Potted meat and kippers

Exotic mushrooms at Bakewell Farmers' Market

Exotic mushrooms at Bakewell Farmers’ Market

I can smell them through the rain which is splattering on the awnings of the stalls and the cellophane packets of teacakes, cherry scones and sausages, wetting the necks of buyers at the Spanish churros stall and dampening the bags of potatoes over by the car park. Kippers.

Smoke curls round the open door of an old wardrobe, converted Heath-Robinson style into a portable herring smoker. The split herrings hang kippering like small bronzed jackets on rods stretched across smouldering sawdust. At £3.95 a pair they are irresistible.

This is Bakewell Farmers’ Market in the Agricultural Business Centre on the northern outskirts of the town, held on the last Saturday of every month. Bakewell’s weekly Monday cattle and general market goes back to at least 1330 but the farmers’ market is considerably younger. Even so, it is so successful it claims that with around 70 stalls and some 5,000 visitors a month it is the second biggest after Winchester.

Unlike some farmers’ markets where there are as many craft as food stalls almost every one here has something edible for sale. And when they don’t they are closely connected with food as with the wooden rolling pins made by bearded woodturner Matt in the main hall.

Farmers’ markets take in products from a 30 mile radius but Bakewell’s stretches from Cheshire to Lincolnshire and, in the case of the Zebra steaks, not some redundant zoo but a farm in Zimbabwe.

We haven’t been here for ages and first I want to see if there’s an outside stall still selling bags of wonderful cheap potatoes. There is, just a trestle table and a few bags with Morfona spuds selling at £4 for 12.5 kilos. They are from, says a notice, “a small family farm at Wormhill near Buxton.” A girl heaves down a bag from a lorry parked close by.

While I put the potatoes in the boot my wife goes shopping in the main hall where it’s warm and dry. She buys Red Lincolnshire from the Lincolnshire Poacher dairy and Stilton and farmhouse cheddar from the Franjoy Dairy near Belper and a stuffed, bacon-wrapped pork fillet to roast from the Armstrong family of New Close Farm at Over Haddon, not far out of Bakewell. We once went away from Christmas by ourselves and had one for Christmas Lunch.

At every stall there’s great produce served by people happy to have a chat. Market shopping is a warmer and friendlier experience than in a supermarket.

“Try the duck and orange, it’s our most popular flavour,” says the blonde in a polka dot pinny busy spreading potted meat onto bits of bread at Granny Mary’s Potted Meats stall. “Like pate but better” trumpets a poster behind her. It is good (love the orangey tang) and we buy two, the other is beef, and enjoy it for tea that night.

I think it’s a premier version of that old-time Sutherland’s Spread, once a Sheffield potted meat factory, and I’m not far wrong because this Matlock-based company was started up by William Sutherland, great grandson of founder Eddie Sutherland back in the 1920s. The family have long sold the original business.

You could spend a fortune in this market and all of it would be good stuff. We buy two sirloin steaks from a butcher who can usually tell you the name of the cow they came from. This time we didn’t ask.

There’s a queue, as always, at the mushroom stall with its fancy varieties, and I hesitate in front of Cheshire-based Galore!’s marmalade stall and its wild rosehip syrup – “Mix with sparkling wine to make a Hip Royale.” No, we’ve spent up, I’ll pick them myself this autumn.

We have a good mug of tea at the Farmers’ Feast café in the hall while waiting for the rain to end. I pop into the gents leaving my wife outside Hall 2 next to the Old Testament figure of author John Butler, in beard and beret, a man who once had a mystical experience in the Arizona desert. He is selling copies of his book, Wonder of Spiritual Unfoldment (available on Amazon).

Did he say anything spiritual? I asked my wife as we walked to the car. “No, we talked about the weather,” she said.

The next Bakewell Farmers’ Market is on April 25 (9am-2pm).

