Jack pops up with the pies

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Everything on the menu is a pie

The chicken pies had sold out first. “Chicken pie,” ordered the next man in the queue. “I’m sorry, they’ve all gone,” said pie man Jack Norman. “There’s a mystery one left: I know it’s not beef so it could be chicken or cheddar. It’s a one in two chance.”

You’ll find 24 year old Jack, an escapee from Pizza Express, every Thursday in the Pop Up Café on the corner of Union Street. I took a flyer off an A-board on The Moor, followed the directions and got a quid off my lunch when I showed it.

Jack started Pie Eyed 18 months ago and makes the pies at the Century Business Centre in Rotherham, where he’s from. They are proper pies with proper pastry, all butter shortcrust, not bought-in. His meat and vegetables are bought from local suppliers. “No additives. No nonsense. Just proper pies,” is the business’s selling point.

Union Street is a co-working, hot desking workspace with Wi Fi and meeting rooms for hire with a pop up café on the ground floor. At the risk of sounding like the Sixties pop group The Scaffold, Mondays is bagels, Tuesday’s salads, Wednesday is pasta,Thursday’s pies and Friday is waffles.

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Pie, mash, peas and gravy – lovely

Jack has been at Union Street for just a year. “I worked at Pizza Express. It’s not cooking, is it, but I learned a lot. But it was not what I really wanted to do with my life,” he said, serving me up a beef brisket and Black Sheep Ale pie (£3.50) with mash, peas and gravy each at 50p a time. You can take away or sit and eat, cutlery and Henderson’s provided, at big chummy tables.

“I’d seen the interest in street food but it was barbecued food and pizzas. Nobody seemed to be doing the British classics, like pies,” he added.

At Union Street, handily sited between Sheffield Hallam University, the Peace Gardens, The Moor and the Millennium Gallery, he sells around 60 pies a day. He makes about a dozen varieties all told and there are always three on offer: the beef is a regular and today there is also chicken, chorizo and butterbean plus a veggie pie, Cheddar and caramelised red onion.

The customer decided to go for the Mystery Pie.

Thursdays at Union Street is not going to make his fortune but it keeps him busy. This lunchtime they are queuing out the door. It’s just him. “Everyone else has two people but Jack does it all himself,” said a Union Street official. The cafe acts as a showcase for Pie Eyed because he also caters for weddings and other celebrations, as well as turning up at events like the Peddler Market on Arundel Street.

My pie is pretty substantial and very tasty, while the crust is admirably short. In fact, it’s so filling I don’t want much tea. After a lifetime of eating pies I’d rate it as seriously good.

And the Mystery Pie? It was chicken.

Pie Eyed pops up every Thursday. For more details visit www.PieEyed.co.uk or www.union-st.org

 

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What pops up when

 

Rock eel, Spam fritters and saveloy

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Rock eel – notice the prominent backbone

“Rock eel, when available,” I said excitedly as I studied the fish and chip restaurant menu. “I’ve never had that.” But I had, many years ago only then I called it rock salmon.

It may have been near the rocks but it was never an eel. It’s also called flake (occasionally) and also huss but is in fact a kind of dogfish or shark. That first doesn’t look good on the menu.

It’s all these years of living Up North which have made me forget what I once knew, or ought to have done. Up here chippies sell only cod or haddock (unless you’ve got a rogue one passing catfish  off as cod). Down South, and for me this was a broad swathe of country from Norwich via East Grinstead to Exeter, they also sold plaice – and rock salmon.

At Fishers, a very pleasing chippie with adjacent restaurant in the gritty North Norfolk resort of Hunstanton – think Rotherham on Sea with so many fatties on parade or Great Yarmouth without the bling – they do rock eel as well as deep-fried plaice. They also have scampi, roe, fishcakes, fish pie, saveloy (also when  available) and Spam fritters and for a moment I wavered. But you can only wander down one Memory Lane at a time and rock eel was available.

It came swathed in batter with the outline of a bony spine showing through so it could have been Squalus acanthias (spiny dogfish) or Scyliorhinus stellaris (bull huss). It was interesting.

The flesh was not pearly white like my wife’s cod but had a faint pinkish tinge. It did not fall apart under the fork in flakes but had a soft texture with very little ‘bite.’ As for taste, there was no contest with the cod, which was far superior. In fact, I was hard pressed to detect much flavour but that is never a problem with added vinegar, lemon, salt and pepper.

