Magpies – two for joy

chicken at Magpies

Crisp breaded chicken at Magpies in Horncastle

It was a very, very hot day and at first glance the lunch menu at Magpies, Horncastle, looked a little too heavy. Could we, perhaps, look at the £15.95 three course set menu to see if anything appealed there?

I’m sorry, said the Maitre D, but you have to book a day in advance for that. Pardon me? It’s advertised on an A-board outside the pretty Lincolnshire restaurant with rooms. Nothing about coming inside and booking for tomorrow. Nor is this stipulation on Magpies’ website, despite his claim.

They must do things differently in Lincolnshire. Earlier in the week we came across a hotel which asked for 24 hours notice for a cream tea.

From time to time Another Helping goes further afield to eat and is particularly interested in Sheffield chefs who are cooking away, so to speak. Andrew Gilbert used to cook with Nathan Smith at Sheffield’s then Michelin-listed Old Vicarage restaurant until he and his wife Caroline took over Magpies around 12 years ago.

There’s a little hint that Sheffield is still in the couple’s hearts in the shiny Carrs Made in Sheffield cutlery on the crisp white tablecloths.

We’ve eaten here before, for a Sunday lunch, when it was just as quiet as it is today for our midweek lunch. The food is good in an unshowy way with precise flavours and deft little touches. The Good Food Guide gives it five out of 10.

We look again at the menu (two courses £21, three £26) and order. We are not to be disappointed. We have delightful amuses in the lounge and a selection of three excellent breads at the table. My guinea fowl terrine is extremely tasty, with a fine mango salsa. The only duff note is some watery crayfish. My wife has a crisp little tart piled high with figs, artichokes and goats cheese, full of interest.

Magpies interior

The dining room at Magpies

If it had not been as hot I probably would not have ordered the chicken but gone for the pork. I would have missed a treat. This was really a version of pollo Milanese, a chicken breast covered in crisp breadcrumbs and fried. But it was so good: moist, flavoursome and there was more mango for relief. I really would like Andrew’s recipe for that mango relish. The dish was partnered with a butternut squash risotto cake.

Across the table my wife was enjoying her fillet of trout on spiced apricot and almond couscous, with samphire, more emphatic flavours. It was as light a dish as she could wish for.

Caroline takes charge of desserts: a lemon tart and a gooseberry and elderflower trifle, were expertly delivered.

We chatted to the friendly Maitre D about of our Sheffield connections and I’m sure he mentioned it to the kitchen. Neither Andrew nor Caroline found the opportunity to say hallo by the time we’d paid our bill of £71.40.

If they had, we’d have asked about the name of the restaurant. Remembering the old rhyme, it’s not one for sorrow but two for joy as far as the food is concerned.

Magpies, 71 East Street, Horncastle LN9 6AA. Tel: 01507 527 004. Web:


Don’t think you can walk in and have the set lunch!

#Magpies appears to have closed. The website no longer works.

No chips please, we’re Italian

Octopus in tomato sauce

Octopus in tomato sauce

The man at the next table has ordered chips with his agnello al rosmarino, lamb cutlets with rosemary. The waitress isn’t having it, despite patatine fritta being on the menu. “It makes me angry people ordering chips with Italian food,” she says.

My ears quiver. He banters that he’ll pop out and get them from the Two Steps chippie across the way then concedes gracefully. He’s already asked her, fuelled by pre-dinner lagers, if she would be his dancing partner.

He spends the evening chipless and I muse whether the request has been an insult to her national gastronomic pride. Fiery people these Italians. But she’s Greek, from Corfu. He should beware of Greeks bearing chips.

We are in Akentannos in Sharrowvale Road, Sheffield, a new Sardinian restaurant opened earlier this year in what had been the Pasta Bar. Italian restaurants are ten a penny but they all seem to have the same pan-Italiano menu whereas Italian cooking is highly regional. This is a welcome venture from owner-chef Mario Masia.

We last encountered him at a previous venture, Maso, in Surrey Street, in Tuckwood’s cavernous old restaurant. A brave try. “It was the same cooking but the wrong time,” he tells me later.

The menu has dishes you will know, some with a twist from a particular Sardinian ingredient and some completely new. So my tastebuds are go.

The friend of the chipless man at the next table orders the wine. It’s Sicilian? The waitress explains that as he is in a Sardinian restaurant it is Sardinian. He wonders where Sardinia is.

We have ordered the pane carasau (£3.50), thin, crispy Sardinian bread which is similar to the carta musica we had at Mario’s Maso. I can’t actually remember much about it but hope it will be like the ciccio at VeroGusto in town, flecked with lustrous reduced balsamic. It isn’t. Made with hardly any salt it tastes bland, even though we order it with lovely unpitted olives (£3.60). We ask for plates, oil and salt which improves things slightly and gives us somewhere to put the pits.

