You won’t get a dodgy pint from Alex


Alex Barlow, boss of Sentinel, Sheffield’s newest brewery

Alex Barlow looks like a decent bloke to share a pint or two with at the bar. Particularly as the drinks are on him. He’s the sort of bloke who knows his ale and runs a beer search website to help you find a decent brew.

But there’s an even better reason to down a pint with him. He runs his own brewery.

We’re at the bar of it right now, the spanking new Sentinel Brewery on Shoreham Street, Sheffield, in premises which used to be a carpet showroom and before that a Majestic wine shop. And I’m taking a sip of his Sheffield Bitter, nicely crisp and hoppy for a warm afternoon. Alex has invited the Press and bloggers to have a few thirds on him to launch the enterprise.

Why Sentinel? I ask and he says: “We want to be a beacon for drinks people trust. A sentinel is a guardian or protector. There are a few dodgy pints out there. We’ll be protecting the unsuspecting drinker.”

A lot of blokes say big things over a drink or two and I notice Alex is nursing three thirds of his first brew, Summer Gold, with all the tenderness of someone holding his first-born. But that’s not the beer talking. He really does know his stuff.

Well you would do if you were a Master Brewer at 26, the country’s youngest, brewed for Bass in Runcorn, Sheffield and Burton, became the first Briton to run the Starapramen brewery in Prague, has overseen a new brewery in Turkey, written a best-selling and award-winning book on beer, lectured on micro brewing at the University of Sheffield and set up All Beer, a sort of search engine for the globe’s best bottles. You don’t get that to do all that by brewing dodgy pints. But you do so by knowing how to avoid them.

So Alex is a big-hitter in the beer world and so is his new brewery, the 23rd in the city although it has to be said some are not more than one man with a bucket and a length of hosepipe. It has cost “touching £750,000” to build. The plant has capacity to brew 6,000 hectolitres (132,000 gallons) a year and space to increase the number of fermenters, presently six. So is Sheffield ready for it? Is this a smart move by Alex?

He takes a sip and invites me to look along the bar. “Customers can see the whole journey in the life of their beer, from the sacks of grain to the fermenting tanks in a single glance. It’s all within the space of 25 yards, the shortest beer miles anywhere I know.”


The brewhouse at Sentinel, visible from the bar

As you can tell, he has a way with quotes. That Summer Gold, which I try later, has come straight from the tanks. It has a slightly lemony (or is that orangey taste?), I’m not sure, and is ever so slightly cloudy although I’m not one to worry whether my beer is crystal clear.

He’s switched from industrial to craft brewing but isn’t a Ye Olde Englishe Ale man. He says he has been inspired by what he encountered in the States and elsewhere. Sentinel has a ‘core’ of beers such as Sheffield Bitter, Sheffield Best and, of course IPA, but also Czech Pivo and American Red. Then there will be seasonal ales such as Summer Gold. “I want to brew beer I like and hopefully people like to drink.”

Much of the beer will be sold and drunk on site or in ‘growler’ bottles to take away while a handful of local restaurants and stores are already stocking bottles. Sentinel is next door to student accommodation and not too far from the city centre for a stroll with a pint in mind. The place is equipped with a couple of ‘boardrooms’ for companies to hire for presentations plus there’s the restaurant – think more industrial chic than glitzy venue – for Barlow is a big believer in marrying beer to food.

Delightfully named head chef Brendan Barwise oversees a menu which includes ale glazed ribs, beer bread and beer battered haddock and the Sentinel also has a pizza chef.

Beer writer Pete Brown, who compiled a recent report for the University of Sheffield which found the city has nearly five times as many breweries per head than Greater London and that at any one time some 385 different beers are available, was there to raise a glass to the new venture.


Summer Gold, the first brew, straight from the tank

He said that while the concept of Sentinel, with brewery, bar and restaurant was common in the States it was pretty unusual in Britain – “Certainly such a brilliant space so accessible to the town and not out on some trading estate.”

Brown’s report in April emphasised the need to capitalise on Sheffield’s growing fame as the Beer Capital of Britain (claiming the world is a bit strong) and to encourage beer tourism and the like. After all, in any one year the city has around 1,000 local ales to drink. Three-quarters of it is drunk locally. It is unclear how much is going to happen because these things need organisation and the city council can’t even organise a farmers’ market.