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Spam fritters and saveloy on the menu

The batter was good and crispy, the chips, pale and soft. The mushy peas, faintly minty, were a bilious green and I suspect they were factory made but there was just something which suggested they could have been soaked peas with added colouring.

My palate told me the frying medium was not oil but beef dripping or lard, which is traditional in East Anglia. So which? I asked our waitress. “It’s got meat in it and I’m a vegetarian,” she said. I remarked there was not that much for her to eat here, then. “I have a lot of peas,” she replied.

This is the second time we have called in at Fishers. The first, on a cold, blustery winter’s day, was a revelation. This time, with a Country & Western singer warbling on the verge of tunefulness outside the bar next door, it was good but not as memorable. Normally I’d have the haddock.

I fancy there is an Italian input to this place, a chippie since the Sixties, because there are a range of homemade Italian ices (bubblegum flavour anyone) and, besides the Golden Jumbo Fishcake, fishcakes with spinach or mozzarella.

It was cheap. With drinks the bill was around £20. It was good quality. And I’d ticked (or re-ticked) another fish off my list. Next time round I’ll stick to haddock but those Spam fritters are tempting . . .

# 2-4 Greevegate, Hunstanton PE36 6BJ. Tel: 01485 532 487. Web: www.fishersofhunstanton.com

 

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Rock eel, rock salmon, huss or dogfish but it’s a shark

Time for chefs to get out of the kitchen?

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I’m a great believer on chefs doing a ‘tour of the tables’ towards the end of service when things have slowed down in the kitchen. So why did I hide in the loo when one chef was approaching my table?

It was many years ago. The meal had been awful. The chef knew I was there. I couldn’t think of anything neutral to say (I never said one thing in person and the opposite in print) so I scarpered for what must have been the longest wee in history. My wife wasn’t best pleased.

But when did you last see a chef glad handing around the tables? It is a courtesy which, if not often performed that much over the years, is done so even less now. But as so often with the hospitality industry, a little gesture which doesn’t cost anything reaps dividends in customer goodwill.

I often had chefs come to my table but it was a special trip because I had a notebook and a review would follow in The Star. Both of us wanted to get our facts right. But when I asked if they made a tour of the tables on a regular basis few did.

Some were too shy. Others had little small talk. Some said it was a waste of time because diners, being British, didn’t say what they thought. “I let my food do the talking,” said one. Another pointed out, reasonably, that chatting to customers is the province of the front of house team.

But it can’t do any harm, can it? And the classier the restaurant, the more people will want to see the chef. Foodies may have a genuine question they’d like to ask, not easily relayed via a third party. And we’re all snobs and social climbers to a degree. People, being people, like to drop into conversations later phrases such as “As chef so-and-so said to me . . .” indicating they could afford to eat at Restaurant Swanky or whatever.

And any chef worth his or her kitchen salt can use the occasion to see who their customers are, rather than peering through the kitchen door, and pick up on the little nuances of conversation on what customers like or dislike. The presence of the kitchen captain also backs up what the front of house should be doing, expressing pleasure that customers are dining with them tonight.

It doesn’t have to be high end chefs who do this (and very often isn’t). One of the best I saw was Italian Pepe Scime of Pepe’s (now Vitos) of South Road, Walkley, a born performer who regularly toured the tables with a laugh and a joke some 30 years ago.

So chefs, think about. Can you spend five minutes to get out of the kitchen? Don’t be shy. Your customers will love you for it.

Still a chew with a view

Prawn cocktail at The Maynard

Prawn cocktail on a slate

I can remember when The Maynard finally laid down its Arms after almost a century in 2007. For all that time it had been quite content to be the Maynard Arms, Grindleford, a hotel and pub alongside the old turnpike which is now the B2651.

Then owner Paul Downing dropped the ‘Arms,’ refurbished the building as well as the name and turned it into a boutique hotel and wedding venue known simply as The Maynard (with the definite article, if you don’t mind).

Some things don’t change, I think, nibbling on a bread roll as I gaze through the dining room’s open French doors over the fields towards Grindleford village. The Maynard, arms or no, was a regular on the ‘Chews with a View’ list I regularly trotted out when restaurant reviewing for the Sheffield Star.

Turn your head and there’s another view. The back wall of the restaurant is still dominated by a painting of the vista over to Hathersage. In this case art is actually superior to real life for the artist has removed the trees blocking your line of sight.