Kippers being smoked

Kippers being smoked

Bakewell Farmers' Market

Bakewell Farmers’ Market

A is for Anchovy

Ponding achovies

Pounding anchovies

I like anchovy paste on toast for breakfast. In fact, I love anchovies, either fresh or, more often, cured in those little jars or cans of olive oil. They have a umami-like taste, salty, savoury and sharp. This was the fish, food historians believe, which the Romans used to make their ubiquitous condiment, garum.

They rammed bucketloads of anchovies into barrels, let the lot ferment and rot and drained off the liquid. Not a million miles away from Thai fish sauce, you might think, but anchovy paste is a touch more civilised than garum.

One of the things the Romans didn’t do for us was leave any kind of a tradition of fish-based sauces although there are hints of it (and anchovies) in Worcestershire Sauce and my own version of Henderson’s Relish with anchovies, Sheffield Relish (see recipe on this blog from January).

My wife hates this little fish or thinks she does so I sneak anchovies into recipes when she’s not looking. But she’s not above buying me one of those ceramic-looking pots of Gentleman’s Relish to go in my Christmas stocking.

They are over-expensive for what you get and I am no gentleman but then we discovered anchovy paste in tubes at Waitrose for not more than a quid – and just as good as Gentleman’s Relish. The brand changed once or twice but now the product has disappeared from the shelves of our local store. So I thought I’d make my own.

I looked on the internet but ideas were few: some American chefs who pronounce the word ‘anchovy’ with the stress on the second syllable (an-CHOW-vy) rather than on the first, with no ‘w.’ And silly teenagers holding up tubes and making disgusting noises.

It was pretty easy, more or less the same recipe as for my kipper paste. I drained a cheap can of Waitrose anchovies (no point spending lots of money on a fancy one until I’ve got it right) and cut up the anchovies with a sharp knife then mashed them with a fork. I transferred the lot to a mortar (my blender is too big for the small amounts used), added the reserved oil, a knob of butter, squeeze of lemon, a half teaspoon of paprika and some ground black pepper and pounded the lot to a smooth paste with the pestle.

It was runny as I spooned it into a jar so I left it in the fridge overnight to firm up. I was quite pleased with the result although I might go easy on the lemon juice next time.

As a kipper lover I approve of the idea of fish for breakfast. One of the most exciting things for me about a trip to Norway a couple of years ago was not the fjords or the beer but little tubes of fish paste in the breakfast buffets of restaurants and the coast-hugging Hurtigruten ferry. They contained a mixture of smoked cod roe and mashed potato. Lovely. You can’t get it over here.

Incidentally, the Italian lady on the Waitrose check-out puts anchovy taste in her tomato sauce. Hmm. Don’t tell the missus.

Anchovy paste ingredients

Anchovy paste ingredients

Market forces

Easter eggs and bunnies

Easter eggs and bunnies

Right on cue the sun came out just at the moment when Nether Edge Farmers’ Market opened. The weather knows how to behave when it’s market day.

It’s a local legend that the weather is always fine or at least it doesn’t rain on the quarterly market, founded in March 2008. And that’s almost true although there has been snow and in another case a downpour but there was a silver lining because a stallholder who wanted to go home early sold me some pate very cheaply.

The market, run by Nether Edge Neighbourhood Group (NENG), is a textbook case on how to run a market, solely through voluntary effort, for the good of the community. The number of stalls and the volume of visitors put Sheffield City’s Council’s farmers’ market to shame. The only one to touch it for size locally is Bakewell and that’s commercial.

Now it plans to spread its wings even further with a week-long festival.

The city council holds the rights to local markets – they go back to medieval times – but temporary markets such as Nether Edge, on the site of the Victorian market centre, can take place. Nether Edge Road and Glen Road are blocked off to allow the stalls. The market makes a profit but it all goes to local charities: so far they have benefitted by almost £50,000, says acting chairman Chris Venables. (This blog has no truck with ‘chairs.’)

