Good things come in threes

THE 7th Sheffield Food Festival runs at the end of the month from 27 – 29 May in Fargate and the Peace Gardens. I shall be judging some of the foodie events. A little while ago the festival website asked me to contribute an article on the city’s independent restaurateurs. If you missed it, here it is.

 YOU can’t get the true flavour of a city from its chain restaurants, convenient though they may be. For that, seek out the independents, men and women who put life and soul into feeding local appetites. Food blogger MARTIN DAWES highlights three very different people.

 CARY BROWN, Devonshire Arms, Middle Handley.

 

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Cary Brown in command of his kitchen

THEY once called Cary Brown the ‘bad lad of Sheffield cuisine.’ He’s quietened down now and is a bit older but he’s a serial restaurateur who has either owned or run a dozen venues.

 Cary, now 51, burst upon the local scene in the Eighties as head chef, at the precocious age of 22, at the Charnwood Hotel on London Road, with its French-style bistro and upmarket Henfrey’s restaurant.

 The first place of his own was Carriages on Abbeydale Road South, followed by a series of others, among them the celebrated Slammers on Ecclesall Road, named after the fishy ‘tapas’ in slammer glasses, the Mini Bar on Hunters Bar, and the city centre London Club steak and fish restaurant. He came to The Dev via the Royal Oak at Millthorpe and his current berth still has a decidedly piscine flavour, concentrating on good fish and big steaks. His hallmark is big flavours with unabashed showmanship.

 If anyone can gauge the Sheffield taste it is Cary. “Yorkshire people like to know what they are getting but Sheffield is not just a flat cap and meat and potato pie place. They like a little bit more consideration on price and are doubtful about what I call the new nouvelle cuisine, molecular gastronomy.”

 Asked what he liked what best about the hospitality industry, he has no doubts. “I would not have met as many people as I have. And we’d do a lot better if industry in general was modelled on the kitchen with its method, strictness, respect and teamwork. When I’m in the kitchen, that’s my home.”

 SIGNATURE DISHES: Monkfish with chilli jam, fish slammers and bread and butter pudding

 Facebook: TheDevMiddleHandley

 
NANCY DALLAGIOVANNI, Bella Napoli, Abbeydale Road

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Nancy Dallagiovanna at Bella Napoli

 

 
 IF you blink you might miss the bijou Bella Napoli Italian restaurant, squeezed in between an Asian grocers and a lifestyle shop. And if you didn’t blink you might dismiss it as yet another Italian restaurant.

 This 26-seater has been run by Nancy Dallagiovanna since 2002. Previously she and husband Vincente had Pepito on London Road so they have been feeding Sheffield for at least 20 years.

 Illness means Vincente, from Italy, now takes a back seat so Venezeulan-born Nancy is at the helm. The menu is what you might expect but those in the know go for the ribs. There would be trouble if the dish were taken off the menu. The glory is in the barbecue sauce but Nancy wisely refuses to give away the recipe she has been cooking since 1987. “You can’t just throw it together, it takes time,” she says.

 The Bella Napoli had its five minutes of fame a couple of years ago when TV chef Gino D’Acampo arrived to film a spoof item that he was really born in Sheffield and had learned to cook at the ‘numero uno’ ristorante from Nancy.

 Of her customers, a mix of young and old, some of whom have followed her from Pepito, she says: “I don’t think they worry about the price but many stick to what they like.” (Me, for one, when it comes to the ribs!).

 She enjoys feeding people. “I have to see the dishes come back to the kitchen clean. I always check!”

 SIGNATURE DISH: Those ribs

 Web: http://www.bellanapolisheffield.com

 
DAVID and PAULINE BALDWIN, Baldwin’s Omega, Psalter Lane

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Pauline and David Baldwin

 LONG before the days of the star chef it was the Maitre D who held sway in hotels and restaurants, for front of house skills are as important as the cooking. But those come in different flavours! Boss David Baldwin, otherwise known as Mr B, is bluff, gruff and wickedly funny with a personality the size of Yorkshire. Behind the scenes it’s his wife Pauline who looks after the logistics of running Sheffield’s premier banqueting venue.

 Sadly, after almost 40 years, the place they have run since 1980, is due to close next year but they will leave behind them a legacy of first class entertainment and service, from office parties and works dinners to top-notch lunches. They didn’t get where they have today without observing that fine old Yorkshire precept: Value For Money. Refusing to cut corners, the quality of food is always high.

 It may seem a touch old fashioned with the loaves of home baked bread diners cut themselves at the table (and take away afterwards) and the roast joints carved tableside but the Baldwin’s has been a beacon of Sheffield catering, acting as a sort of unofficial ‘catering college’ for a succession of chefs and waiters.

 Mr B observes that for a long time high-end diners had a snobbish attitude to local restaurants. “It pained them to eat here so they got the kind of restaurants they deserved.” Now they do eat in their home city “and so there is a better choice.”