Mario explains later that the olives are meant to supply the salt and the rosemary a piquancy but that is a subtlety too far for my Anglo palate and it hasn’t been lagered up.

TripAdvisor recommends the polpi piccanti (£7.95), octopus with garlic, parsley, chilli, white wine and fresh tomato sauce. TripAdvisor is right. The octopus, cooked long and slowly, is soft and yielding, the sauce vibrant although the chilli barely registers.

My wife has a special, Capesante (£8.95), pan-fried scallops with a ‘cream’ of broccoli and pecorino cheese. This was quietly very good indeed, three pieces of scallop served on the inevitable slate, topped by the cream which had the same velvety texture as crabmeat.


A slate of scallops with a ‘crabby’cream

At the next table the woman in charge of the chipless man and the man who doesn’t know where Sardinia is orders more white wine. The waitress gently tells her there’s still a half full bottle in the cooler. She orders water.

bread and cheese

Zuppa Gallurese – not a good choice!

I’d ordered the Zuppa Gallurese (£12.60), a Sardinian speciality which is, the menu explains, “a cross between a lasagna and a casserole; layers of rustic bread sliced, parmesan cheese, meat broth, wild fennel, parsley and Sardinian cheese slices.” Well, that’s the theory. It arrived on my table as an almost solid mass of soggy bread and cheese, the broth having been entirely absorbed. It was a modge. Think Welsh rarebit gone wrong. Think cheesey bread pud. It might be just the thing to power you up a Sardinian mountain to bring down lost sheep but not in Sheffield on a sultry summer’s night. I left most of it, to the consternation of the waitress.

My wife was far happier with her Spaghetti al Cartoccio (£13.95 ), a pasta and seafood version of en papillote, the spaghetti cooked with fish and mussels with tomato, basil and chilli inside a foil parcel. The joy of this dish is in the diner unwrapping it at the table and savouring the aromas wafting out in a superior kind of ‘Ah, Bisto!’ moment. Restaurants don’t always twig this and nor does Akentannos. The parcel was opened in the kitchen and some if not all of the smells had already evaporated.

We finished with an underwhelming tiramisu (£5.90) and Seadas (£6.90) , a sort of deep-fried ravioi filled with cheese. Our waitress was reluctant for me to have it but I wasn’t asking for chips. “It’s bread,” she said. I rather hoped it was pasta or pastry. Well it was full of cheese and I hadn’t liked my cheesy main. It was not the cheese I’d objected to, I said,  but I didn’t know the Italian (or Greek) for modge.

Most regions of Italy have something similar. This, in a sauce of honey and brown sugar, was pleasant.

The next table depart, unsteadily, and I call for the bill which with water and a bottle of house white (£16.20) comes to £82.55, about the cost of a flight to Sardinia. Some prices here are a little ambitious but we did like most of the meal.

We tell Mario we’ll be back soon with relatives as our night was a ‘recce.’ Too bad, the date we give is the first day of his holidays . . .

270 Sharrowvale Road, Sheffield S11 8ZH. Tel 0114 268 0505. Web:


Akentannos is in the former Pasta Bar

Soy – the ultimate umami flavour

I think it was the great Ken Hom who said there was no English dish which could not be improved without the judicious addition of soy sauce. He was right.

It goes into my stews and gravies, brightens up my mince, particularly shepherd’s pie, adds resonance and colour to French onion soup, has been known to find its way into my curries and is added to my home-brewed Sheffield Relish, this cook’s answer to the city’s favourite sauce, Hendersons Relish. It may be in, although I cannot be certain, Lea & Perrin’s Worcestershire Sauce.

A spoonful or two in a jug of hot water will make you a useful stock if you have nothing else.

I had always thought that soy sauce was a relative newcomer to this country but I was wrong. I was puzzled by a reference in Dorothy Hartley’s excellent Food in England to a recipe for Nun’s Sauce, made in a 19th century convent. It included, along with anchovies, cloves, vinegar and onions, two tablespoons of soy. Did they really have it then?

They did. As Miss Hartley explains, it would have been imported though the British East India Company. The Dutch might have got it first. Their own East India Company is recorded buying it in 1737 from Japan and taking it to their possessions in the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia) before sending it on to the Netherlands.

Different cultures seem to have invented their own dark, salty brews like soy, which is made from fermented soya beans. The Romans had garum or liquamen, made as far as we can tell from rotting fish. In fact, the Chinese soy originally included fish as the main ingredient, with soya as a subsidiary, until its properties were fully recognised. Fish sauce, a great favourite in Thai and South East Asian cooking, then went its separate way.

Mushroom ketchup might very well have been devised as a British answer to soy. There’s a certain logic here: it’s a fungus which gives soy its distinctive taste.

What soy sauce has is umami, that savouriness which British chefs were extolling a few years ago as if it was something new. It wasn’t, only the description.

