I bring the post in from the mat as I walk into the Rutland Arms on Brown Street, Sheffield. The A-board advertising the pub’s excellent food and beers is still stacked inside the porch. It is 12.30pm and it seems I am the first in.
But already one of the seven dishes on the specials board has ‘sold out’ written across it. I won’t be having the braised lamb, then. Instead, after ordering a half pint of the excellent local Blue Bee Brewery’s Reet Pale Ale I go for the roast cod on squid ink risotto. After coming back from the kitchen the barmaid puts ‘sold out’ on that, too.
Now as I sit by the window I’m making a shrewd guess that head chef Richard Storer has taken Wednesday as his day off. Drat. It’s the second time I’ve missed him. On my first I learned from his tweet that he was away so changed my plans to discover the excellent Trippets Lounge Bar.
I’ve been following Richard, who tweets as Chef Rico, for some time. He chunters and grumbles away at life as he sees it both sides of the kitchen door. Apparently he’d like to kill people who say ‘I am a bit of a foodie,’ and sighs theatrically that he’s just ‘a sub-human stove monkey, a thicko pub chef.’
Not that you’d get that impression from his Twitter account, full of tempting and inventive dishes, hardly what you might expect from a thicko pub chef. But perhaps a whiff of aggression. His blog, Not Another Sodding Food Blog, has the web address http://www.eatmyopinionsbitches.blogspot.co.uk
I’d spotted him in the photo with the review last year by Ellen Beardmore in the Sheffield Telegraph. There’s lots of hair. I got a mental image of a chef coming out of the cave in The Flintstones growling ‘Who complained about the mammoth?’ He tweeted (approvingly) about Ellen’s choice of food before realising who she was and told her he wanted to cook like a French housewife in the Fifties.
The pub soon busies up. I was last here in 2006 when the then head chef, Paul Hil, offered a nifty calves liver and ham hock fritters. On the fringe of the artistic quarter, it’s always been inventive.
I take in the studiedly slightly shabby surroundings. No wallspace has been left free of pictures, posters, blackboards, beer mats and notices. Where one piece of wall is worryingly clear someone has drawn a stick man with a speech bubble: ‘Chip butty please.’ The Rutland is famous for the Slutty Rutty Butty, bacon, chips and cheese.
I go first for a spin on gambas pil pil, prawns in chilli and garlic (£4.75), with an oriental twist. There are fat, meaty deveined prawns in, according to the blackboard, a combination of sauces, the Chinese XO seafood sauce and Japanese Ponzo, both of which are made from scallops. It’s been tricked up with smoked paprika.
The result is a little stunner of a dish, served on a bed of posh leaves with some classy olives. I like the smoky, sticky richness of the sauces coating the prawns. An oriental prawn cocktail perhaps but that sauce knocks spots off Marie Rose.
The best component of the cod dish (£9.50) is the risotto, quite gorgeous, inky black with mushrooms, soft and unctuous (I’m using the culinary, not perjorative, sense of the word): think soft and yielding, tender grains of rice. It’s circled by a slightly too acidic tomato sauce.
The fish? Hey ho, it was the last cod on the block, wasn’t it?, a little dry on the outside, decent enough but rather less than sparkling.
I should have stopped for dessert but had to get away. I hear they, too, are good. The Rutland struts its stuff.
68 Brown Street, Sheffield S1BS. Tel: 0114 272 9003. Web: http://www.therutlandarmssheffield.co.uk