Your quidsworth from the Big ‘Un

Cheap but more than cheerful breast of lamb

Cheap but more than cheerful breast of lamb

When you can catch him in big David Baldwin will tell you that lunch at his celebrated Baldwin’s Omega banqueting suite is Sheffield’s best-kept secret. If so, someone had been blabbing the last time I tried and failed to book a table – but it was for Friday the 13th, the day before Valentine’s Day.

But he might be right because the Omega’s Rib Room was only half full on the Thursday we booked and at least two customers enjoyed the spectacle of roast sirloin of beef, gloriously pink, carved by a chef at their tables. It is £18 and worth it – I’ve had it.

Even greater Value For Money, in a city which likes its quidsworth, is the monthly Plat Du Jour for £14.50, which, incidentally, is the minimum you can spend on a visit to Baldwin’s.

For this, you not only get three courses but olives and an appetiser (a ham and cheese ‘slice’) with your pre-lunch drinks, crudités (red onion and tomato) with homemade Melba toast, a loaf of kitchen-baked bread you cut yourself, and which you are encouraged to take home, butter and a carafe of water. You could, hypothetically, stuff yourself with bread, water, toast, crudités and olives and then remember an important appointment or feign illness, skipping lunch and leaving full, but that wouldn’t be playing fair.

For the Omega plays fair by its customers. Plat Du Jour diners get the same service from the waiting staff and the same attention to detail from the kitchen, under head chef Stephen Roebuck, as do those who order from the carte.

The Omega is still chiefly regarded as a banqueting place dominated by its owner of 35 years, known as the Big ‘Un, who lends a certain Sheffield fruitiness to proceedings. But this overshadows some really delightful cooking.

We both had the £14.50 menu but I was going to anyway as breast of lamb was a main course. It’s such a cheap cut it’s rarely seen on menus but fills me with nostalgia. And my wife wanted the sea bass in a jacket of filo which presumably is the same fish served char-grilled with roasted eel for £16 on the mains.

But first we began with a well stocked cock-a-leekie soup with herbed dumpling and a sprightly, clean-tasting slice of ham hock terrine with a very good homemade piccalilli.

In the years when I was hard up I got knowing looks from the butcher for I only ever brought breast of lamb, hand of pork and bacon scraps “for a quiche” (but in reality for Sunday breakfast) and know the worth of these cuts.

I had two roundels of lamb in a really meaty gravy studded with root vegetables and another dumpling. Now you couldn’t mistake breast of lamb for leg or loin but you are rewarded with an intense lamb flavour and the taste and feel in your mouth of sweet fat and crisp skin. The waitress brought mint sauce (with fresh mint) and a fruity redcurrant.

On top of that I shared vegetables which included roast potatoes and cheesy cauliflower with my wife, more than happy with her emphatically flavoured sea bass inside crisp filo with spinach leeks on a creamy tarragon sauce.

Desserts are from the carte, homemade chocolate profiteroles, crisp and light and full of cream, and an airy treacle sponge. Not bad for £29 for two for food. That’s getting your quidsworth.

By accident we had the dull filter coffee (old hands go for the Nespresso) but that was the only duff note all afternoon. And not seeing the Big Un. We left before he arrived.

As they say in the trade, very well worth a detour.

Brincliffe Hill, off Psalter Lane, Sheffield S11 9DF. Tel: 0114 255 1818. Open for lunch Tues-Fri. Web:

Chocolate profiteroles

Chocolate profiteroles

Ham hock terrine with piccalilli

Ham hock terrine with piccalilli

David Baldwin and wife Pauline

David Baldwin and wife Pauline

Praise the Lord and pass the mushy peas

Marrowfat peas - on their way to mushy heaven

Marrowfat peas – on their way to mushy heaven

There was a recipe in one of the supplements the other day for fish, chips and mushy peas. It used a bag of blitzed-up frozen petit pois. The chef was Jamie Oliver. I sighed “Dear Lord, forgive him, for he knows not how to cook South Yorkshire’s national dish.”