 For him, the best thing about the hospitality business has been “the most wonderful group of acquaintances and pals” he has gained.

 SIGNATURE DISHES: Fresh fish on the blackboard menu, breads and roasts

Web: www.baldwinsomega.com

 

 

How to upset the French

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Jay Rayner upset the French with his review

THE French don’t like it up them, as Corporal Jones might say, when an Englishman criticises their food and drink. As The Guardian’s Jay Rayner has found after his coruscating review of his £500 meal at the three Michelin star Le Cinq at the Four Seasons Hotel George V in Paris.

 He complained of an unappetising gel globe, looking like ‘Barbie sized breast implant,’ under-cooked pigeon so raw that a few volts could have brought it back to life, served with acidic Japanese pear and a canapé involving ‘the blunt acidity of the sort that polishes up dull brass coins.’

 The reaction has been predictable. Rayner was accused of setting out to make fun of the French. His criticism was worthless because he was British. And so on. But even allowing for a little writer’s hyperbole (and reviews wouldn’t be entertaining without it) it was clear from his accompanying photos that something had gone badly wrong.

 Compared with the restaurant’s own pictures Rayner’s food didn’t look anything like them. And when you pay that amount of money at a high class restaurant you expect every dish should be served the same way as the head chef has decreed.

 I, too, have upset the French. But it wasn’t their food: it was their wine. Back in the Eighties I took part in the ritual of the first tastings in Sheffield each November of Beaujolais Nouveau. To make the main edition I drank it icy cold in cellars across town from 7am in the morning. I arrived at the office slightly paf, as the French say.

 To be honest it was never really any good. After all, this was very young wine which hadn’t settled. But it was fun, some years were better than others, and I went along with the hype. Then one year it wasn’t very good at all. In fact it was horrible. And I said so in print.

 My cutting was faxed back to France by a local Frenchman and, zut alors, the merde hit the fan. There was a letter in The Star from the French Chamber of Trade, or whatever. The stink finally died down and so did the fashion for Beaujolais Nouveau. Some years later I discussed the episode with that self same Frenchman who has snitched me up to his countrymen. He grinned. “You were right,” he said.

 I do seem to upset the French. I was less than enthusiastic about one bistro but when the owner hit back he was unwilling or unable to defend the food. Instead he accused me of racism as I had used the word ‘froggy’ in my review – and this was in the days before political correctness ran rampant. I was merely describing the mutual miscomprehension between les rosbifs and the froggies. So imagine my surprise when, a year or so later, he revamped and renamed his restaurant . . . Froggies!

 The Italians are very touchy, too. I thought I was being affectionate when I described a local restaurant owner as ‘meatball shaped’ but he was furious. “You can criticise my food but not me,” he fumed.

 It was worse when I thundered about my meal in a North Debyshire Italian restaurant. It was awful. My abiding memory is of the fat congealing in globules on the back of the spoon in my minestone soup.

 There was hell to pay. The restaurant (which eventually took me to the Press Council and lost) wanted another review by someone who was not called Martin Dawes. And if not “We invite Mr Dawes to come again, announced, and see what good food really is. Then we will take great pleasure in throwing him out.”

 I didn’t take them up on the offer.

 

 

 

Normal service will be resumed . . .

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The Half Marathon kept up interest in the blog

I have been proper poorly. Don’t ask for details but it hit me like a bolt from the blue. I lost the will to eat although not my sense of taste. Life is bleak when you’re ill, even bleaker without food.

It wasn’t just me that suffered. So did the blog. Without regular posts to maintain interest and the curating, adding links to encourage traffic from other sites – The Star, Facebook, Twitter and Sheffield Forum – the number of hits dwindled. Until there was a big spike: suddenly everybody wanted to read the post on the demise of a certain iconic burger bar headlined: Yankees, No Longer Doodle Dandy. And they had almost all come via Facebook.

In fact this post had far more ‘hits’ than when it originally appeared. But why?

It was my wife who came up with the answer. The interest coincided with the Sheffield Marathon when thousands of runners pounded down Ecclesall Road and past Yankees where they saw the ‘For Let’ signs. Now because almost everyone in Sheffield has been there at least once in their life it is not just another burger bar (although that is what it became). So they went home, clicked on to its Facebook page and there was a link to my obituary of the place. So my grateful thanks to the Sheffield Marathon!

Not all posts are read when you most expect: some have a slow burn and it can be a year before they take off.

I’m on the mend but am not completely out of the woods so reviews are going to be thin on the ground. If I had not been struck down I would have trumpeted the fact that the site has now exceeded 50,000 ‘views’ in just over two years but I shan’t tempt fate!

Normal service will be resumed but not just yet. And if you missed the Yankees story it’s here http://wp.me/p5wFIX-Oo