I caught her, clad in yellow visibility jacket, keeping a proprietorial eye on the market, the 29th so far. It had just over 80 stalls selling everything from cheese, fish, vegetables and homemade preserves to meat, pies, ostrich eggs, bacon and sausages, as well as books, prints, crafts and hot food. If it is produced in or around Nether Edge (or a bit further afield), it was probably being sold on the market.

And as Easter was looming there were stalls selling home made Easter eggs manned by Easter bunnies.

Not every trader, of course, was a farmer. They were actually in the minority but the term has come to embrace artisans in food, drink and crafts. Farmers’ markets are supposed to celebrate the produce from the surrounding 30 miles so you do wonder at the Palestinian olive oil but then Nether Edge is wall-to-wall with Guardian readers.

It’s not expensive – a stall costs £30 – and makes for an interesting afternoon. We bought cakes, cheese and trout pate. Many of the local shops and cafes were also open for the day. The market also spills over into Nether Edge Bowling Club where people can enjoy a drink or admire the green.

Entertainment and music is of the homemade variety – jazz bands, the Sally Army, Morris and belly dancers have all been seen – a refreshing contrast to the amateurs playing at being a DJs at ear-splitting volume at a nearby market.

“We don’t advertise. I think if we did we’d get even more people,” said Chris, pointing out that Nether Edge was the first in the area. Its success has not been lost on other neighbourhoods: Sharrow Vale, Broomhill and Bradfield have all copied it.

The market is spawning a new Nether Edge Festival, from September 5-13, ending with the quarterly market on that Sunday. NENG wants to hear about events planned to bring under the banner. I can almost guarantee the weather will hold.

For details of the markets (and a video) visit http://www.netheredge.org.uk


Road closed for the market

Road closed for the market

In the woods with Stinking Jenny


Wild garlic on the banks of the stream

Wild garlic on the banks of the stream

There was a lovely picture of wild garlic pesto on Twitter the other day from one of the local foodie shops which got my foraging fingers twitching. I go on expeditions to find it several times a year.

There is no need to go far, just a mile away in Endcliffe Park, there are swathes of plants by the edge of the Porter Brook which get trampled on during the Easter Duck Race. But I worry about the dogs getting there before me and go further afield, to Shillito Wood, near Millthorpe.

At first I thought it was too early. I could find very little. It’s still very young (and tender), thrusting itself out of the sodden ground – wild garlic loves the damp – and is not yet in flower. It has brilliant white little edible flowers in the shape of a five pointed star. But it’s a bit like blackberry picking: you spend minutes looking for the first until you get your eye in and they’re everywhere.

For a long time I had the woods to myself. The trees are not yet in leaf but the gorse, Thomas Hardy’s furze, was ablaze with yellow flowers. They say you can make a country wine with the flowers but as you need nine pint glasses of blossoms for every gallon I may pass on that.

Wild garlic has so many names: devil’s garlic, bear’s garlic (its Latin name is allium ursinum), gypsy’s onions, wood garlic, buckrams, Stinking Jenny and ramsons are a few. I like the last two best. Country people welcomed it as winter waned but farmers cursed it if their dairy cows found a patch. It tainted their milk, as Hardy recounts in Tess of the d’Urbervilles. It loves the damp and was growing on the banks of tumbling stream which flows into the Barlow Brook.

Wild garlic often grows with bluebells, like the Stinking Jenny still to flower. You cannot confuse the two as garlic leaves are long shiny ovals, bluebells’ spikier. But beware, you might with poisonous lily of the valley. If it has a red stem leave it, wild garlic’s stem is green.

I was planning a soup. Wild garlic makes a gentle pesto (replacing the basil and garlic), very young leaves contribute to a salad and it’s a natural in omelettes. Russians, apparently, preserve the stalks in salt.

The plant was not prolific on my visit and only half grown but that saved separating them from tough stalks later. Collecting them involved a lot of scrambling down banks and there always seemed to be more on the other side of the stream.

I was stopped short by a daffodil seemingly growing right at the water’s edge then realised it was the only one blooming in the wood, a single stem thrust into the stream. But why? Someone had to make a special trip to do this and I wondered at the story behind it: a tribute to a lost loved one or, magically, an offer to the water spirits?