As everyone in the county knows, true, proper, authentic mushy peas are made with dried marrowfat peas steeped in water overnight with a teaspoonful of bicarb, then rinsed, cooked, seasoned and spiked with vinegar (mint sauce for preference).

It’s so easy a child could do it. Yet I recall not that long ago a Very Well Known Chef in Sheffield confessing to me that the mushy peas on his menu came out of a tin.

It’s not that hard to spot imposters. Tinned stuff tends to be a bilious, Technicolor shade of green, from the colouring added. Putting that bicarb in will help preserve the colour, as well as softening the peas and reducing flatulence. The best chippies in the city make their own.

It’s the taste and the texture which make me want this dish time and again, earthy and mealie, exactly like a daal, only in this case it’s the mint instead of curry spices which add that extra savour.

Mushy peas are not just a northern thing. Where I grew up in Norwich the city’s market had several stalls selling just peas or pie and peas (and the same went for Great Yarmouth) although these were served in a thinner, soupier brew than we get in South Yorkshire.

Forever stamped on my memory will be the time I was eating peas on Yarmouth market when we were attacked by a plague of greenfly. You couldn’t see where the greenfly ended and the peas began.

Mushy peas are descended from one of Britain’s oldest dishes, pease pudding, served with or flavoured with bacon. Dorothy Hartley calls it “a solid satisfying dish.” She stipulates any dried pea although Traditional Foods in Britain has it made with yellow split peas, which makes it a sort of cousin to the Indian daal. Anyone with leftover mushy peas will find they have solidified into a pease pudding-like mass which can be reheated with more water. Enterprising chippies use it for mushy pea fritters in batter.

I understand that in Lancashire they make their mushy peas with parched or black peas but I have yet to taste them.

For those who like to eat with the seasons this is the right time for any dish with dried peas because they are associated with Lent, a time of fasting, hence the religious utterance earlier.

Here’s my recipe, for two. Soak 200g of dried peas in enough hot water to cover generous (they will expand) with a spoonful of bicarb overnight. Do not forget this. I did the last time I made them and after three hours the peas were still hard and had to be ditched.

It’s the bicarb which helps soften the peas or make them mushy. It also helps with the colour and to lessen gaseous processes in your bowels!

Rinse well, cover with fresh water (you may need to top up) and resist the temptation to add salt, which will increase cooking times. Boil fast for five minutes, skimming off the scum. Then simmer until cooked. Now you can add salt and mint sauce. To reheat, add a little water. Cooking times vary enormously, depending on the age of the peas and how long they have been soaked.

Despite my love of South Yorkshire the best mushy peas you will ever taste are from the Magpie Café in Whitby.

Measuring up

The pizza measured up but the fish was calling card size

The pizza measured up but the fish was calling card size

When I went out to review a restaurant in my newspaper days my essential items were a notebook and pen. And, later on, when things got hi-tech, a camera. But on one occasion I slipped a ruler in my pocket.

To be exact, it was one of those tape measures which slide in and out, much loved by small boys doing ‘sword swallowing’ tricks. My mission was to check out the rumour then widely circulating on the net that Pizza Express had shaved off an inch or two from their 12 inch pizzas.

I can’t say I gave this much credence but I had a review to write and there are only so many things you can say about a pizza and certainly nothing which hasn’t been said before. Journalists always look for angles and here was one – and dinner sorted.

Pizza Express no longer advertises the 12 inch pizza on its menus. Instead you can have things like the leggera, with a hole in the middle. These were more innocent days when restaurants didn’t make a virtue out of giving you less pizza. Pizza measuring is not the easiest thing to do in the middle of a busy restaurant. It’s bad enough taking a notebook out of your pocket let alone a measuring tape. Suddenly everyone seems to be looking.

Somehow we managed it, my wife keeping cover and acting as look-out, and we completed the mission. The two pizzas ordered measured up to the mark, for taste and inches. Pizza Express’s integrity was found to be intact.