Dave Pickersgill of Sheffield CAMRA has yet to be convinced. He writes in the current issue of Beer Matters that on a recent trip to Flanders he found its Minister of Culture “expressed more interest in the Sheffield beer scene than seems to emanate from Sheffield Town Hall.”

If anyone can kick-start this it could very well be Alex Barlow, seen by some as the spiritual inheritor of the late Dave Wickett, founder of the Fat Cat real ale pub and Kelham Island Brewery in the Eighties. Could that be another smart move by Alex?

Sentinel Brewhouse, Tap and Eatery is at 178 Shoreham Street, Sheffield S1 4SQ. Tel: 0114 399 9888. Web:


Getting the thirds in on Press day

Nice cheese, shame about the cough linctus!


Cheesemaker Sophie Summerlin explains the finer points of her Stanage Millstone

So it was Hip, Hip, Ole for wine expert Barry Starmore, taking part in Sharrowvale’s last cheese and wine evening before his double hip operation. He’s not that ancient, he’s the victim of too much sport in his youth and too many cellar steps in his working life.

Eat more cheese, Barry. Cheese contains calcium which is good for the bones. And wine is good for the soul. So, because he is particularly fond of Spanish wines the theme was Iberian, except for a short detour to Hathersage.

This is a monthly event jointly arranged by Barry and his colleague Jefferson Boss with grand fromages Nick and Nicky Peck of the Porter Brook Deli in the premises of Seven Hills Bakery, which provides the benches and the bread. So that’s three local businesses acting as partners in the same street.

For most of the 30 or so present the star of the show was a Calle Real cremoso, a sort of instant fondue. Warm it up slightly, whip the top off and spoon out the creamy, runny interior or dip your bread – in this case a Seven Hills Spanish torta. There’s a slight tang from the thistle rennet. I’ve had a similar cheese in Portugal and it’s a show stopper of a first course in restaurants.


Comoso – instant fondue


Barry partnered this with a lemony Vina Costeira Ribeiro 2014, a blend of five local varietals. They all worked well together.

The night had opened with, what else? Manchego 1640 cheese, hard and crystalline, a little reminiscent of grana padana. It was offered with two glasses, an admirable fino sherry, Fernando de Castilla en Rama, and a fruity red, Altamente Monastrell, which my wife rather liked. Louise from Seven Hills handed round slices of very good Spanish baguette.

Save a little of the red, said Barry and the reason soon became clear. We had suddenly switched countries and were in Hathersage. The evening was the debut of Sheffield’s nearest (and only) local cheese, Stanage Millstone, the cheese version of a minty Polo: It’s got a hole in it.

“There are a lot of old millstones lying around around our fields,” said artisan cheesemaker Sophie Summerlin, explaining the shape and the name. She and her husband James make and mould it by hand with milk from their neighbour’s farm, as they keep sheep and pigs themselves (and the latter enjoy the whey).

We had two versions, a very runny Brie-like cheese and the same cheese which had matured for another two weeks into a firm, creamy texture, and my own personal favourite.


Stanage Millstone, Sheffield’s ‘local’ cheese

Sophie and James have been selling it at farmers’ markets and I would imagine have already built up a following. The hole serves a purpose. It helps the cheese mature quicker.

There was enough cheese on offer to induce nightmares but let’s end with one on the night. First there came the cheese, a gutsy blue, La Paral, made by another husband and wife team, this time in Asturias, Northern Spain. It came with a clever strawberry studded and star anise flavoured bread specially baked by Seven Hills.

“Don’t sniff,” ordered Barry as he handed around glasses of a brilliant red liqueur, Pacharan Ordesano, but I did. It smelled of aniseed.

There is a lovely story to this drink. The makers go out into the fields and pick sloes to infuse with gin, along with vanilla, coffee beans and whatever, then they wait for the flavours to meld before bottling it. Then they drink it. That’s the difficult bit. You’ll love it if you like Benylin cough syrup, hate it if you don’t.

Let’s just say I reckon this won’t be the first bottle Barry will be reaching for when he comes around from his op.

Porter Brook Deli:
Starmore Boss:
Seven Hills Bakery:
Stanage Millstone:

Blue cheese, strawberry bread and cough linctus!

Blue cheese, strawberry bread and cough linctus!

A fry up in Fryup

P1040229 Offering a fry up to Fryup!