I collected about 10oz of wild garlic and I advise you to wash it several times and pick it over carefully. My recipe called for ‘four big handfuls’ or 200g, so I had that, to a litre of stock, a couple of potatoes and an onion. I replaced the onion with leeks so I had a sort of vichyssoise.

I finely cut the leeks and potato and cooked the gently in oil and butter under a tinfoil ‘blanket’ for about 20 minutes. I added a bay leaf and thyme because I like to fiddle with things. I added the stock (cubes, I’m afraid, as I had none handy) and when the vegetables were soft threw in the greens. Don’t overcook, not more than two minutes, then blitz and season again.

I’ll be honest. The soup wasn’t a terrific success but then it wasn’t a spectacular failure. This blog isn’t going to pretend things always go to plan. Either the recipe needed more wild garlic or less stock, or the plants were a little immature to provide an intenser flavour. But there was an elusive garlickyness

And I’m still wondering about that single daffodil at the water’s edge.


Smitten by a Lisbon tart

Pastel de Nata in Lisbon pasteleria

Pastel de Nata in Lisbon pasteleria

The first time I knowingly ate a Portuguese egg tart, or pastel de nata, was in the Dim Sum Chinese restaurant on Sheffield’s London Road. As a life-long lover of the noble English custard tart I was intrigued. It was good but different.

The Chinese link is not an attempt to be jokey. The Portuguese, who are good at baking, took their tarts to Macau, an enclave on the coast of China which they once ruled. The Chinese, who had little tradition of baking , rather liked them. Macau is not far from Hong Kong and the tarts soon appeared there. It’s not the only thing the Portuguese gave to Asia, bequeathing tempura batter to the Japanese.

Portuguese tarts are relatively new here but I’m told you can find half a dozen stalls selling them on London’s Borough Market, where food trends start. You can even get them in Sheffield.

A Portuguese egg tart is not much of a looker. It’s a dumpy little thing with black blotches on the top but don’t be deceived. As with women, it’s a case of once bitten, forever smitten. They were created by Portuguese monks who used egg whites for starching clothes and turned the unwanted yolks into tarts.

Roses the Bakers have been selling them, alongside traditional custard tarts, for about a year. An assistant told me they were very popular, at just 80p each. They are a hefty £1.20 at Forge Bakehouse on Abbeydale Road and there’s a Chinese bloke called Chris Wong baking them every day on the Moor Market for 98p each. Cake-R-Us on London Road sells them for £1.

This blog spares no expense so first I went to Portugal to see what they should be like before I tested the home grown variety. All right, I was going to Lisbon anyway.

You can’t walk more than 50 yards without finding a café or pasteleria selling them. I must have had a dozen, not counting one I mistakenly ordered from a late night kiosk, after a bottle of vinho verde, which turned out to be a mini cheese and ham quiche.

A pastel de nata is everything an English custard is not. For a start there’s the pastry, slightly damp shortcrust for the Anglo tart, crisp and flaky for the Portuguese. Then there’s the filling. The custard tart is light and wobbly, getting on for a creme brule, the Portuguese filling is creamy with the consistency of lemon curd.

The English tart has a dusting of nutmeg on top. There is no nutmeg but often cinnamon and lemon in the pastel de nata although to be honest I failed to detect any cinnamon in those I ate in Lisbon but I did vanilla. The pastel de nata is everywhere. It’s not the only Portuguese pastry but as I was on an egg tart quest it was about the only one I tried. Not that I wasn’t tempted.

It’s caramelisation of the filling surface which causes the blotches and a tricky thing to get right. The Portuguese say if it ain’t got blotches it ain’t a proper one. Mind you, things can be taken too far. One I bought from a stall in the Mercado da Ribeira food hall was brown all the way down and unexciting.

The best I had was in the Café Suica in the Baixa, a wonderful little gem of a tart, light and creamy filling contrasting with crisp, flaky pastry. And they weren’t bad at the Hotel Britania either.