That tape measure went back into my pocket but a few years later I wished I had it again when my wife was served up the smallest piece of sea bass we’d ever seen on a mains menu, in a city centre restaurant. As I didn’t have a ruler I made a template with a torn page from my notebook. It measured later at 3 ¼ by 2 ½ inches, hardly bigger than my business card.

When we protested the manager said the immortal words: “It slipped through the net.” At that size, it wouldn’t have had any difficulty, would it?

When Moor means less for Sheffield’s market


The way in but are people going to buy or use the toilets?

The way in but are people going to buy or use the toilets?

Like most of the city, I haven’t made my mind about Sheffield’s new Moor Market which opened in November 2013 at a cost of £18 million. It replaced the old Castle Market, now being demolished, on the other side of town.

It hasn’t got its atmosphere for a start, a warren of ramshackle stalls on several floors with half-hidden alcoves, kiosks and offshots giving you the feeling it was a bazaar, with always something more to discover.

But in its last years Castle Market was dying on its feet as shopping habits changed in favour of clean, hygienic supermarkets and more affluent shoppers were put off by the druggies and undesirables lurking in the stairwells or roaming the balconies.

It was, however, in the traditional markets area of the city: the old Sheaf, Rag and Tag and Castlefolds Markets and Norfolk Market Hall (where Primark now is) occupied a large square bounded by the Haymarket and Exchange and Commercial Streets, with lively Dixon Lane running through the middle. It was also, as markets usually are, in the poorer part of the city centre. And that had been the case for at least 700 years until Sheffield City Council knew better.

The Moor Market has none of this history, nor the demographics or transport links. Castle Market was outside the bus stops running to the less affluent north of Sheffield from which it drew its customers. If you live in the north you are hardly likely to lug bags full of shopping back across town from The Moor to catch a bus.

As stallholder Mark Holmes, of Punch Stores, points out: “The 52 and 120 are the busiest bus routes in town but don’t come anywhere near us.” Is he any better off for the move from Castle? After all, the council made the first year either rent-free or half-rent. He now pays full rent, rates and service charges for the three units making up his bread and confectionery business and reckons he isn’t.

Footfall figures are disturbing. When the market first opened late in 2013, 400,000 flocked to see it in the first month, easily matching the city council’s prediction of 100,000 a week, and up by a third on Castle Market’s 300,000 a month. But by last November visitors had ‘flatlined’ at 57,000 a week, according to head of markets Andy Ward, as quoted in The Star. Mark’s hunch is that it is down to 50,000 and some will be there just to use the toilets or on a short cut. That means the council has spent £18 million on halving shoppers at the market.

Some traders think they have been sold a pup. What happened to the student accommodation which was to have been built above the market, providing a ready customer base?

Businesses have closed such as Smith’s, the handbag sellers who had traded for 163 years. Much newer ones, such as Seven Hills Bakery, are now open for just half the week. It doesn’t help that The Moor has become a less attractive place to visit with a building site for a new complex of shops, cinemas and restaurants across the way and Poundland’s old premises, check by jowl with the market entrance, still empty.

But not everyone is unhappy. The Castle Market was famous for its little tea stalls and cafes, few of which have survived. Of the 11 food kiosks in Moor Market, five are empty. At Sallies, run by Sallie and Andrew Steen, business is good. “We have never looked back from the move,” says Andrew.

Their old place where they sold all day breakfasts and liver sandwiches was in ‘Phase Five,’ off the beaten track in the Castle. They have a prime site – one turned down by the Seafayre chippie, now thriving in Charles Street. The couple had to promise not to serve all-day breakfasts because market officials didn’t want it to be a greasy spoon. However, the other things they wanted, fresh fruits, pasta and salads and a credit card machine (“used once a month,” says Andrew) have had almost nil demand. You still can’t get an all-day breakfast from them (try further along) but you can a hot roast pork Panini. And liver could be coming back!