A fried breakfast in Fryup

What to have for breakfast when you’re staying in a place called Great Fryupdale? No contest, is it? So that’s bacon, egg, fried potato, oatcake and tomatoes for me. It’s a little ritual I have every time I come to this hidden valley very few people know, even though it’s only 10 miles from Whitby.

There isn’t even a village (although there’s a building called a village hall), just a few farmhouses and scattered hamlets and a post box. Even the name is unsure: the signs say either Fryupdale or Fryup Dale. Either way, it’s next door to Little Fryupdale and Glaisdale, arranged in a row like piglets at the belly of a sow, Eskdale.

There was never any thought of a Full English Breakfast when they came to name the area. The two dales get their name from Frige, the Anglo Saxon goddess of love (the Vikings’ version was Frigg) and ‘hop’ means a small valley: so Frige’s valley. But my fry up could be regarded as a 21st Century votive offering to Frige.

You don’t go through Fryup but to it. A little single track lane lazily circles the dale either side of the beck although there is a spur which climbs dizzyingly up the hillside and over the moors to Rosedale and beyond.

I’m not sure about the people (only a few hundred) but the rabbits breed like, well, rabbits here. Stroll down the lanes of a midge-filled evening, look across the fields and clap your hands like a gun going off. Their white tails bob furiously as they run for cover to the hedges.

I dream that if I lived here all year round I would have a gun and eat rabbit pie. Or rabbit ragu, perhaps with a wild garlic pesto made from the leaves which line the verges, the white flowers twinkling like stars. Instead, I usually stay for a week at Prospect, a converted coach house owned by local teachers.*

The dale is a larder. Up above, the moors will be heavy with bilberries come late July. In the valley, along with the rabbits, sheep and cows graze. And somewhere there are pigs, unseen, but they’re there because we eat one later.

Just over two miles away, out of the dale in the parent valley of Eskdale, is the village of Lealholm. Besides the river is the Board Inn, the sort of pub you imagine only in your wildest foodie dreams.

P1040102 Board Inn, Lealholm

The Board Inn beside the River Esk at Lealholm

Former butcher turned chef Alistair Dean and his wife Karen have turned this 18th century inn into a real beer and real food haven. The boast is that all the main ingredients are sourced within 500 yards of the pub. Now how’s that for terroir? Perhaps not the fish, from Whitby, but the trout might just have been hooked from the Esk alongside.

Blackboards in the bar give the pedigree and provenance of almost everything Alistair cooks. So they list the serial number of the heifer which donated your steak, its owner, who ‘despatched’ it and for how long it was hung. And it’s not just the meat. Providers of the eggs, potatoes and even who grew the rhubarb get a name check.

Don’t think gastro pub but good, honest, homely cooking without Fancy Dan gastro prices. For our Sunday lunch we had some wonderful pork which came from Fryup and pot roast mutton on the bone, followed by rhubarb sundae. Lovely.

Lealholm has a railway station. Ten miles down the line is Whitby, which has so many fish and chip shops and restaurants you could have fried cod or haddock in a different place once a week and not go back to the same place.

For us, the acme is the Magpie Café but then we only go to Whitby once a year and always eat there. Others, who eat in Whitby more widely, tell us the Magpie has slipped. I’m not sure it has but the menu is certainly trendier. These days you can also get habas fritas, fried broad beans, to nibble if you don’t fancy the vinegared cockles to nibble while you’re waiting for your fish. Actually, I do want the cockles and they are lovely.

There is a dazzling array of fish to eat, fried, poached, steamed and gluten-free but this is Yorkshire and for me it’s got to be battered haddock, the Northerners’ fish, although I am from Down South. My wife, who isn’t, has the cod.

But first I have three shucked oysters, served with lemon and shallot vinegar, as juicy and briney as you could wish for. The haddock comes with a wonderfully crisp and rippling batter, echoing the waves outside. The chips aren’t bad and the mushy peas, just dried peas and water, nothing else, are heavenly. I like the haddock but the flavour might just have been more pronounced but you’d only mention this in a place where you naturally expect perfection.

So I’m going to mention the tartare sauce as well. As I remember they used to make their own. This was a commercial confection, cheap and vile. Yet, oddly, the woman at the next table loved it. There’s no accounting for bad taste, is there?

*Prospect can be booked via

P1040171 Magpie Cafe, Whitby

The Magpie Café, Whitby

Whatever happened to cress?