I put on a couple of pounds but I reckon I am now a good judge. So what to make of them back home? The Roses version was a brave try. The pastry was thicker and stodgier than in Lisbon and the filling not as deep. And it was sadly blotch-free. There wasn’t much of the filling but it was closest to the Portuguese. The tart at Cake-R-Us was unexciting.

The Forge’s tart has a fine pastry and plenty of spots but the filling, which is made with milk rather than cream, is wobbly, far closer to an English custard tart. Again, I found the cinnamon used in this recipe hard to detect. Lemon zest is also used. My verdict: jolly decent but a little pricy (they cost a euro in Lisbon).

On the Moor Market Chris Wong of CakeLicious bakes 120 tarts a day on his stall. “This could be the best Portuguese custard tart you have ever tasted” says the publicity and customers, English and Chinese, were queuing up to agree with him. “They’re lovely,” said a woman buying two, like me.

Chris, who has been in the market since it opened and exhibited his tarts at last year’s Sheffield Food Festival, said they were best straight out of the oven and allowed to cool for 10 minutes but eaten warm and invited me to wait. He wasn’t giving away any recipe secrets but reckoned if the tops had a shine (like his) it was a good sign.

When cool his tarts had great crisp pastry and an excellent blotchy filling, although again it was closer to the English rather than Portuguese. I couldn’t taste any cinnamon again. “That’s because I didn’t put any in. My customers don’t like it,” he said. There is, though, some vanilla.

Chris refuses to taste rival tarts because “I don’t want to be influenced.” Despite what he said, I enjoyed it even more when cold. It was certainly the best of the English bunch. Now form an orderly queue . . .

SheffieldCakeLicious on Facebook or tel: 07919 340 341.
Forge Bakehouse, 232 Abbeydale Road, Sheffield, S7 1FL. Tel 0114 258 8987. Web: http://www.forgebakehouse.co.uk

UPDATE: Since this article was written I have tried the pastel de nata from Cossack Cuisine, which had a stall at Nether Edge Farmers’ Market. They cost £1.40 but are the nearest in taste and texture to those in Lisbon. Web: http://www.cossackcuisine.com

Chris Wong with his tarts at Moor Market

Chris Wong with his tarts at Moor Market

Tarts from Forge

Tarts from Forge

Dawes nibbles a tart in Lisbon

Man eats tart

All I want is a nice cup of tea


We’ve been abroad for a few days and forgot to pack the tea bags. Go on, laugh. I did when my parents did the same, along with the Marmite and marmalade.

“When in Rome, do as the Romans do,” I chortled youthfully but the big flaw in that argument is that the Romans can’t make a good cup of Rosie Lee. Nor can anyone else. There is an awful lot of tea drunk in the world but it is surprising how few cuppas there are outside these shores which would get British approval.

I am sorting through the tea bags in our Lisbon hotel room. The first is labelled ‘English Tea’ but it looks funny when brewed. Close inspection of the packet reveals it to be green tea. That’s fine with a Chinese meal but not first thing in the morning to soothe a parched throat.

There was camomile and lemongrass, rooibus and a tisane or two. Now I am a bit of a tea snob but I would have been glad to see a Tetley tea bag or PG Tips at this moment. It seems foreigners don’t give a monkeys about providing proper British tea. But they don’t really understand it, poor loves.

Downstairs in the breakfast room there are the same tea bags in a little box but one compartment is empty. The waitress brightens, disappears into the kitchen and returns with some bags labelled breakfast tea. A result!

Naturally I snaffle a couple of bags for our room but tea requires milk and I have to make do with those little tubs of UHT milk. You know the sort. They are a bugger to open. Except when you secrete a couple in your pocket, one breaks and milk starts trickling down your leg. But I got a cup of tea in the end.

They drink a lot of tea in India but you can’t get a British one. They insist on spicing things up with ginger and cardamom and goodness knows what else.

