I’m thinking 50 Shades of Grey as I sit down in the new-look Rafters restaurant in Nether Green, Sheffield. It’s had a makeover and there are greys on the walls, chairs and tablecloths.
The owners have cracked the whip when it comes to décor and given the place a new look from top to bottom. Sheffield-made Carrs Silver Sterling cutlery with Rafters engraved on the blades gleams under the brand new lights.
A splash of colour wouldn’t go amiss I say then I realise it’s on my plate. My starter of belly pork arrives, a colourful assembly of glazed brown meat, green purple sprouting broccoli and an orange blob of sweet potato. But the real colour is in the kaleidoscope of flavours on my tongue.
Forget 50 Shades, I’m having a When Harry Met Sally Moment although I’m not making any noise except Mmmmm. The Moss Valley pork has been cooked very, very slowly (72 hours) so the soy-infused meat is so soft under its sensuous fat you could cut it with a glance.
Flavours are given an extra oriental twist from the crushed cashews pressed on top. It’s very close to what foodies used to call an orgasm on a plate.
I was going to have the smoked trout when I overheard a woman at the next table order it with passion in her voice. I’m having what she’s having! Madam, you were right.
We’re here for an anniversary Sunday lunch at a place where, if restaurants were in the habit of giving long service awards to diners then we’d get one as we’ve eaten here through all the changes of ownership over more than 20 years.
It started by a couple who re-upholstered all the chairs themselves to save cash and had a chef who hated cooking with onions, was taken over by brothers Wayne and Jamie Bosworth, then Marcus Lane joined Jamie until Marcus ran it himself before selling up to a duo from the Devonshire Arms, Middle Handley, front of house man Alistair Myers and wunderkind chef Tom Lawson. He’s 23.
We arrive at the restaurant with its newly painted exterior to be asked “Is it any good?” by a chap studying the menu outside while his wife chose new windows at the shop next door. “If you have any money left over, go,” I joked.
Rafters has long had two USPs: good quality food and consistency. You may well pay the price (£42 before coffee in the evening, £34 for three courses on Sundays) and portions can seem small but you do get the full whack when it comes to taste and flavour, plus all those little extra bits: a trio of amuse bouches came one after the other and there is a pre-dessert.
Breads are engaging: a sticky black treacle granary, black pudding bread in the shape of a banger and a classy sourdough white with an eggshell crisp crust. Full marks to pastry chef Jodie Wilson. And while we’re giving accolades my wife says the sticky toffee pudding is the best she’s had.
Traditionally I’m a roast meat man on Sunday and the sirloin here is soft, tender and if it could moo, it would. All the trimmings matched up – sweet glazed carrots, a sophisticated cauliflower cheese, sprightly spring greens and turned roast potatoes, all crisp exteriors and creamy insides. And here’s my only complaint: three spuds is not enough.
My wife had a fishy lunch. Her starter was buttery-tasting scallops on the sweetest of roast fennel. Loin of cod sparkled brighter and had more flavour punch than you’ll get in a chippie. It came poshed up with a crab beignet (fritter), crabby sauce and tarragon-spiked gnocchi.
They do some decent wines by the glass: my Old Vines Garnacha from Spain (£6 for 175mls) was a pleasing, juicy, soft red wine.
If I’m sounding enthusiastic it’s because I was. This is highly expert, ultra confident, sparkling cooking backed up by smooth, professional service. When the bill came (this was not a freebie) it was almost a joy to pay. It was certainly a joy to eat.
Rafters is at 220 Oakbrook Road, Sheffield S11 7ED. Tel: 0114 230 4819. Web: http://www.raftersrestaurant.co.uk