The couple know their business, going since 1964, inside out. Sallie started washing dishes at the age of 11 at her aunt Edith’s stall at the old Norfolk Market Hall. “We treat every customer as if they are the only one,” adds Andrew.

Every city needs a bustling market and we must keep our fingers crossed for the Moor and hope the city council hasn’t shot itself in the foot again. Otherwise it will be as big a flop as the National Centre for Popular Music. And we all know the promises made for that.

P1010340 Andrew and Sallie Steen

Andrew and Sallie Steen at their cafe in the Moor Market


Inside the market

Inside the market

Harry Potter and the Last Polony

Neal Potter with his polony

Neal Potter with his polony

JK Rowling hasn’t written it yet but Harry Potter and the Last Polony would make a very good title for a book. A polony is a red-skinned boiled sausage which once was a Sheffield speciality but has now been all but forgotten.

But I have found it still being made in Wombwell, near Barnsley, by award-winning pieman Neal Potter, third generation butcher and son of Harry, very possibly the last surviving artisan polony maker in the country.

It’s a sad fall from grace for a sausage, which, if it was never exactly posh although once made in Bath, had been a pre-cooked, quick-fix meal for generations. Today it is mostly bought by the elderly in South Yorkshire and by anglers. A commercial, tinned variety is preferred by carp fisherman to luncheon meat for bait.

My search was inspired by a tweet from city-born writer Rachel Cooke who wrote in the Observer that she remembered polony “as not particularly nice.” I’d never heard of it and then confused it with saveloy, also bright red, which I used to eat Down South. I asked around. People who had heard about it hadn’t seen it for years.

But if it was still made I had to taste it. Traditional Foods in Britain (Prospect Books 2004) describes it as “a cooked pork sausage … the skin is bright red, enclosing pale pink meat. Flavour: mild cured pork, lightly spiced and smoked.” Well, that is how it was.

The name polony is a mystery, being either a corruption of Bologna, the Italian city famous for its sausages, or Polonia (Poland). By the end of the 19th century one reference book said “Sheffield is more celebrated for these cooked sausages than any town in England.” There were two polony mixes, Bath and Yorkshire. Sheffield used the Yorkshire recipe, of course, which included pork, mutton or corned beef, ham or beef fat, flour and rusk, with salt, pepper, mace, ginger and coriander as seasoning.

The authors of Traditional Foods add: “It is difficult to escape the conclusion that individual butchers used whatever ingredients they felt would achieve the correct texture.”

Polony survived two world wars and Waterall Brothers of Sheffield used to make it until three years ago, according to Kevin on their stall at the Moor Market. From what he says I gather pretty much anything went into it (no bad thing in itself) until the regulations changed and made it too expensive to manufacture for the price people wanted to pay.

But polony still exists. Potters make it for sale on stalls in Barnsley market and you can buy it at their shop in the middle of Wombwell. Polony is listed on Potter’s website under savouries, between black pudding and savoury ducks. I bought two ‘sticks’ or ‘links’ of polony at their shop in the middle of Wombwell. They are in 15cm lengths wrapped in red plastic ‘chubs’ weighing just under 200g and costing a few pence short of £1. The label gives the pork content as 59pc.

The factory is half a mile down the road and boss Neal Potter was happy to see me even though I called unannounced. Aged 51, he is a delightful man, very passionate about his products for which he has won many awards. Polony is made to his father Harry’s recipe and he uses a mix of shoulder and belly pork with water, rusk and their own seasoning. He cut up a polony for me to taste.

It is quite bland with a soft texture, just a bit firmer than potted meat, and you can feel the rusk on your tongue. The meat is beige rather than the traditional pink. The sausage is boiled – a new batch was in the vats as we spoke – so I’m guessing this is a version of the economy frying sausage Potter’s sell. “We make it every day,” he said. It’s pleasant but modest in flavour.

Neal, who runs the business with his wife Catherine and two sons, said polony sells well but not as much as his black pudding. “It’s the older generation who buy it. We are trying to educate younger people. . . If you could get them to taste it I am sure they would eat it.”