Things may have changed but they don’t know what a good cuppa is in America. It is the 1980s and I’m three days into a Press trip across Texas and already missing a proper cuppa. Our party leader promises one when we meet a group of matrons in the next city who are laying on a tea party for us.

It looks promising, served up with great ceremony in nice bone china but, oh dear, they didn’t boil the water, just steeped the bags in cold. The horror of the experience has wiped out my memory of how we got out of that one.

But for my worst ever cup of tea . . . you’ll find the story here

How to make streaky bacon

Cutting bacon into rashers

Cutting bacon into rashers

It was when some white gunk oozed out of the bacon rashers in my pan – and these hadn’t been cheap – that I had finally had enough. I didn’t want gunk, I wanted bacon which tasted like I thought I remembered it did!

That gunk was brine which had been injected into the bacon to speed up the curing and make it weigh and cost more. It wasn’t so long ago that the butchery trade magazines carried adverts for products with the claim: “Make more money, just add water.”

So I decided to make my own. I researched the different cures, wet and dry, and how to smoke bacon. It looked daunting. And there was this curious chemical saltpetre, to make the meat pink. How could I get hold of it and be sure I was using the correct amount for the relatively amount of bacon I was using?

Books like Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s Meat were useful and I soon got the picture. All you really need to cure bacon is salt. You can add sugar, also a preservative, to offset the saltiness and add sweetness. And whatever herbs and spices you want. I don’t bother with saltpetre. My bacon is a pleasantly pinky-grey.

I dry cure belly pork to make streaky. I get my butcher, the admirable Konrad Kempka on Abbeydale Road, Sheffield, to cut a two pound (one kilo) joint for me because that’s the size which fits into the Tupperware box which goes in the fridge. He also obligingly debones it for me. Keep the bones, you can always find a use for them.

My cure for 2lbs of pork is 3oz of salt, 3oz of sugar, Demerara preferably but you can use granulated, which I mix together in a tub. Then I grind up whichever spices take my fancy, fennel and allspice last time, but I have also added bay and coriander. Mix thoroughly with the salt and sugar.

I rub about a quarter of the cure all over the bacon, top and bottom and sides, massaging it in well, in all the nooks and crannies, pop it in the box, leave the lid loose and forget about it for a day. That’s all you do. Simple isn’t it?

Well not quite all you do for next day you will find the pork sitting in a pool of liquid, the water which has been leached out. The joint, floppy the day before, is also firming up.

Drain the liquid, and rub another quarter of the mix into the meat, as before. If it was skin side up first time put it back into the box skin side down. And repeat until your mix is used up. If you forget don’t worry. I have left the bacon in for 48 or 72 hours with no ill effects.

Four or five days later you, or rather the belly pork, is done. It is now bacon. Give it a rinse. If you think it will be too salty soak it for an hour or two. Then drain and dry. I wrap mine in a clean tea towel for 24 hours then replace the wrapping with greaseproof paper.

Cut your slices with a sharp carving knife. If your slices are too thick simply put them between sheets of greaseproof and whack them with a rolling pin. Cook them as you like. I prefer a ridged griddle. Your rashers will shrink more than shop bought ones (less water, no gunk) and this way is kinder than a frying pan.

They will taste good. Mine tend to be on the salty side (you soon get used to it) but you can always soak for longer. The general rule is the bacon will keep for the length of time it was cured so I cut the bacon joint in two and freeze one half.

You don’t have to stick with rashers. The bacon makes good lardons or a substitute for pancetta in Italian recipes. Cut it into steaks, grilled and served with Puy lentils, French-style.

What I really like (moment of smugness coming on) is to serve myself a bacon sandwich made with my own bread (it does have to be white) and my own brown sauce.


Pork belly - the beginnings of bacon

Pork belly – the beginnings of bacon. Rub in your cure

The finished result

The finished result

God save the Prince of Wales?