It is decades since I first came to the old Maynard Arms for Sunday lunch and was so thrilled by the rosy hue of the tender beef that I identified myself to the manager to congratulate the kitchen. He couldn’t believe his luck and whisked me away, gave me a drink and drilled me full of PR stuff, to be on the safe side.

When the glowing review appeared the hotel phone rang hot with bookings but perhaps the staff were not so prepared. I had reports that gravy was spilled, service was slow and, from people who liked their meat grey and had not properly read the report, that the beef was undercooked. “They had to finish  it at my table,” spluttered one man, unconvinced by my saying that they had given him special treatment by cooking it on in a flambe pan.

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Rather a lot of gravy with my pork!

Once again we are here for Sunday lunch and I have high hopes for The Maynard has two AA rosettes. It is a family day and most people are casually dressed. My wife whispers: “Don’t look now but there’s a man eating his lunch in his flat cap.” I turn, discreetly, and, under that painting of Hathersage, so he is.

A little later he walks by to the lawn with a small child. “He’s wearing Wellington boots,” I splutter. “Are they green?” “Yes.” “That’s all right then.”

Before lunch there was no room in the lounge so we had been asked to sit in the bar for a while. The Maynard is ‘dog friendly’ and for £10 a night your hound can stay with you. There were at least four in the bar and a great deal of yapping (some under the tables while their owners ate).

Prawn cocktail here comes not in a glass (that would be too obvious) but on a slate. It lacks eye appeal. My teriyaki salmon fishcake is a bit on the small side but otherwise OK. And that’s how our lunch goes: just OK.

For some reason I do not have the beef but plump for pork. It is a little underflavoured and the roast potatoes hard and leathery, as if they’d been around the oven too long. It is swimming in gravy but not in a good way: the gravy lacks meatiness. My wife’s roast chicken is better and so is her gravy. “It’ll be the same,” she says, but it isn’t. For a start it is seasoned. And her potato cake has flavour.

Two courses cost £20, three are £25 but we can’t summon up the enthusiasm to go on so call it a day after coffee. Service is pleasant, far outshining the kitchen on our visit. It is still, though, a chew with a view.

Main Road, Grindleford, S32 2HE. Tel: 01433 630 321.Web: www.themaynard.co.uk

Over the hedge and far away - the view from The Maynard

The view from The Maynard’s restaurant

Hungry? The Buddha will see you right

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The Hungry Buddha’s chicken curry thali

At the risk of sounding like a page straight out of Mills & Boon it must have been fate when Jan from Rotherham, a young backpacker on a round-the-world trip, fell sick while trekking through the remote Himalayan country of Nepal.

But handsome trek leader Dev Gurung took special care of her and helped nurse her back to health. We can all guess what happened next. Cue hearts and flowers: reader, she married him.

Which is a slightly involved why of explaining how the Hungry Buddha, the city’s very first Nepalese café and takeaway, opened a couple of months ago in Sheffield’s Moor Market.

“We tried living together in Nepal but it’s a hard lifestyle. So I came over here,” says Dev, who after eight years leading treks set about retraining as a chef at Rotherham College as chef. Some people might say living in Rotherham is a hard lifestyle! Actually his first job was at a local call centre but his accent – Dev’s English is excellent ­– made people think he was talking to them from India. His catering skills have taken him from PJ Taste in Sheffield to the Bombay Bicycle Club in London.

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Prayer flags bring colour to the Hungry Buddha’s stall

The Hungry Buddha sells simple thalis – tin trays with compartments for meat or vegetable curry, rice, dal, pickles or chutneys – for between £4 and £4.50. It’s one of 11 food outlets in a row, next to Sallie’s tea and roast pork sarnie stall. Sallie’s boss Andrew Stein wickedly introduces me to Dev as a public health inspector. The poor chap doesn’t flinch before Andrew puts him right. As a self-appointed taste inspector I can attest the food is good.

Prayer flags bring a blaze of colour to the stall where curries change daily. Dev comes in early to prep and cook before nipping off to his other job with a marketing company, leaving the stall, on the day we visited, in the hands of a charming Nepalese girl, Abha, studying at Sheffield Hallam University.