Growing cress on the windowsill

I bought a Summer Salad collection of seeds at Poundland and among the little packets of basil, mint and thyme seeds was one for cress. My goodness, I’d almost forgotten that. No salad tea when we were growing up in the Fifties was complete until your Mum had snipped the cress out of its punnet.

A couple of leaves of limp lettuce or crisp Iceberg, half a tomato and a sprinkling of cress and that was your salad, usually eaten with a dollop of salad cream. And that was what we considered posh.

These days cress is regarded in the same light as paper doilies or knitted toilet roll covers: a bit too Hyacinth Bucket, a little too retro to be regarded as fit for the modern table. You hardly see it except in those old fashioned pub salads where they also include a slice of orange or in egg and cress finger sandwiches, crusts cut off, in dainty afternoon teas.

I must admit I have sniggered at the sight of cress in the past but that was just snobbery. Its pepperiness is not to be sneezed at. And with the current restaurant fashion for micro greens then land cress (Lepidium sativum), not to be confused with watercress, is the original.

I’d almost forgotten its pungency, halfway to that of a nasturtium leaf but even more if you have a punnet of mustard and cress, which livens things up on your tongue. So dimply remembering my old school lessons I found an empty margarine tub, filled it with damp kitchen roll, sprinkled on the seeds and put it in the kitchen window. Keeping it moist with a water spray I was rewarded after  a week with a crop of cress.

That was going to be lunch, in an egg mayonnaise and cress sandwich. You have to have the mayo, I can’t be doing with just egg and cress, you feel as if something’s missing, like not wearing your knickers. I quickly hard boiled and shelled a couple of eggs, mashed them up with salt, pepper and paprika, sprinkled over the cress and whipped in the mayonnaise, shop bought I’m afraid but the bread was home made. I am always a sucker for egg mayonnaise anyway and the cress gave the sandwiches just a little bit more oomph.

Apparently, and I didn’t know this, but some punnets of ‘cress’ or ‘growing salad’ are not actually mustard or cress but oilseed rape. I knew I had the real thing because I grew it myself from seed.

While cress is almost all water it also contains Vitamin C so if you eat it regularly you are unlikely to get scurvy.

I reckon cress needs a PR makeover. To put it bluntly, it isn’t remotely classy like rocket or even more upmarket leaves such as mizuna. But you can’t more British than an egg and cress sandwich, can you?


My egg mayonnaise and cress sandwich, garnished with cress

A world without tomato and chilli jam?


Every time I reach for a jar of my homemade tomato and chilli jam I get Peter and Gordon’s 1964 hit A World Without Love going through my head. It’s got nothing to do with them but there is a mental association. The recipe belongs to New Zealand’s Peter Gordon who invented it while head chef at Notting Hill’s Sugar Club restaurant in 1995.

He mixed the jam with crème fraiche and served it with scallops and watercress, taking a cue from a dish then popular in Australia, deep-fried baby potatoes with chilli sauce and sour cream, the latter tempering the fierceness of the chilli.

Other chefs soon took it up, giving it their own spin. In Sheffield, Cary Brown at Carriages made it a signature dish, keeping the fishy connection but serving it straight with monkfish. And he’s been copied, too.

I’ve been making it for a few years, in various versions, eventually putting my own spin on it. Half the fun of cooking is messing about with recipes. Now, to misquote Peter and Gordon, I can’t imagine a world without tomato and chilli jam.

Peter Gordon, who is Maori and a devotee of ‘fusion food’ which incorporates influences from around the world, uses Thai fish sauce in his recipe and my advice is don’t start without it. Worcestershire sauce is not quite an adequate substitute.

But I have added ginger, which he doesn’t, to up the oriental input as well as lemon juice, and shredded basil if it’s handy. It’s great to make if you have a lot of homegrown tomatoes and chilli so you might want to save this recipe for later. But you can substitute passata for tomatoes or use a combination of both, as I have when I’ve not had enough tomatoes for a big batch. I’ll be making some more soon as my last lot, made in 2014, is fast running out. It keeps for ages.

I eat my chilli jam dolloped straight onto homemade fishcakes (or mixed first with a little yoghurt) and it goes well on grilled goats cheese. And it makes a good marinade.

Here’s my recipe. You can find Peter Gordon’s original which is easily available online. Pick your chillies carefully: go for red and biggish ones which tend to be less hot than the smaller varieties. But as any curry chef will tell you, a spoonful of sugar lessens chilli heat and there’s more than a spoonful in this recipe!