While the Chinese invented soy sauce it is the Japanese Kikkoman which is most popular in the West. You can get cheaper but it’s not as good. It doesn’t hurt that the bottle, which looks stylish on the table, is a design classic.

Most countries in South East Asian have their own versions of soy sauce and it can be fun trying them out. One favourite of mine is the Indonesian kekap manis, a thick, sweet sauce, which is great in stir-fries.

Whether it’s soy sauce, fish sauce, Worcestershire sauce or mushroom ketchup, the world wants its umami. It’s everywhere. That’s what makes Marmite so tempting. Pontack sauce made with elderberries is in the same category. Give it a try this autumn.

You make your own Sheffield Relish right now. Here’s the recipe


My Anglo Mango Chutney!

Mango Chutney

Mango chutney

It was the end of a long hot day in Kerala and our hosts decided that for dinner we’d go out for an Indian as opposed to eating one in at the homestead where we were staying. So we went to a hotel, by boat.

I was on a Press trip to this leafy, green Indian state, the Ireland of India, where most of the dishes feature fish or coconuts and usually both. Eating in people’s homes on their spice or tea plantations was fascinating, a far cry from the food experienced in Indian restaurants back home in Blighty. But the fact that we were in a hotel where the food would naturally have a broader brush, gave me an idea.

Could we, perhaps, eat British-style, with poppadoms and chutney to begin with? I was met with blank looks. In India these are accompaniments with the meal, not eaten before. But I persisted and eventually a pile of pops and a dish of chutneys, far more ravishing than back home, were produced.

We journalists started to do what comes naturally: scoop a bit of chutney on a pop and nibble it. Then another. We had quite an audience. The waiters gathered round to watch this curious spectacle and so did the chefs. They weren’t to know that one of their compatriots in London in the 1960s had dreamed up the idea which quickly caught on.

I don’t recall whether mango chutney was among the dishes. Probably not. The chutneys in this part of India are looser, runnier than we get here. Sharwood’s is a much sweeter, milder version of the original and, in any case, Indians prefer the savage heat of mango pickle. But growing up in the UK I’ve learned to love Sharwood’s Green Label Mango Chutney, which has become an icon of the British domestic kitchen.

For me, a curry isn’t a curry unless it comes with a dollop of mango chutney on the side of the plate. And if it’s a homemade curry there will almost certainly be another spoonful of chutney in the sauce. Mango is the champion chutney.

It couldn’t be that hard to make it yourself I thought and it isn’t. I made some earlier in the year and was delighted with the results. But my last jar was running on empty and needed to be replaced and when I saw mangoes on offer in a supermarket bought them up.

Most recipes advise you to use under-ripe mangoes and there is a good reason for this. Cutting up ripe fruit can be a bit too squishy and if you want the mango to retain some texture they should be avoided. However, you have to use what you’ve got and my four mangoes all varied in ripeness.

Jars of mango chutney

I saved my empty Sharwood jars for this chutney!

I’ve used the recipe from ‘Jam, Jelly and Relish’ by Ghillie James (Kyle Cathie Ltd) which includes apples, not so authentic, but then this is an Anglo mango chutney! You could always skip them and add an extra mango. What is important is to look at the spicing. Ignore those which specify spiced pickling vinegar or curry powder. I think the vital ones are clove, cardamom, fenugreek, chilli and cinnamon. Some recipes use cumin but the fenugreek is there to give the curry notes.
Ms James does not use ginger but I do. Apart from that, and a little tinkering here and there, the recipe is hers.

This recipe fills four empty Sharwood’s jars (I kept them because I knew they would be useful one day!). You need:

4 medium mangoes, peeled and cut into cubes
1 red onion (I used shallots)
2 apples peeled and cubed
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
cinnamon stick
400ml cider or white wine vinegar
500g soft light brown sugar
250ml water


10 green cardamom pods
10 cloves
1 tsp nigella (kalonji) (black onion seeds)
½ tsp fenugreek seeds
pinch chilli
2 inch piece fresh ginger or 1 tsp ground

What you do:

Heat a dry frying pan and gently toast all the spices but the fresh ginger until aroma is released then grind

Simmer vinegar with the ground spices, cinnamon stick, onions and garlic for 10 mins then add mangoes and cook for 10 minutes more (depending on how ripe the mangoes are). Incidentally, I added the large stones to get rid of the remaining fruit then pulled them out and scraped them clean but that’s just me.

Now add apples and the water, bring back to a simmer and cook until fruit gets soft.

When you’re happy, add the sugar (which will prevent further softening) and let it bubble away, stirring regularly, until thick and gloopy and you can see the bottom of the pan when you draw a spoon across.

Allow to cool slightly and funnel into hot, sterilised jars, seal and label.

This takes about a month to develop but you can use any leftover in cheese sandwiches.

I found four medium mangoes weighed 1.5kilo before peeling and stoning, giving 950g of fruit.Some of the ingredients for mango chutney.JPG