmas

IT only slowly dawned on me that Yankees, the burger place on Ecclesall Road, Sheffield, had closed down just before Christmas, after 37 years. That’s pretty good going in a business where the average life expectancy is three years. But many will be sad to see it go.

A sign on the door said they were closed for refurbishment but that’s the one thing you don’t do on the run up to Christmas! Now there’s a sign saying the place is for let. 

I’d eaten there professionally and off duty over the years but hadn’t been in for quite some time. Well, that’s not entirely true. Tempted in by a new pulled pork and smoked ribs menu I found a table only to be told it wasn’t on that night – despite the banners on the railings outside promising otherwise. So, as I had a review to do, I upped and left.

Despite its age Yankees wasn’t the first American style burger restaurant in Sheffield. That honour went to Uncle Sam’s, further up the road towards town, opened by Ron Barton on July 4, 1971. It was quite a sensation at the time but it wasn’t until the other end of the decade that brothers Peter and Michael Freeman opened Yankees on the corner with Thompson Road in May, 1979.

Uncle Sam’s, still alive and kicking,  was the one with the overhead railway, Yankee’s the place with that cheeky poster of that girl tennis player with the bare bum. Both could tell tales of families where the parents had first eaten there as students and brought their own kids back.

I have no idea why Yankees closed but there is a lot of competition about these days. Chances are if a new place opens it’s either burgers or pizza, which is pretty depressing if you like your food and want a choice.

But Yankees helped to blaze a trail. Surprising as it might seem now, back then burgers, unless you had that uniquely British pattie at a Wimpy Bar, were rare. What Uncle Sam’s and Yankees were offering were bigger, tastier and (so it seemed) more American. It was no accident both were on Ecclesall Road, the city’s most upmarket street.

Then – don ‘t laugh – we called Ecclesall Road the ‘Bond Street of the North’ because there were so many boutiques. Now they have become takeaways and restaurants so, again, the two places were ahead of the curve.

tennis_1757194a[1]

That poster – it was Uncle Sam’s with the overhead railway

Dinner with Santa

p1050986-crab-scotch-egg-at-rising-sun-01-03-2017-22-20-07

Crabby Scotch egg at the Rising Sun

The candle is flickering on the table at the Rising Sun, Nether Green. The weatherman has warned of snow. And over the speakers comes Hark The Angels. Bliss. Hang on a minute! Isn’t it the first day of spring? Abbeydale Brewery’s Moonshine bitter must be pretty strong to lose me nine months . . .

Don’t blame the beer, blame Spotify. Restaurant manager Faith Nicholson dived behind the bar to select another track but the sound system seemed to go along all evening with Wizzard in wishing it could be Christmas every day. It raised a smile.

I’ve always had a soft spot for Moonshine, the Abbeydale’s flagship beer, but I’ve never been to the Rising Sun, the brewery tap. It had a makeover last year and the moment you walk into the big, comfy bar with its gleaming row of a dozen hand pumps you think ‘nice place, nice people, nice beer.’ Or as Google puts it: ‘Convivial boozer run by a local microbrewery.’

Along with the makeover went a revamp of the food, which I gather hadn’t risen much above the level of snacks. But when some patrons looked at the newly minted menu they spluttered into their beer. “Rabbit croquettes?” shrieked one as if they were the mark of Satan. “It’s situated in the middle of Nether Green, not the middle of Baslow,” he complained on TripAdvisor. Pie and peas or bangers and mash yes but was it all becoming a bit too gastro?

While some were protesting ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,’ others were moaning that eaters were taking tables from drinkers. Diners were unhappy sitting next to dogs licking their rear ends. The Rising Sun is dog friendly but there are limits.

There seems to have been a happy compromise. The pub had an unloved Tap Room which, with a help of some pots of Farrow & Ball pigeon blue, has been turned into the prosaically named 42-cover Dining Room where dogs do not go. There’s a new menu which caters for all and we had been invited as guests to try it out.

It looked pretty good to us. There’s fish and chips, pie, sausage and burgers but, whisper it softly, there’s also turbot: posh fish at a not so posh £15.95. The Rising Sun does well for fish as there’s also stonebass, that lurker of wrecks, with Lyonnaise potatoes, as well cod with an olive and bean cassoulet for starters.

I began with a spiced crab Scotch egg (£6.50) which I think is a dish from Galton Blakiston of Michelin-starred Morston Hall in Norfolk (good food, sniffy service) which I loved, the yolk runny, plenty of crabmeat, the chilli slowly arriving on the palate. My wife had a special, a lively salad of crisp squid, crayfish, loads of peashoots and most of the other things listed on the menu.

