A very Sheffield take on doing lunch

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I wrote this piece for the Sheffield Food Festival magazine. The event runs from 26-28 May, 2018

IF you don’t mind eating your fish lunch a few feet from a reproachful looking turbot or expired monkfish on a pile of crushed ice then come with me to Hunters Bar. While Leeds may have its famous Chef Behind the Curtain restaurant our city can boast The Chef Behind the Counter wet fish shop and café.

At Mann’s fishmongers’ on Sharrowvale Road you can walk in, choose a likely looking fish on the counter and ask chef turned fishmonger Christian Szurko to scale, fillet and cook it for you.

Prop yourself on a bar stool while you wait and Christian will cook it to order for just the price of the fish plus £2 ‘cookage fee.’ He’s a dab hand at fish: besides previously running his own restaurants he did a spell in the kitchens at London’s celebrated J Sheekey fish eaterie.

You can have your fish fried or poached and Christian usually has two or three sauces ready. You’re welcome to ask for your own recipe “but people are usually happy to leave it to me,” he says. “I can do 20 or so lunches on a Saturday but we’re open for lunch all week.”

If you fancy a glass of Chablis then Mann’s has its own in-house wine bar. On Saturday’s Jane Cummings of Olive & Vine wine merchants will sell you a glass. In the week pop into the Starmore & Boss wine shop a few doors along for a bottle.

If a fish lunch is too much on the day then Mann’s is also an impromptu oyster bar. It’s a shuck ‘em while you wait operation at just £1 a shellfish with shallot vinegar or Tabasco thrown in for free.

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Christian beheads the hake

Staying with fish, you might like to help save Sheffield’s very own fishcake recipe from dying out. It’s a piece of fish sandwiched by two slices of potato then covered in batter and fried. Or as Sheffield folk describe it: “Batter, tatter, fish, tatter, batter.” It is unique to the city.

Bruce Payne of the Market Chippy in the Moor Market does a lovely little version for just £1.45 but thinks its popularity is waning. “My record when I had a stall in the old Castle Market was 224 on a Friday lunchtime. Now perhaps it’s only 50. Why? Perhaps people don’t know about it or think the mini cod and chips is a better deal.”

Oddly, while he probably sells more than anyone else Bruce, originally from Leicester, had never heard of it until he came here, married into the Pearce family chippy dynasty, and had to be taught it. Some city fish and chip shops also sell it but this version of the fishcake is almost unheard of elsewhere.

You can eat your Sheffield fishcake at one of the tables in the market hall.

Want something even cheaper and ethnically Sheffield? Then try the Tom Dip. Most places which sell it don’t even bother to put it on the menu but it’s there if you ask. It’s a tomato dip and when ordering a bacon sandwich customers ask for it to be dipped in a home made tomato sauce, nothing fancy, just a saucepan bubbling with the contents of a tin or two of tomatoes.

I got mine at Sarni’s all-day breakfast bar in Aldine Court, off the High Street, where it costs 20p for a tom dip. You don’t have to have a bacon sandwich. “If people are dieting they just have it with toast,” says the lady on the hotplate on the day I called.

Now if you fancied something a little more exotic you can choose between a Chinese-style Portuguese egg tart, or a jang bing, a Chinese crepe.

Boss Chris Wong founded his business with a stall on the Moor Market selling cakes and egg tarts to the many Chinese students in the city. Portuguese egg tarts, the complete reverse of an English egg custard, are a big favourite in Hong Kong, Macau and the Chinese mainland. They are made with a flaky, not shortcrust, pastry and the custard is thicker, more like a curd tart, than the wobbly English version.

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Chris Wong serves up a jian bing

“My wife is a baker and she’s the boss. It took us three weeks to come up with the recipe. The one we sell is less sweet with a flakier pastry than the Portuguese version. Chinese people don’t like things too sweet,” said Chris.

The bakery business and eggtarts did so well that Chris has closed his stall, there from Day One of the market, and transferred to a café called DaShu just around the corner on Furnival Gate. The name means ‘uncle,’ the nickname Chinese students gave him and, with a bakery in the basement, it sells egg tarts and another Chinese specialty he introduced when on the market – the jian bing, or big pancake.

These Chinese crepes (£3.50) are made with mung bean flour and an egg is then broken and spread over it to form an omelette. The crepe is then flipped over to give a lacy eggy exterior then traditionally filled with lettuce, coriander, crispy wan ton, a split hot dog and smothered in Chris’s own secret-recipe sauce. It’s as much about the contrast in textures as taste.

“English people prefer chicken so I now make the jian bing UK which includes it,” said Chris. Back in China it’s eaten for breakfast and shops always have queues outside them. Here Chris opens at 11am so students eat them for lunch and tea.

Finally, we go back to the Moor Market but stay very much in Asia to sample a Nepalese curry at Dev Gurrung’s Hungry Buddha stall. It sells thalis, special metal dishes with a choice of two or three curries each day, perhaps chicken, goat or vegetable, with rice, daal and achar (pickles). Prices are no more than a fiver.

Dev had been a trek leader in Nepal when he met South Yorkshire-born Jan. She was one of his group and he helped to nurse her when she fell ill. They fell in love, married and decided to set up home here.

You can’t miss the stall decorated with prayer flags but don’t think you’ll be getting just another curry. Nepalese are milder, for a start. “People may think we are similar to Indian food but our aim is to bring that authenticity which makes it special,” said Dev.

So there you have it: choose between lunch in a fishmongers’, a brace of oysters, a Sheffield fish cake, a bacon sandwich soaked in tomato, Portuguese egg tart, Chinese pancake or Nepalese curry. Why don’t you go on your own food quest to sample them all?

Martin Dawes writes the Another Helping food blog at www.dawesindoors.wordpress.com

*J H Mann, 261 Sharrowvale Road, Sheffield S118ZE. Tel 0114 268 225

*Market Chippy, The Moor Market : Tel 07514 426 434

*Sarni’s, 25 Aldine Court, off High Street S1 2EQ. Tel 0114 270 1750

*DaShu, 30 Furnival Gate, Sheffield S1 4QP. Tel 07919 340 341

*Hungry Buddha, The Moor Market. Tel 07809 476 090

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