Prince of Wales

The Prince of Wales has had a bewildering number of names

The other day I was in a large family party celebrating a 60th birthday at the Prince of Wales pub on Ecclesall Road South, Sheffield. It had played a large part in the life of my brother in law in the late Seventies but, not having been back, he was astonished to see how it had changed.

It was no longer a drinkers’ pub but a series of sleek dining rooms with greeters at the door, a menu which wouldn’t look out of place in a posh restaurant and a wine list not shy of erring on the expensive side.

A quick look around before we found our table showed that eaters heavily outnumbered drinkers. What the Prince of Wales is today is not so much a pub but a restaurant with a bar tacked on.

When my brother in law left Sheffield this was still a boozer which had been on the site since 1834. Then early in the Eighties it was revamped, transformed and refurbished bewilderingly swiftly into a series of American-style diners.

It became the Woodstock Diner in 1982. Legend has it that waiting staff whizzed around on roller skates. Locals petitioned to save the name of the Prince of Wales. Change a pub’s name and you change a locality, if subtly. They failed. The Woodstock Diner then metamorphosed into the Baltimore Diner, Woodstock Exchange, The Real Macaw, The Woodstock and finally (phew!) back to its original name. So it really was God Save the Prince of Wales! I’m not sure when but I recall having some fun in the Sheffield Star over the pub’s identity crisis with six different names.

What is striking is that the chains which owned the pub had no regard to the heritage or locality with the names they imposed upon the pub. Today the owners are Mitchells and Butlers, whose many other brands include All Bar One, Brown’s, Ember Inns, Sizzling Pubs and Toby Carvery. They own around 1,600 pubs, bars, restaurants and hotels.

The trouble with chains is that they have no individuality. Local beers? I saw none on offer so had the Black Sheep, a beacon among the plethora of fizzy lagers. Instructively, the website ignores beers and concentrates on wines. Nor is there any indication the kitchen sources from local suppliers.

The Prince of Wales is part of M&B’s Village Pub and Kitchen sector, odd for somewhere in the middle of the suburbs, and shares its menu with others on the circuit. It has everything from pork belly with scallops and spit-roasted chicken with aioli to gnocchi and corned salt beef hash, just like a posh restaurant. To be honest, it wasn’t at all bad. My confit of pig’s cheeks with black pudding was perfectly acceptable if a little on the small side. Everyone enjoyed their food.

It was a Saturday night and the place was full. It was a splendid evening and the food, drink and service helped things along enormously. And I didn’t have to foot the bill.

Now I’m no fan of chain pubs and restaurants for all of the reasons listed above but I sometimes think they get it right more times than we foodies acknowledge. I wonder if the Prince of Wales would have been as busy if it was still that pub my relative had last seen some time around 1979? And yet something has been lost, hasn’t it?

Confit of pig's cheeks

Confit of pig’s cheeks

I’ve eten at Eten

Eten Café on East Parade

Eten Café on East Parade

I’m having lunch with my former colleague and sparring partner Lesley Draper of the Sheffield Telegraph which we do two or three times a year. It’s a time to swap ideas, talk shop, trade gossip – who’s moving where and why, alert each other to restaurants opening – and telling a few stories which will never be written on page or screen.

Naturally we chose somewhere we like and today it’s Eten Cafe, a curious little eaterie which sprawls between the Cathedral and York Street, home of the Telegraph and the Star. Our meals arrive. She’s got a fat-free salad of samphire, shaved cooked beetroot and brie and I’ve got shoulder of lamb shredded and shaped into a tower, cauliflower cheese and squeaky green beans.

At the same moment we both reach for our pockets, pull out our cameras and take snaps of our respective dishes. I laugh. Not so long ago we would have had to scribble down a word picture in our notebooks.

Eten is run by chefs Lee Vintin and Paul Gill who come up with a medley of enterprising specials dishes. I was here a while back to review its plate pie and re-tell memories of those served up by long-gone Tuckwood’s and have also enjoyed the pulled pork. I’d have had it today but the last portion had just gone out. It is busy, people were queuing up to the door for a table earlier.

