IT’S a beautifully made piece of ciabatta, I think, as I bite into it at No Name in Crookes. Look how it almost quivers, the open crumb and the delightfully olivey taste. It’s almost a shame to dunk it into the bowl of balsamic and olive oil.
I can recall when ‘Italian bread’ here was half a breadcake wiped with garlic. Then it was called Franco’s Pizzeria, no great shakes for food but chef patron Franco D’Egido ended the evening singing the Wild Rover while his wife Elaine let off balloons.
We went back 20 years later to find Franco had retired, it was still Italian but in different hands and the head waiter was called Nigel.
I turn to my dining companion, fellow blogger Craig ‘Mr Ciabatta’ Harris, a foodie and Italophile so keen on authenticity he slips out of bed early to make his weekly batch. What does he think? He nods enthusiastically.
No Name is tiny, a micro bistro. It seats 21 or 24 if you all breathe in. So is the menu with just 3-4-2 choices at each course. The prices aren’t micro, though, so a meal for two would be banging on at around £60 and I get a bit of a grump on when Craig, who books, tells me there are two sittings. If I spend that money I want the table all night, particularly at a weekend. But then again, if you’ve got a place that small, it helps pay the rent.
Happily Crookes hasn’t got the grump because No Name, which opened in June, has been a runaway success in an area which is all pizzas and pakoras and where Modern British Cooking has not previously reared its head. “Simply outstanding,” one diner trilled on TripAdvisor.
The owner-chef is Thomas Samworth, 33, one of Mick Burke’s star pupils at Sheffield College, who won the prestigious Maurice des Ombiaux in Belgium, a junior chefs’ European Cup, back in 2003. After a spell at Gary Rhodes’ W1 in London he came home to head up the kitchen at Rowley’s in Baslow, as well as the village’s Devonshire Arms. We’ve eaten his food at both places as well as at the Schoolrooms in Low Bradfield, although he had fewer tattoos back then.
When I saw the menu (there is no website, just a Facebook page) it looked very safe: butternut squash soup, lamb shank and duck confit. I was proved wrong. It’s the way he cooks them as someone very nearly said.
There is now no Nigel front of house but there is a very expectant Mrs Megan Samworth and the hope skitters across my mind that she won’t give birth between my crispy chicken starter and confit main. “If I drop my food it stays on here,” she laughs, patting her belly.
I had no idea what crispy chicken (£7) was but it turned out to be a sort of chicken rillettes bound in Bechamel and shaped into a crispy coated lozenge. That’s very modern and also very old, a souped up version of croquettes. What soups it up is a sauce of blitzed sweetcorn and a good helping of fancy micro mushrooms, lightly pickled.
The rest of the table has scallops (£8), three very sweet pieces, seared one side only, with apple caramel, hazelnuts and celeriac. Craig, a celeriac junkie, wished for a bit more oomph with the vegetable.
We men went for the confit (£16), served boned on top of a triangle of wonderfully crisp and starchy rosti potato, so good it threatened to upstage the main ingredient. This was a lovely dish, helped along with earthy kale and an elegant pickled blackberry jus.
My wife had an excellent piece of stone bass, nothing like sea bass but it’s an ugly blighter otherwise known as Atlantic wreckfish, now becoming popular. Craig’s wife Marie enthusiastically offered portions of her ultra-tender lamb shank to share.
In his micro kitchen (just two rings) Thomas said he had got fed up cooking fish and chips and gammon steaks in country pubs and wanted to rustle up the kind of food he liked to eat out. Some pop-up nights at his family home helped establish a following and by early summer the place was open.
And why No Name? “I wanted an air of mystery,” he said. Doubtless he was thinking of The Man Behind the Curtain in Leeds. Well, there’s no mystery why No Name is popular. It’s the good cooking. It’s also BYO so that sort of compensates for speedy eating.
We finish with either spiced plums or a good chocolate mousse with honeycomb. A great night out and we wish Megan and Thomas all the best with the birth. Let’s hope the owners of No Name come up with one for the baby!
#253 Crookes, Sheffield. Tel 0114 266 1520. Open Wed-Sat night. Facebook https://www.facebook.com/pg/NO-NAME-Sheffield-1695321363841840/about/?ref=page_internal