Breast is best with lamb

WHEN I was younger I was skint but had a girlfriend whose stepfather was a butcher. So I got a tip or two about meat.

The one I remember best was to buy a breast of lamb and roast it. It might be fatty and a little greasy but you got a mouthful of crispy skin and sweet meat for just pennies. (Another was to buy bacon bits and misshapes ‘for a quiche’ which always got diverted to Sunday breakfast.)

Years flew by and I was better off and forgot about breast of lamb. As it fell out of fashion it also fell out of the shops, as did another inexpensive morsel, sweetbreads. I seldom saw it on menus except once some years ago at the Wig & Pen in Campo Lane.

I had to ring to make sure it was on that night. As I recall it cost a fortune for something so cheap. Fellow blogger Craig Harris tells me it used to appear on dishes such as ‘lamb three ways’ although that must have passed me by.

I was at Thicketts the butchers on Sharrowvale Road recently and for some reason asked if they sold it. They did but I would have to order it. “Only pensioners ask for it these days and people buy it for their dogs. Younger people don’t know what to do with it,” I was told.

Now that’s a shame because this is the equivalent of pork belly and we all know the good things you can do with that.

The lamb breast, just £3, was ready the following Saturday and I had it neatly boned. I kept them. They went in the freezer along with others for a stock.

I had forgotten how I cooked it so l looked for recipes. There are lots of fancy ways. Ramsay braises his then cuts the meat into noisettes and crisps them off.

I didn’t want things to get too complicated so, after halving it and putting the remainder in the freezer, simply seasoned, made a stuffing of garlic, rosemary and anchovy fillets (I wouldn’t have done that back then), tied it in a piece, browned it off and roasted it at 150C under aluminium foil for two hours till tende. Then I  whacked up the heat to 200C to crisp.

It cut into three roundels and tasted fine. It wasn’t that greasy as the fat had poured off- and the skin was crispy-sweet. The anchovy added a little piquancy. I served it with pommes dauphinoise and purple sprouting broccoli.

My wife didn’t like the sound of it so had a lamb steak.

I might try a classic French recipe with the other half when I am using the oven for another dish. The breast is roasted flat, again slow and low, or braised,  for 2-3 hours until tender, drained, cooled overnight in the fridge, then cut into strips, floured, egged and breadcrumbed, then fried. Sort of lamb, not fish, fingers.

Why I bake my own bread

Baking bread is not that difficult

Home baking, 75pc strong white, 25 pc wholemeal

I LIVE exactly halfway between not one, nor two but three good local, independent artisan bakeries so why do I shuffle downstairs at 7am most Mondays to bake my own? Because despite the wide range of loaves they can’t give me what I want. And because of my teeth.

Sorry but I am not too enamoured with sourdough. That may come but not yet. Nor do I want Fancy Dan varieties with offbeat flavours. I’d like a nice tin loaf, please, for sandwiches or a good old British bloomer. And do you have any rolls? I don’t mean breadcakes.

And then there’s the crust. Do you have any soft loaves? You see, this all started before all I got for Christmas were two expensive front teeth implants and the ones I had got were dangerously loose. I wasn’t going to risk them on a hard crust. I asked for a sandwich loaf in one place, got a funny look and was offered a ciabatta. I didn’t want slices with holes in.

I got seriously cheesed off with one bakery which at first didn’t open until lunchtime on Saturdays “because we like a lie in, too.” Seriously, I thought they were in the wrong job. And they only baked rolls at weekends. Things are better now but for me the damage was done.

Now I could have gone to a supermarket or a chain bakery but we all know that most of what they sell is pap. The only alternative was to bake my own. If I produced pap, it would be my own pap.

I had form. I had tried baking before, mostly self-taught from books although I did go on a short half day course in return for a write-up in a magazine. I wasn’t great. My wife was supportive but I knew deep down I didn’t cut the mustard in the bread department. I also tried a breadmaker but this is the Chorleywood process of home baking. So I gave up.

Then when my front teeth started rattling in my mouth – the worst moment was when one flew out across the room while running a seminar for journalism students – I went back to baking. Somehow, this time it all started to come together.

It wasn’t just white loaves. I experimented with Portuguese-type bread, mixing white and cornmeal. Then I discovered the joys of malted flour. There was white seeded bread and currently it is wholemeal, half and half with strong white, to up my fibre intake. I want to live a long and active baking life.