2 kg tomatoes, chopped finely, including peel and seeds
3-4 chillies, de-seeded if liked
3-4 lemons, juiced
1 kg granulated sugar
Generous shake or two of fish sauce
Large knob of ginger, grated and juice squeezed out
120 m red wine vinegar (white or cider will do)
Sea salt and back pepper

Put everything EXCEPT the sugar into a heavy saucepan and cook gently until mushy.
Add sugar and stir to dissolve.
Increase heat as you would for making other jams and cook for 20-30 minutes until setting point. I use the cold saucer method – put three or four in the freezer, taking them out one by one to test. Put a blob on the saucer, stick it in the fridge for three minutes (you’ve taken the jam pan off the heat, haven’t you?) then try the wrinkle test. If no luck, put the pan back on the heat, and cook on for a couple of minutes before trying again. Pour into sterilized jars.
This quantity made me seven 300ml jars.

Not quite a capon, old cock!



Once doctored the cockerel becomes a capon and has no comb

It caught my eye on the end of Smith & Tissington’s chicken and fish stall on Sheffield’s Moor Market, a big, busty Barbara Windsor of a bird clearly marked ‘Capon.’ I hadn’t seen one in years.

“So what is a capon?” asked my wife. “It’s a chicken but a he not a she; a cockerel with its nadgers cut off,” I said and she shuddered. “I thought they were illegal,” I added.

When I was younger my family once had capons for Christmas when we couldn’t afford  a turkey. A capon was valued for its moist, tasty flesh, a bit like chicken used to be compared with your average fowl now.

We were planning the capon for May Bank Holiday dinner with the family and the bird weighed in at 2.7 kilos for a very reasonable £6.50.”Just don’t tell them what it is when they eat it,” said my wife so of course I did. And it didn’t stop anyone eating it or remarking that this was the moistest, juiciest, tastiest bird we had had for a long time.

But I was still puzzled. Looking online, I read that capons were still illegal. In fact, they have been for almost 40 years. So how come they were on the market? I didn’t have time to quiz boss Paul Tissington when I bought it but he’d told me “Come back and let me know how you found it.” So I did. And I asked him. Paul came clean about the capon, something he’s happy to explain.

It wasn’t a capon. Not in the technical sense.

That’s as in not a bona fide capon but a big bird he calls a capon to attract those people – “you’ll forgive me, of a certain age” – who know what a capon is. Or was.


This capon weighed in at just under three kilos

A capon was a transgendered fowl long before it became fashionable in humans. With its bits cut off it didn’t grow a comb, grew fat – as it wasn’t strutting around the farmyard defending its harem – and nurtured its feminine side by going broody.

It has long been popular. Shakespeare mentions it five times. Jacques, in As You Like It, refers to it in his Seven Ages of Man speech:

“And then the Justice
In fair round belly with good capon lined”

Turning a cock into a capon involves cutting open the bird without anaesthetic and was eventually outlawed, at least in the EU. Chemical castration is possible but it involves pumping them full of oestrogen. They are still available elsewhere in the world, if you can find them.


Our capon from Smith & Tissington on Sheffield’s Moor Market

The ban left poultry breeders trying to fill the gap and they produced a slower growing, bigger hen, which are what Paul and his wife Debra sell. It’s their decision to call it a capon. Around Christmas it becomes a roaster. They sell perhaps a dozen a week, more at Easter, Bank Holidays and, of course, Christmas.

So were we kidding ourselves, thinking it was something else? After 40 years I cannot remember the specifics of a taste but this was the best chicken we’ve had for ages. And certainly better than a turkey.

Paul, whose father Roy co-founded the business on the old Castle Market in 1960 and would have sold capons then, is unrepentant at so labelling the birds. “It got you interested. Anywhere else it would have cost you £8 or £9. That to me is what market shopping is all about.”

Incidentally, the bird provided four roast dinners, two more with bubble and squeak, several rounds of sandwiches, dripping for my toast for at least three breakfasts while the rest was added to an excellent stock made from the carcass. The fat skimmed off the top of the stock fried the bubble. The stock made two bowls of chicken and mushroom soup and two plates of risotto, a total of ten main meals. Not bad for £6.50.


Paul and Debra Tissington with son Mathew