As Catherine said, you still see it on local buffet tables and at funeral teas, along with ‘savoury ducks. Neal has his sliced in sandwiches or fried along with his bacon and egg for breakfast. I tried and it doesn’t taste bad that way. Now that would be a unique selling point for local hotels and B&Bs, the Full Barnsley Breakfast: bacon, egg, Potter’s black pudding and polony.
Potters of Barnsley, Barnsley Road, Wombwell, Barnsley, S73 8DJ. Tel: 01226 753323. Web:

A taste of polony

A taste of polony

Potter's shop in Wombwell

Potter’s shop in Wombwell

Bread and Scrape

P1010431 dripping on toast

Toast and dripping


When I was a boy in the Fifties we had a lot of bread and dripping. We called it Bread and Scrape. On high days and holidays for a special treat we had dripping on toast. No, that’s a joke. I’m not going to be like the Yorkshiremen in that Monty Python sketch and say I lived in a cardboard box or a hole in the ground.

But we didn’t have central heating and our mum scraped the ice off the inside of the windows on cold winter’s mornings so we needed the fat to shiver ourselves warm. You ate a lot more fat then but didn’t put on weight. That’s why there are so many lardarses today; they eat the wrong kind of fat and sit in front of the telly all day in warm rooms.

I have never lost my love for dripping and always save it after a roast. You can still buy it at some butchers and along with the Bee Stings at Lily’s Pork Stores in Hillsborough but the best is made yourself. Turkey dripping on toast is my Boxing Day (and several days after) breakfast. This weekend the family came round and we had roast chicken. Whatever fats and juices didn’t go in the gravy went in the dripping pot.

I’ve just had some toast and dripping and analysed what I was eating and how it felt. I like to spread the dripping fat on first then cover it with bits of jelly, not pressed into the toast. Then it is liberally sprinkled with freshly ground pepper and sea salt. In the old days it was just cooking salt and ground pepper but my tastes have gone lah-de-dah since.

First comes the crunch of the warm toast against your teeth, followed by the squidginess of the jelly which brushes your gums before melting on your tongue. Now comes that wonderful mouthfeel of fat suffusing your tastebuds, the savouriness of salt and the spiciness of pepper. All this in a single mouthful of toast and dripping.

Isn’t food grand?

Tiina turns on the style

Cauliflower and pistachio fritters

Cauliflower and pistachio fritters

“Interesting opportunity,” said the auctioneers’ auction brochure of lot 23 which went under the hammer on April 23, 2013. And what an opportunity Tiina Carr has seized.

The old DHSS Peace Guest House, left derelict and an eyesore on Brocco Bank, Sheffield, for several years, has been transformed. It still takes paying guests but they now fork out quite a bit more as the premises have become Brocco on the Park, a chic boutique hotel.

When the hammer went down marketing consultant Tiina, making her first venture into the hospitality industry, had paid £294,000, slightly under the guide price, for the Edwardian villa where, it is rumoured, Picasso spent a night in 1950. He’d come to a Communist-organised international peace conference at the City Hall and drew his ubiquitous doves of peace.

Commentators have called the décor Scandinavian and the adjective which normally goes with this is ‘stark.’ Yet white walls, lots of glass and grey Lloyd Loom chairs don’t make for a cold or clinical look: it feels warm. Tiina has a sure touch with design. And judging by our two visits it’s very popular with ladies who lunch.

From my table I couldn’t see a single picture and thought this was deliberate but there were two around the corner. Tiina – there are two ‘i’s in her name – is still choosing them. Thankfully she hasn’t called the restaurant the Picasso (although you will spot bird motifs throughout the hotel).

It’s a bustling 44 cover restaurant in two rooms plus a terrace. We had booked for lunch for a second time and it proved to be highly enjoyable. There’s a partly open kitchen which adds to the theatre because you can watch head chef Leslie Buddington (last seen at the Curator’s House and Platillos) on pass.