My wife and I have chicken and potato and cauliflower curries. The chicken is mildly spiced in a tasty sauce with a lemony kick. Surprisingly, the vegetable curry is spicier. The rice is a generous portion, eaten with a pleasantly soupy dal. There’s a mixed vegetable pickle, flavoured with lemon and sesame, a fiery mango pickle and Abha lets me try some carrot pickle which the Hungry Buddha sells in jars.

Dev quickly learned he had to adapt to British tastes and is keen to get feedback on the degree and range of spiciness people want. Fenugreek seeds, when fried, give a nutty crunchiness which brings different reactions.

“Nepal is a poor country and the spices produced are limited. What is grown is used or preserved. Nepalese food is influenced by Tibet in the north and India in the south. It’s based on what we call dal-bhat, lentils and rice, to which is added curry, mainly vegetable but from time to time meat, chicken or buffalo . . . The spices are ginger, garlic, cumin, coriander and chilli and food is cooked in mustard oil which gives food a different taste to that cooked in vegetable oil,” he explains.

A distinctive flavour comes from tempering, frying whole spices in oil and incorporating it into the dish before serving, in much the same way as the Indian tarka dal is treated.

Hungry Buddha is still in the foothills of catering. Momos, steamed stuffed dumplings, have been offered experimentally. Other dishes will be tried. Dev hopes to expand into offering tiffin deliveries (lunchtime dishes) to local offices and outside catering.

“People may think we are similar to Indian food but our aim is to bring that authenticity which makes it special,” says Dev. He’s made a good start.

#Hungry Buddha is in the Moor Market. Twitter: @Hungrybuddha1. Facebook: Hungry BuddhaDev Gurung and Abha Dev Gurung and Abhi

My dim sum heaven

Steamed prawn buns at Dim Sum

Steamed buns at Dim Sum

“Mmm, chicken bum,” said one of us, peering at a menu I’d downloaded from the Dim Sum website. We laughed. Obviously a misprint. But when we got to the London Road restaurant we gleefully double checked the table menus to find someone had to laboriously correct in Biro the same mistake on every one.

I love steamed buns. I reckon I’d even love steamed bums because I’ve never had a mouthful at Dim Sum that didn’t surprise or delight in some way.

The red fronted eatery is exactly what it says on the fascia, a dim sum restaurant that also runs a classic Chinese menu yet 90 per cent of customers, says co-owner  Sang  Wan, eat dim sum exclusively or as a starter before going on to main dishes.

There were five of us. I love everything about dim sum, my wife is more reserved. The son said “Can we have lots of steamed buns?” My brother and sister in law claimed to be dim sum novices and I sensed they were a little dubious. So what’s dim sum? Think Chinese tapas. The Chinese usually have it for Sunday lunch.

It’s probably wise for newcomers to start on the gentler, lower slopes and go for steamed buns and dumplings and leave the wilder dishes – steamed chicken feet, whelk and tripe – for another time, if at all. So I felt it best to leave the steamed manifold off the order sheet. This is a tripe which looks like jet engine propeller blades and is colloquially called slut in Ashton-under-Lyne.

It is also probably wise for newcomers to note that in Chinese (and Japanese) cooking, texture is as important as taste and nowhere is this more evident than in dim sum dishes. Some dishes are quite slithery or gelatinous, which do not always square with Western tastes. Let’s put it this way: if you’re fine with tapioca you’ll be home and dry with dim sum; if not, you may need a steer.

Har Kwork - deep fried prawnparcels

Deep-fried prawn parcels

Don’t let this put you off. Dim Sum has 32 dishes on its dim sum menu and you’ll find some you love. In fact, even the doubters loved a new dish to the menu, stir-fried mooli cake in XO sauce (£4.30) which Sang’s sister and co-owner Tina Yau brought us to try.

It was soft little cubes of what some thought to be fish but is, in fact, vegetable – shredded mooli (also called daikon or white radish) mixed with rice flour, cornflour and seasonings, steamed then allowed to set before being stir-fried. The taste is delicate and haunting, set off by XO sauce, made from scallops, shrimps and chillies, which some local chefs (chiefly Rico at the Rutland) have taken up with enthusiasm.

The steamed buns were good: har gau (£4), prawn dumplings; siu my (£3.50), pork and prawn; as well as har kwork (£4), deep-fried prawn parcels. “This menu must be a prawn’s worst nightmare,” joked my brother-in-law. They come whole, chopped or minced with pork, inside wrappings of sweetish bread dough or rice flour ‘pasta’ jackets.

