Another in my series of bygone Sheffield and South Yorkshire restaurants and personalities
IF there was a prize for the best restaurant name in Sheffield it would have to go to Kumquat Mae, the vegetarian eaterie on Abbeydale Road. Unless, of course, you wanted to award it to Sam n Ella’s on Ecclesall Road.
Kumquat Mae was that rarity in Sheffield, a vegetarian and vegan restaurant, founded by Eddie Poole, a name to play around with. Eddy in a pool, geddit?
I first came across him running a Japanese restaurant from a room at Morrissey’s East House pub on Spital Hill, although I am not sure whether that was also called Kumquat Mae.
Nor am I sure when he opened the premises at 353 Abbeydale Road but I visited at least twice, in 2004 and again 2007 and almost certainly on previous occasions.
What you could say about the place was that it was quirky. Certainly in design because the rear of dining room was up a couple of steps so it acted as a kind of stage, from which you could gaze down over a balustrade at other diners if you had a table ‘upstairs.’
The menu was on a big blackboard and dishes included fried halloumi, pea and asparagus risotto, vegan Thai red curry and so on. I don’t remember any kumquats although stuffed aubergines were popular. I always thought it was more expensive than a BYO veggie place should be. Wednesdays were cheaper.
It was also quirky because it had a very relaxed attitude to life. On one visit, in 2003, we arrived, found no one to greet us, sat ourselves at a table, borrowed a corkscrew and poured our wine. It was a good ten minutes before a waitress wandered through from the kitchen and acted as if there was nothing untoward.
Four years later on one blowy January night we found the door locked although there were people inside. Eventually a customer got up to let us in. The catch didn’t work properly and the door kept blowing open so it was locked.
By that time Kumquat Mae had been taken over by Eddie’s assistant Nicky Harris, partner of Martin Bedford, the illustrious poster designer. She inherited the place’s quirkiness. On that visit she wandered out of the restaurant, rucksack slung over her back, midway through service. “I do need a night off occasionally,” she said. She left the cooking to her son, Morgan.
Not too long after Kumquat Mae closed for good and it has had many identities since but none as quirky as its veggie days.
It did resurface for a time as a ‘roving restaurant,’ or what would now be called a pop-up, on at least two nights at different pubs. It had a Facebook page through which people could book and order their meal in advance.
It was still quirky. Kumquat Mae, which had proudly flown the veggie and vegan flags, was now offering a meat option.