Service runs smoothly but then the restaurant manager is Jenni MacKenzie, previously at the helm at the upmarket Peacock at Rowsley.

The slightly cautious menu changes four times a year, with daily specials, running lunch and evening. Lighter options include nibbly platters, flatbreads with fancy toppings and a goat’s cheese, kale and pumpkin tart. As for heavier dishes, Leslie must have a couple of deer in the freezer as there was venison cottage pie on my first visit, venison meatballs on my second.

There are a number of gluten-free dishes as Leslie is gluten intolerant. So that’s chickpea flour binding my excellent cauliflower and pistachio fritters spiked with cumin and chilli (£6), garnished with tiny pickled florets and soused sultanas. My wife has delicate beetroot-cured salmon on dill-flecked blinis (£7).

There’s more spice in my duck confit (£15) set against a smooth celeriac mash and sturdy red cabbage. Her fish pie special (£15) looks enormous but gets eaten. The mash is mixed with smoked cheese and the fish itself is tasty although it could have done with some salmon and the odd prawn to improve looks and texture. Sweet potato chips (£3) are more-ish.

Desserts at £6 are elegant from pastry chef Hugh: a ‘burnt custard’ or crème brulee with a whisper-thin crisp top and the shortest of shortbreads plus a dark, rich, intense chocolaty cheesecake.

Grumbles? Both our house wines, red and white, were a tad warm and perhaps breads should be offered with a meal that nears £30 a head for three courses. The cooking is adroit but dishes could be a little more adventurous to match the surroundings.

It’s a stylish venue with Sheffield charm. The place bills itself a neighbourhood restaurant and I’m glad it’s in mine.

Brocco on the Park

Brocco on the Park

Hugh's burnt custard

Hugh’s burnt custard

No knead to worry with Titli to help

Doris Grant loaf

Doris Grant loaf


We were fast running out of bread but at 4pm it was much too cold to go to the shops. So I turned to Doris with a little help from Titli. Thank heavens for the Doris Grant ‘no knead’ loaf. It works.

Doris Grant was a Scottish housewife and campaigner against ‘improved’ white flour and sugar (well ahead of her time) who devised a way of baking bread in the Thirties in half the time without the bother of kneading – and reckoned it tasted better than when made the normal way.

The story goes that one day she forgot to knead her wholemeal loaf and when it had baked found it didn’t really mater.

Now I love baking but when I do it I have to hang around the house all day while I mix, knead, prove, knock back, shape, leave to prove again and finally bake. I’d heard of Doris dimly and tried to make a loaf before with very cake-like results.

But it was worth another bash and because it is always better to see it being done rather than read it I turned to YouTube, which is where I met Titli Nihaan, a no-nonsense Brummie matron on her Bread Kitchen channel,

Now the Grant Loaf is wholemeal but although it is good for you it is just a bit too much like bran and sandals for me. Titli is sniffy about a white Grant loaf, comparing it to supermarket bread, but I have been successfully using strong white flour and replacing around 150-200g with, successively, wholemeal, spelt or oat flour (whizz up some porridge flakes in the blender for this).

All you do is mix 450g of bread flour with a large teaspoon of salt. Dissolve 7g of dried yeast and a teaspoon of brown sugar (white or honey is OK) in 385g (13 fl oz) of warm water and wait until frothy. Then stir liquid into flour using a wooden spoon.

When well mixed pour the whole sticky lot (not that easy!) into a greased loaf tin (about 8 by 4 ins), press down, cover with clingfilm and leave to rise to the top of the pan, which takes about an hour. Heat your oven to 180 fan, 200C and bake for about 35 minutes.

It is a moist loaf with quite a bubbly crumb and cuts well and there is plenty of scope for experimenting with different proportions of flour. It’s not at all cakey but does take longer to toast than ‘commercial’ bread. But better than a kneaded loaf? As Titli says: “Considering the amount of effort you haven’t put into making the loaf, it’s not bad.”

