The menu cost ten francs for three courses in pre-euro days but you didn’t have to worry if you hadn’t got any foreign funny money. Conveniently one franc cost equalled one pound at this little French bistro in Eighties Sheffield, no matter what the official exchange rate was.
It was a mamma and poppa operation, the wife cooked and hubby, dressed in a striped Breton jumper, was front of house at Parkes, a place sub-titled as La Bonne Bouche. It was situated between a TV and a sandwich shop on Penistone Road, Sheffield. The food was good – French onion soup, cassoulets, beef bourguignon – and the bistro was a great favourite with the local Labour Party, seemingly forever in control at Sheffield Town Hall.
I was there one night when the owner threw open the door dramatically, gazed upon post-industrial Sheffield and opined: “Ee, it’s not the Cote d’Azur out there, is it?” It wasn’t. He was looking towards Leppings Lane.
That was the site of the Four Lanes Bistro and where I nearly terminated my days as a restaurant reviewer tragically early. I was eating an unstringed runner bean which somehow tangled itself around my tonsils and I began to choke.
My wife called for water. The dining room was upstairs, the kitchen downstairs, and the waiter, who was rather slow, took his time. I can still hear his footsteps coming closer with that glass of water which saved my bacon.
There weren’t that many decent places to eat in Sheffield back then. I started reviewing just after Tessa Bramley opened up the Old Vicarage at Ridgeway and Greenhead House, the Good Food Guide’s South Yorkshire restaurant of the year (and the only one listed in Sheffield) was so popular you had to book months ahead for a table at weekends.
Tuckwoods, in Surrey Street, was still in its heyday, the city’s oldest restaurant. It finally closed in 2002 after 145 years, although it had only been in Surrey Street since 1949. This was the place for Shoppers Lunches and Theatre Teas of plate pie (mince and mushroom baked on a plate with pastry top and bottom), haddock and chips or sausage and mash, followed by curd tart, served by waitresses in starched white pinnies.
The premises never recovered their glory. Tuckwoods was large and had a grand entrance but you couldn’t see in. That didn’t so much matter because of its reputation but the Italian eateries which followed, and Cary Brown’s steak and fish London Club, all suffered and the place is still empty today.