I tried fresh yeasts and dried yeasts until an artisan baker told me he couldn’t honestly tell the difference so now stick to dried.

Seduced by the lines and whorls of artisan loaves I bought my own Banneton baskets until I realised that slices from the middle of big, round kilogram loaves didn’t go in the toaster (the long ones do). So it’s back to tins: vintage, high-sided two and one pound tins, Hovis tins and non-stick kilo tins with their sleeker, lower lines. The baskets are for high days and holidays.

I have still a lot to learn and a lot to bake. Fougasse will be next. I use olive oil and sometimes lard, ignore the instructions to add sugar on the flour packet recipes, use milk or whey instead of just water, add beer. From a few basic ingredients I can spin a baker’s dozen of loaves and more.

I now have two, sturdy front teeth and no longer go in peril of a crusty loaf. But it’s too late, I am smitten by dough. And I’ve discovered there are others like me.

It’s not that I have completely shunned local bakeries. My two loaves a week (one goes in the freezer) are supplemented by a local bakery’s seeded cornbread which we hanker for. Although I am going to try and copy that.

But my old dodgy teeth and artisanal snootiness over split tins and bloomers have opened up a wonderful new world.

New Omega gets an alpha-plus

img_1976 jamie christian and steve roebuck 11-01-2019 15-19-05

Jamie (left) and Steve – old faces in a new setting

IT’S STILL the same. The table holds a two tone loaf, half white, half brown, on a board with a bread knife to cut it yourself, dish of butter, bottle of tap and crudities of red onion and tomato with Melba toast, just like before. The dining room is smaller but the view from the picture windows is better: a rugby pitch instead of a car park, grass not concrete.

We have made it at last to the Omega at Abbeydale, the true heir and offspring of the fabled, legendary and sorely missed Baldwin’s Omega banqueting suite on Brincliffe Hill, Sheffield, which closed after 37 years last summer.

Its champagne and strawberry bashes, Caribbean evenings and Eighties disco nights, the works and office knees-ups and the cracking lunches staged by David Baldwin (Mr B or The Big ‘Un, depending on who was talking) and his wife Pauline deserved to live on and they have.

The surroundings may have changed and the name slightly altered – this is now The Omega at Abbeydale Sports Club – but the ethos is the same: great food, much better than you’d expect for the price, Value For Money written in big, shiny letters of Sheffield Steel.

img_1960 view from the restaurant - grass not cars 11-01-2019 14-31-53 11-01-2019 14-31-53 11-01-2019 14-31-53 11-01-2019 14-31-53

View from our table

That has been transported across the city by two men: head chef Steve Roebuck and former Operations Manager, sommelier and front–of-house man Jamie Christian. Their belief that the city still values the Baldwin’s concept has been backed up by the diners: we couldn’t get in before Christmas and the dining room is full this Friday.

The menu is still the same, a three course TDH for £16 or a pricier carte, and there’s still roast beef carved at the table, calves liver and that Sheffield speciality starter, Yorkshire pud and gravy.

All it wants is Mr B, I say to my wife, and suddenly there he is in the corner, having driven up on his invalid buggy from his home in Dore. Where once he would have toured the tables with a joke and a casually dropped expletive, now they come to him. I notice that nearly all the tables, most of them former customers, drop by to pay their respects.

img_1968 sea bass with tiger prawns 11-01-2019 14-52-31

Sea bass with tiger prawns

Jamie and Steve have had a nightmare opening the place. A school bus crashed into the building, not once but twice, asbestos was discovered and windows did not fit. But that is all in the past.

Jamie gives us a tour of the place: the bar which looks directly onto the pitch, a terrace which will be lovely in summer, a private dining room, function room upstairs with stage and the restaurant itself , 50 covers instead of the old Rib Room’s 80. “We’re getting a lot of old faces and new ones from the sports club,” he says.

In the restaurant, still run by Angela Jackson, the food hits the spot time after time. I have a satisfying cod and parsley fishcake surmounted by two fat chips in a pea puree and loin of pork stuffed with large pieces of mushroom, segmented, with creamed and crispy leeks and a rich, rewarding Calvados-spiked sauce. Dessert, an extra fiver from the carte menu, is apple strudel. Most kitchens would have delivered a flibbety-jibbet filo pastry affair but this was proper crisp pastry, firm apple and, if a custard can be stunning, this was: a splendour in vanilla.