It’s great to see an independent café doing good business in the middle of a city dominated by chains. Lee, bearded like a pirate, a sort of culinary Captain Ahab, drops by our table. His right arm is wrapped in clingfilm after an argument with a pan of hot oil. He lost.

He points out that I’ve had the low-carbs special. I blink then realise that there were no spuds and I hadn’t missed them. I’d been so busy nattering I wasn’t paying proper attention to my dish although I can tell you that the lamb was so tender it nearly baa’d.

Lee is coeliac so gluten-free (and vegetarian) dishes are always on the menu, as are scones and afternoon tea. Mondays are meat free, there are bistro nights and this is the only café I know which hosts early morning yoga classes, a book group and a Shakespeare enthusiasts’ club.

Eten is allegedly Middle English for ‘to eat’ so I’ve eten at Eten. I’ll pass on the yoga, though.

East Parade, Sheffield S1 2ER. Tel: 0114 273 0658. Web: http://www.etensheffield.co.uk

Eten's shoulder of lamb

Eten’s shoulder of lamb

Say cheese, it’s a wedding …cake!

No pink sugar mice on this cheese wedding cake!

No pink sugar mice on this cheese wedding cake!

Tradition has it that the bottom tier of a wedding cake is saved for the christening of the first child. That might be too much to ask of a round of Cheddar a year or two down the line.

But it hasn’t stopped a growing trend for bride and groom to order a wedding cake made of cheese instead of the traditional fruit cake for weddings, a fashion that seems to have come from nowhere since the early 2000s.

When my stepdaughter Joanne and her partner Andy held their wedding reception at St Paul’s Hotel in Sheffield recently pride of place went to a four-tier cake made entirely of cheese. The bottom layer was a beautiful blue-grey round of Cornish Yarg, wrapped in nettles, topped by a golden yellow round of Appleby’s Cheshire, then one of the French Fourme d’Ambert, a blue, and, finally, a cylinder of Chaourch, a French cheese made in Champagne-Ardennes since the Middle Ages.

It was tastefully decorated with pomegranates, dates, grapes and figs. “I like to have flowers and seasonal fruit. Cakes look gorgeous draped with redcurrants although people can have what they want. Some have wanted pink sugar mice,” says Nicky Peck, who runs the Porter Brook Deli on Sharrow Vale Road, Sheffield, who organised Joanne and Andy’s cake. She tries to discourage pink mice.

She and husband Nick only started the business last summer, after moving from Shrewsbury, but did six cheese wedding cakes last year and will be doing around one a week this year. Of course you can order cakes online or buy them from big stores but Nicky offers a bespoke service.

“We invite couples in when the shop is closed and have a cheese tasting session and give them samples. We talk to them about how they are going to use the cheese, how many guests, whether it’s part of the wedding meal or if they are going to leave it until 10pm when everyone has had a drink. You don’t want incredibly expensive cheese for that!”

Joanne is no great lover of fruit cake, which is what wedding cake is, and had planned fancy pastries with their ‘pie and peas’ supper “so we didn’t want cake followed by cake. This was a perfect cheese course,” she says. And they were still able to pose for cutting the cake pictures together.

A cheese wedding cake gives the couple something to decide on together for a groom is often left out of most of the arrangements. “We find the men are very interested in the cheeses,” laughs Nicky.

As at Joanne and Andy’s wedding, the cake becomes a talking point. People queued up to inspect it and then queued up again with relish to cut themselves portions. “The cheese wedding cake was a great success. It kept us going until past midnight and the leftovers made lovely gift bags for our guests. There was nothing left,” says Joanne.

Nicky will take the ‘cake’ to the venue, decorate it and supply the tracklements to go with the cheese but is happy to let families bring their own home made chutneys, which is what I did.

Of course, if you can’t make up your mind between traditional and cheese, you can always have both!

The Porter Brook Deli is at 354 Sharrow Vale Road, Sheffield S11 8ZP. Tel: 07528 253 978. Web: http://www.porterbrookdeli.co.uk