My main was braised beef cheek (£12.95), this decade’s cheffy answer to braised lamb shank. It could have been hotter but it was smashing: tasty, tender and juicy on a slick of a horseradish mash with little aniseedy notes which may have come from ‘textures of shallots.’ Now when I see that word on the menu I want to reach for a rolling pin to give the chef a good whacking, if only to stop the kitchen ‘anointing’ its salads or ‘enhancing’ sauces in future.

p1050991-turbot-01-03-2017-22-38-10

The Rising Sun’s turbot

But that would be unkind to joint head chef Ashley Bagshaw and chef de partie Rose Heggie because the cooking is light and bright. That turbot, from Mann’s of Sharrow Vale, wasn’t a big piece (it’s a luxury fish) but it was precisely cooked with lots of flavour and served on a bed of lettuce, peas, bacon and mushrooms, very French.

Service from Faith, who started 15 years ago as glass collector at the brewery’s other pub, the Devonshire Cat, was pleasant and swift although probably not as speedy as that day in May, 1891, when 50 members of the Engineers Volunteers marched up to Ranmoor Church on parade and rematerialised in the yard of the Rising Sun, where pints were handed through a window. Then landlord John Guest Taylor was fined £2 for serving out of hours. I wonder what those Tommy Atkins’ would have thought of rabbit croquettes?

They’d have liked the desserts. Co-head chef Luke Hanson  has built up a reputation for them. A whisky flavoured chocolate truffle with raspberry sorbet packed a high-octane cocoa punch while I was entranced by the firm, sponge-textured ‘custard cake’ in my rhubarb and custard ensemble. Both cost £5.95.

So there you have it. Good beer, good food (and more good wines promised when the wine list is updated by Starmore Boss of Sharrow Vale), good service and a good atmosphere. Not too sure about the music, though. We left shortly after the sound system played Santa Claus is Coming to Town.

“I’ll have to make a play list,” said Faith.

Rising Sun: 471 Fulwood Road, Sheffield S10 3QA. Tel: 0114 230 3855. Web www.risingsunsheffield.co.uk

p1050995-rhubarb-and-custard-at-the-rising-sun-01-03-2017-23-11-17

Rhubarb and custard

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This time it’s true: Mr B bows out

p1050950-pauline-and-david-baldwin-21-02-2017-17-41-32

Pauline and David Baldwin

BALDWIN’S  Omega, Sheffield’s iconic banqueting suite and lunchtime venue, is to close next summer. After almost 40 years at the helm, colourful boss David Baldwin and his wife Pauline are calling it a day.

They have sold the site, which already has planning permission for around 40 homes, to a local builder.

“We can no longer do things to the standard we wish. Pauline didn’t want us to close but what made it easier in the end is that the figures don’t add up,” said David, known universally as Mr B or the Big ‘Un. “Since 2008 turnover has consistently gone down and we are not going to let standards slip.”

The business will close in July next year but expect there to be a series of parties and tearful farewells along the way.

p1050962

The hacienda style banqueting suite

While lunches do well, as do weekend events, trade dips in the week. That has been the tipping point. Pauline said: “It’s not just about money, it’s a change in social attitudes. You don’t have all-male dinners any more. There are more women in the workplace and men can’t stay out drinking. They can’t use the excuse of going out when they have to look after the children.”

The standard of cooking here has always been higher than one would expect for the price and the couple are not prepared to cut corners. On top of that David has recovered from a long bout of illness.

They took over the hacienda-style building in 1980, after it had been closed for two years. It was built by Sheffield Refreshment Houses in the Sixties as a would-be rival to high end London establishments. They brought with them customers from their two previous ventures, the Angler’s Rest at Bamford and the Hillsborough Suite at Sheffield Wednesday, then leased from the Mansfield Brewery.

David, a publican’s son, ex-communist and former ship’s steward known for his colourful language, became an important figure in the hospitality industry. The Omega has been a sort of unofficial college, with many of its chefs finding top jobs elsewhere.

He is larger than life, a man with a kitchenful of contacts and a superb raconteur with anecdotes about the rich and famous, not shy of risqué stories. But while he can be hospitality itself he takes no prisoners. Customers love to tell of the time he was summoned from the kitchen by a woman in the Rib Room restaurant who complained she had found pellets in her pheasant. “What did you expect it had died of, a fucking heart attack?” he roared.

p1050938-rib-room-at-the-omega-21-02-2017-16-25-51

The Rib Room at the Omega

As Pauline said, the hospitality industry has been hit by a cultural change. There is now a generation which does not naturally go out to eat to celebrate. At a recent New Year’s Eve restaurant dinner with friends the party telephoned their children to see where they were: without exception they were all at friends’ houses.

In the early years the Omega, now rechristened Baldwin’s Omega, thrived on works clubs and company dinners and when that petered out ‘morphed’, as Pauline puts it, into the present pattern of lunches and parties. They used to slip in events like salmon and strawberries or Caribbean evenings to fill odd free dates then found these became a mainstay.