Stuffed pork fillet

Pork fillet, Calvados gravy

My wife proves to be high maintenance: a starter of sweet scallops, fried hazelnuts and crispy Serrano ham with a celeriac puree (£10) followed by a fishy special of pan-fried sea bass, the skin properly crispy, with excellent tiger prawns and wispy asparagus on a lustrous red pepper sauce (£16). They do know their sauces here. She ends with an Omega favourite, cranachan, whisky, cream, raspberries and oatmeal. The food rates alpha-plus.

I take a peek in the kitchen, much smaller “but not as far to walk,” says Steve. He’s keeping to the same menu, I observe. “People won’t let us change but we are branching out here and there.”

The operation also has to work as the feeding station for the different sporting groups which use the club. There have been innovations. Those expecting match day chip butties have been met by tagines and cous cous. The jury is still out on that as far as the ladies’ hockey team is concerned.

img_1957 table at omega 11-01-2019 14-31-26 11-01-2019 14-31-26 11-01-2019 14-31-26 11-01-2019 14-31-26

The table is set

Old hands will recognise the old lectern at the entrance to the restaurant and Jamie is still considering whether to use the ‘flaming torches’ from the old Omega foyer. The bar, also with great views onto the pitch, has four screens tuned to Sky Sports but the sound is turned off and muzak on. And, just as at Brincliffe Hill, there is plenty of parking.

For the new Omega there is plenty of potential for a brave, new era. The atmosphere may be a little different but there is still the same bright, accurate and reassuring cooking. The ‘Baldwin’s’ may have been dropped from the name but every time Mr B drops in at his corner table will be a reminder of the glory days.


The Omega at Abbeydale is on Abbeydale Road South, Sheffield S17 3LJ. Tel: 0114 236 7011. Web:

* This was written well before the sad death of David Baldwin, see

Egg mayonnaise? It’s what he would have eaten

funeral tea


I’VE BEEN to two cremations inside the first eight days of the new year and each had a funeral tea. And it’s got me thinking.

A British funeral tea usually has pork pies, sausage rolls and Scotch eggs, at least around these parts. Then there are sandwiches, all food you can eat standing up or sitting down with a glass of something in your hand.

Now most people will probably nibble away without thinking but I have always appreciated that food is more than just the ingredients on a plate. It comes with tradition, ritual, memories and a good deal else.

Even so, I was quite taken aback – and charmed – by the offering at the first, of a 93-year-old woman, who had once been my mother-in-law.

There was bread and dripping (on breadcakes), properly seasoned, and slices of ‘raw’ black pudding as well as the pork pies and sausage rolls. Humble though these foods were, they each represented aspects of her life.

The bread and dripping – bread and scrape we used to call it when I was young – remembered her childhood in a terraced house in backstreets Leicester. She would sit on the steps eating a crust, her reward for helping to clean the house – and the steps.

As a young woman in the West Riding of post war Britain meat was still on the ration but a friend made her own black pudding: blood, fat and oats boiled up in muslin.

When times got better she enjoyed a salmon sandwich, and there were these laid on as well, although the salmon she enjoyed came in a tin while her great grandchildren today snaffle smoked salmon.

The tea – a lunch really – was held at the old people’s home in which she died and the residents were invited. They would have remembered the dripping and black pudding and, perhaps, the fish or meat paste sandwiches once part of a Northern working class funeral tea. Old folk in Barnsley, I am told, still favour sandwiches of polony sausage, which spreads like paste.

I enjoyed what I ate and would have done so even more if I had known why I was eating it at the time. Just as a photograph, a tune or a smell can bring back memories, so can the taste of food.

The second funeral tea was more middle class with spring rolls, mini toad in the hole and, very Sheffield, bowls of chips.

It got me thinking what I would have at my funeral tea: confit of duck, anchovies, olives? But I also love an egg mayonnaise sarnie. Sadly, that will be one meal I won’t be there to eat.

It’s a stock picture above which represents neither tea. After all, you don’t take your camera to a funeral, do you?