Doris Grant died, aged 98, in 2003, a testament to her own dietary regime which is well worth checking out if you have the time. Titli’s video takes just 2 min 47 secs, time very well spent.


A moist crumb

A moist crumb

Butternut squash, God and Nigel Slater

Butternut squash 'gnocchi' with walnut pesto

Butternut squash ‘gnocchi’ with walnut pesto

I often think that when God wanted chefs to be able to increase their menu gross profit he made sure two ingredients were on the planet: ham hock and butternut squash. Both are cheap as chips and sell for the price of fish.

The first will give you terrines, soups and stews for pence and the squash is just as versatile. In fact, if you’re like me and Nigel Slater, you don’t throw anything of the latter away. The flesh makes the silkiest soup without any help from cream and the squash can be roasted or stuffed and used in stews and curries.

And I never throw discard those seeds when they can be washed, dried and roasted (if you haven’t got the oven on do it slowly and gently in a dry pan on the hob). Salted, they make a decent snack but I pop them in a jar for the next time I’m making granola.

That just leaves the skin and I’ve just come across a Nigel Slater recipe where he uses it to make crisps to garnish the soup. He peels it off in thin strips which are seasoned, tossed in oil, sherry vinegar and rosemary and baked until crisp, as here: I plan to try this soon. Squash also makes a pretty decent filling to pasta or, when mixed with potato or flour, as gnocchi.

I make a butternut squash ‘gnocchi’ – note the quotation marks because it’s not quite the real thing – which I’ve not seen mentioned anywhere before.

I cut the squash into one centimetre slices and, with the aid of an apple corer, stamp out little circular discs which I steam until soft, about five minutes. While they are cooling I make a sort of pesto. Last time out I crushed a few walnuts with some basil (any soft herbs will do when the garden starts to grow) oil, a very little garlic and parmesan.

I then heat oil and butter in a pan, fry the ‘gnocchi’ until gently brown and caramelised, stir in the pesto to coat and serve up on a plate with a few leaves as a simple starter. The sweetness of the squash contrasts against the nutty grittiness of the walnut.

Is it a new dish? If it ain’t, someone will be sure to tell me!

Cutting out the 'gnocchi'

Cutting out the ‘gnocchi’

Oh no, not Norah again!

Norah Jones

Norah Jones

You’re just about to tuck into your main course when along comes Norah Jones. Again. She’s there on the sound system and it’s ‘Don’t Know Why’ for the umpteenth time. Nor do we. At one time in Sheffield restaurants whenever we went out for a meal there were always three of us at the table for dinner: me, my wife and Norah.

It’s probably my age but I have a thing about music. I don’t want it to be there unless there’s a reason. Why should you have to hear it in lifts, in supermarkets and, God help us, even in banks and building societies while you’re waiting to get your own money?

A man who ran a pub which served good food once told me: “If you can hear the music it’s too loud.” I had just gone through my checklist to ask if music was played.

Music is there to serve a purpose. It’s a sad fact that in British restaurants, the posher the food, the softer people speak, in hushed whispers. Compare that to the animated conversation levels in similar restaurants in France or Italy. So it fills a gap but must not dominate.

If we must have music let it be appropriate. There was that restaurant near Barnsley, which I won’t name, which played Ye Olde TV theme tunes all night: Z Cars, Emergency Ward 10, Dr Who. I am not kidding.

Then there was the Bakewell restaurant, full of 50-somethings, where the youthful staff played discordant music very loudly. When my wife asked politely if they could turn it down (which they did for a time) the manager was sarky all night. Oh how I loved to write that review up later!

And I’ve not been to the Majestic wine warehouse again since on my last visit the staff were playing hip-hop music to middle-aged shoppers, not quite the background to spending over £100 on a case.

Restaurants should take more care with the music and make sure it suits their customers not the staff. There was a study which showed that when restaurants play classical music the average spend goes up. I’m not quite sure what it said about Norah Jones.