The news of the sale and closure has leaked out gradually. Staff – there are about ten full time with the rest students – were told first “so they knew more than the customers.”

Over the years there have been persistent rumours that the Omega was to be sold (some of which Mr B now confesses he had started himself to generate publicity) and they have grown since planning permission was granted.  The Omega’s website still says: “Just a note to clarify the TRUE facts about plans for the future of Baldwin’s Omega. Pauline & I are not planning to leave for some considerable time and are taking bookings for 2016, 2017, 2018 & beyond. We already have a very busy forward diary.”

The couple said they wanted to give customers plenty of warning and be able to honour present bookings.

So what do they plan to do after next year, retire to Spain where they have a property? “No, I’m a Sheffield lad. It was bad enough moving to Dore,” David said.

*NEWS of the closure comes less than a year after the demise of another equally long-lived top Sheffield restaurant, Greenhead House. You can read that story here http://wp.me/p5wFIX-sQ

And here’s a taste of the food on a previous visit http://wp.me/p5wFIX-5O

http://www.baldwinsomega.com

balswins-omega-car-park-21-02-2017-18-10-12-21-02-2017-18-10-12

Houses will be built on the car park

Last rites for the Tom Dip?

p1050903-bacon-sandwich-with-tomato-dip-10-02-2017-13-28-38

Bacon sandwich with Tom Dip

SOMETIMES things we eat are so inconsequential or taken for granted that when tastes change they slip unnoticed into the culinary waste bin of life. Then it is ages before anyone realises. I suspect that is likely to happen to Sheffield ‘s tomato dip – hardly a dish, certainly not a recipe, more a sort of breakfast afterthought.

 For a Tom Dip you take a bacon sandwich, baptise the underside of the top slice in a pot of bubbling tinned tomatoes on the stove and assemble your sandwich. That is it. Sometimes you can dispense with the sandwich. A slice of toast can be a tomato dip.

 It was once in every workmen’s cafe. It was so ubiquitous there was even a cafe called the Tomato Dip, with a bright red tomato on the fascia board, on Charles Street, below Arundel Gate. It is now called Wellies and Tom Dip is not on the menu.

 There are Sheffield people today who have never heard of it, just as they have never heard of polony, that sausage for which the city was once nationally famous. I asked around and got blank looks. But it is not yet last rites for the Tom Dip.

 You can find it at the Hard Hat Café on Duke Street, on the hot sandwich menu at £1.05, sandwiched between the fried egg and the chip buttie. No bacon is involved but this is how the dish was originally designed: for those who couldn’t afford bacon.

 You can also order it at Sarni’s, that cosy little café tucked away off the High Street in Aldine Court, guilty of severe apostrophe abuse but lovely all-day breakfasts, although Tom Dip is not advertised on the menu. Ask for it and the privilege costs an extra 20p so a tin of tomatoes must be the cafe’s heftiest earner!

 According to the chatty cook quite a few regulars order it. “If they’re dieting they just have it with toast,” she said, serving up a breadcake, the top half smeared in tomato, with a couple of slices of bacon. Some customers just like the juice, others the tomato lumps.

 I thought it might be a generational thing but Sarni’s also has a 14-year-old regular for the Tom Dip who has been eating it since she was four.

 So what does the dip have over a splodge of red sauce, particularly Heinz? Nowt. Unless it’s a Tom Dip a la Brian Turner, with olive oil, onions and garlic, it doesn’t cut the mustard, so to speak, with this eater (although Tom Dip lovers on the Sheffield Forum website point out the long simmering concentrates the tomato). But that really doesn’t matter.

 We are what we choose to eat. And every time you order Tom Dip you are making a quiet statement – I’m northern, I’m from Sheffield, this is what we do – and keeping a tradition alive. And please don’t tell anyone I’m originally from Norfolk!

p1050909

Sarni’s is tucked away in Aldine Court

 

Could Bing be the next Big Thing?

P1060077 Chris makes me a Chinese crepe 24-03-2017 15-28-27

‘Uncle’ Chris makes my jian bing

Since this piece was written Zhange Ge (Angie) has closed her Chinese pancake stall but there is still chance to buy them from the CakeLicious Chinese pastries kiosk just around the corner in the market. But read this first then you’ll know all about this delicious snack.

Despite being right in the middle of Sheffield’s Moor Market trader Zhange Ge – but we can call her Angie – gets few English customers at her Big Bing Chinese crepe stall. They look, fascinated by the food theatre performed on the hotplate before them, then walk off without buying.