Sang and Tina opened Dim Sum in 2003. Sang’s father brought him over from Hong Kong at the age of 14 and he was sent to High Storrs School where, he says, the teachers ignored him. He left a year later and went into catering, learning about dim sum at a leading Manchester restaurant.

They took over Mr Yun’s tiny sandwich shop when he retired and turned it into a dim sum restaurant, later expanding into premises next door.

Aside from steamed buns and dumplings, another favourite are the breadcrumbed cuttlefish cakes (£4.20), very firm, sweet chunks of squid served with little bowls of salad cream as a dipping sauce.

Prawn Cheung Fun

Slithery heaven – cheung fun

You should also try one the cheung fun dishes, flat sheets of rice flour noodles with a slithery texture with fillings of beef, pork or, of course, chopped prawn.

We had started with half a crispy duck (£16.50) at the insistence of the ladies of the party who had wanted to hedge their bets if they didn’t like the dim sum. We ate it with wine or beer except for me, who opted for green tea, because that is the Chinese way and I’m a bit of a food fascist.

Sang, who predicts some London Road businesses will struggle when the nearby Chinese-financed ‘Chinatown’ New Era Square opens because supply will outstrip demand, is quite happy to stay put and keep to the dim sum path.

“Some places don’t serve dim sum in the evenings so customers order main courses and get bigger bills. But I am here and the chef is here so we serve dim sum all day.”

He was right about the bill. Despite ordering more dim sum dishes than described, a bottle of wine, bottle of beer, tea and coffee the bill for five came to £84.45 for five people on a Saturday night.

And in the end we never had that chicken bun or bum. We’ll do it next time.

Dim Sum, 201-203 London Road, Sheffield S2 4LJ. Tel: 0114 255 0467. Web: www.dimsum-sheffield.co.uk

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Dim Sum on London Road

 

 

 

Bilberry? I can see clearly now

Bilberry and vanilla jam

Bilberry and vanilla jam makes a nice change

You have to watch out for the snails. Tiny little things, micro snails really, that get caught up with the berries when you go bilberrying. If you’re planning a pie or some bilberry jam the last thing you want is an unexpected crunch between your teeth.

Funny thing is, when I went bilberry picking last summer I didn’t notice a single snail but then I didn’t look for them. On an earlier expedition this month my bilberry comb seemed to scrape up lots of them along with the berries, leaves and twigs. So now I pick the berries over very carefully indeed and leave them in a bowl, giving any snail time to crawl to the surface. I reckon if it’s survived so far I’m not going to flush it down the sink so take it gently outside.

This last time I had 575g of berries left after I’d had some with my breakfast cereal and porridge so I decided it was quickest and easiest to make some jam. If you google ‘bilberry’ you invariably get the story that bilberries were supposed to help RAF pilots’ vision in World War Two. I reckon this comes from the same stable as the myth about the RAF and carrots but, who knows?

Marguerite Patten, in her jam makers’ ‘bible’ Jams, Preserves & Chutneys surprisingly doesn’t mention bilberries at all. But she does blueberries, which are a larger, sweeter form of the fruit. If you google ‘bilberry pectin content’ you will be told it is on the low side. Marguerite, however, says it is high and her recipes contain no lemon for added pectin. As the bilberry is a tarter fruit I should imagine its pectin content is higher. What she says is good enough for me, although I do like to add a little lemon to most jams just to highlight flavours. I also decided to add a teaspoon of vanilla essence for a change this time.

The rule of thumb is the same weight of sugar as fruit but I decided to make it a little fruitier by cutting back on the sugar to 500g. I just added a tablespoon of water to the berries to start them off and crushed them only lightly to release the juices. Some recipes will have you producing a paste-like jam. Then I stirred in the sugar, the juice of half a lemon and the vanilla. I had a set, using the saucer test, in seven minutes.

I like a very light set. Here’s a tip. When you’ve taken your plate out of the freezer and put a blob of jam on it put it in the fridge (not freezer!) for a good five minutes before applying the wrinkle test. If you don’t give it a good time to set you may run the risk of cooking on when you don’t need to and it becomes a stiff paste.

I got four jars of varying sizes and the jam has the sweet-sharp qualities of the raw fruit plus a little vanillary background. I like it. And so far I’ve not crunched . . .

 

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