It’s their loss. With some 6,000 Chinese students in the city there’s plenty of business for Angie who sells what is China’s most popular street food but which has yet to make itself as well known as prawn crackers or chow mein. And for just £2.80 the standard version of what the Chinese call jian bing will fill you up for lunch.

Even though, as Angie says, it’s more of a breakfast back home in China.

Jian bing means fried pancake. It’s basically an omelette wrapped around a pancake and filled with crispy lettuce, crispy wanton and a hot dog, flavoured with hoisin sauce, chilli, spring onions, sesame and a few other ingredients. And although these are everyday items the result is more than the sum of its parts. You’ve got two soft layers in the pancake and omelette, two different kinds of crunch from the won ton and lettuce, bursts of flavour from the spring onions and spices, all bound together by the hoisin, bringing back memories of the crisp duck course in Chinese restaurants.

p1050911-big-bing-at-moor-market-10-02-2017-14-41-02

Big Bing before it closed on the Moor Market

Angie, who is 26 and comes from Qingdao in Shandong Province, where jian bing was traditionally invented almost 2,000 years ago, took just a couple of minutes to make mine.

First she spread a thin layer of batter on the circular hotplate then, as it was beginning to set, broke an egg over it and spread that, too. After scattering on what looked like seasoning she flipped the circle (so the omelette was now on the outside) and spread a layer of hoisin sauce, the stuff you get with crispy duck, over the surface. Then came a hot dog, or, rather, half of one sliced down the middle.

“Do you want chilli?” she asked. There was something else which I didn’t catch but said yes to both. She sprinkled on chilli flakes, chopped spring onion and sesame seeds and added won tons and lettuce before rolling it all up into quite a hefty package, wrapped in paper with smiley faces and presented in a brown paper bag.

I found a seat and tackled it gingerly, worried that bits might fall out. They didn’t. At a nearby table a couple of pretty Chinese students were eating their jian bings much more expertly.

Angie has been on the market for about six months. Chinese students have plenty of places to choose from: there are a couple more oriental food stalls as well as the Portuguese custard tarts which the Chinese love at the Chinese-run CakeLicious stall.

Jian bing has been around for rather longer. According to legend the dish was dreamed up by General Zhuge Liang around 250AD who told his soldiers to cook batter on their metal shields held over a fire when, for some reason, they hadn’t got their woks.

Bing could well be the next Big Thing in  street food to take off although it is fiddly to make and needs some little skill. If you don’t like the version on offer you can have one ‘custom built’ from extra ingredients listed. To see how Angie does it check out the video at https://www.facebook.com/MoorMarket/videos/1015037741950964/?video_source=pages_finch_thumbnail_video

CHRIS Wong who makes the Chinese pastries and delicious Portuguese egg tarts at CakeLicious is now selling jian bing at  his kiosk. There are two hotplates. He reckons it takes three minutes to make a pancake. What’s more, his batter is made the traditional way with green bean (mung) flour. His is the only place outside London to do so he claims. “Chinese people can smell the distinctive aroma,” he says. This part of the business is called Da Su Jian Bing. Da Su means ‘uncle,’ as he’s so much older than his student customers!

If you’re brave, ask him for a cup of black soya bean drink which takes him two hours to prepare each morning. Apparently Chinese students drink it all the time. To me it tasted like cocoa!

p1050922-this-is-what-a-chinese-crepe-looks-like-unwrapped-10-02-2017-14-49-31

Unwrapped and ready to eat

Peeling away the memories

p1050900-crisps-from-potato-peelings-07-02-2017-19-50-10
I read somewhere once that in India the poor are so thrifty they don’t even waste potato peelings. They cook and eat them. I can’t recall how they they did it it, frying I expect, but it chimed with my ‘waste not, want not’ mantra and I mentally filed that fact away.

My father wasn’t Indian but he didn’t waste potato peelings either. He ran a pub, the Longe Arms at Spixworth, near Norwich, did food and kept pigs in the back garden. He boiled up the peelings as swill for his swine and it smelled for all the world like a brewery doing the mash. Which is why today whenever I pass a brewery doing what it’s meant to do I think not of beer but pigs. And hungry Indians.

The other night we were having bangers and mash and I got out some reds to peel when it triggered the thoughts above. The oven was on as I was baking bread and I thought I could use one of the shelves to turn the peelings into oven crisps. I washed the spuds carefully, peeled them and dried off the peelings on kitchen paper. I put a film of oil on a baking tray, laid the peelings in rows and slipped them into the 200C oven. They were done inside ten minutes, perhaps a little too well here and there, drained on more paper and salted. And they were pretty good.

I think what this showed me was that sometimes I am too quick to throw on the compost heap food I could otherwise eat. I shall do it again but only if I already have the oven on.

So I munched my crisps and thought of pigs and how nice it would have been if I also had a beer.