Heaven is a baked banana

WHENEVER we have a barbecue I always check that we have at least one banana in the fruit bowl. Because it’s going to end up on the grill as the coals die down for a very special dessert.

No one else seems to like it but I can’t understand why. If you could eat silk this would be it.

Wait until the banana peel has uniformly blackened, take it off the grill and let it cool slightly. Then, with the tip of your spoon gently ‘unzip’ it from end to end. It should hardly need any pressure.

Inside the flesh has cooked ultra-soft and has caramelised to an almost perfect sweetness, neither too much or too little.

Now scoop it out and eat it slowly and carefully, relishing the texture and marvelling how anything so simple can be that good.

But it is!

All down to a doughnut!

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Peking Duck with a smoked duck and cherry salad

FOR once we got it right. After three years judging a heat in Whirlow Hall Farm Trust’s annual Sheff’s Kitchen contest, the city’s answer to MasterChef, top chef Cary Brown and I voted the same way as the diners who packed into the farm’s little cafe on a hot and sultry night. And, just like them, by a single point.

For us it all came down to a doughnut. But we’ll get to that later.

It’s always fun judging this contest. As someone who used to scoff food for a living it’s nice to be able to do it for charity, in this case for the city’s disadvantaged children who get a taste of country life down on the farm.

Two chefs battle it out to provide a three course meal on a chosen theme to 40 or so diners, knowing that one of them has got to lose. They’re giving up their time running busy kitchens so in my book they deserve a round of applause before they start.

So does Cary. Still in his chef’s whites, he whizzed in from cooking at a local grandee’s wedding. Where? Cary was a little unsure. He got there by satnav. It turned out it was Bawtry.

As for me, I strolled in after scrumping the farm’s solitary medlar tree in the car park.

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Coronation crab cocktail

The chefs on the menu were Leslie Buddington, the man in charge at the award-winning Brocco boutique hotel since it opened, up against social enterprise Blend Kitchen’s head honcho Chis Hanson on Pinstone Street.

The theme for the night was East Meets West Fusion Food which gave the chefs carte blanche to do anything they wanted. And they pretty much did. Although it’s for fun, as judges we take it seriously. After all, we’re the chaps who last year were both blown away by a course we rated dish of the night but still gave the prize to the other chef!

Very seriously for Cary. He can get very technical on a single mouthful, analysing it ingredient by ingredient. This is a man who would give a round of beans on toast the third degree. As for me, I ask deep questions such as “Do I like it?”

We kicked off with Leslie’s miso glazed cod in a ‘pea and ham’ soup, where the pea was replaced by the very oriental edamame, versus Chris’s Coronation crab, a sort of crustacean arancini or bon bon. We had different scores but not by much.

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Miso-glazed cod

For the main course it was Chris’s impressive rump of lamb, with a touch of tandoori, up against Leslie’s beautifully judged orientally flavoured duck breast partnered with a refreshing duck and cherry salad. Chris had married his dish with ‘pommes Anna’ and mustard seed, really a sort of hot pot as the spuds topped more lamb, this time shank. Difficult to separate the two.

So it all came down to dessert. Would it be Chris’s very rich cardamom-spiked mousse (and Cary is a chocoholic) or Leslie’s Sichuan pepper parfait with a mandarin doughnut and salted caramel popcorn?

That chocolate was good and the cardamom came through but was it more ganache than mousse? We expected spiciness from the pepper but what we got was a delicate perfumed flavour. Very nice. Too bad about the over salty popcorn but, hey, that little doughnut is a goer.

And so, by a single point, not more than a mouthful, it was the doughnut wot won it! Well, sort of . .

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Judges and chefs: From the left, me, Cary, Chris and Leslie

A sloe way to pass the Port

IF YOU want the Port you pass to be your own here’s a little ruse to make an acceptable substitute that might not fool a connoisseur but will bring you and your friends a warming glow.

This is a little bit ahead of the sloe picking season but it does give you another option on what to do with all those alcohol-soaked berries after you have made sloe gin.

Rather than simply throw them out I normally use them up in a ‘Mother’s Ruin’ chutney or as boozy truffles but it is a messy, fiddly and time consuming job stoning the blighters. Then I came across a recipe for using them to make a faux port.

After straining the berries pop them in a sterilised preserving jar and add sugar and a bottle of red wine, shake it regularly to dissolve the sugar and strain again after a couple of months, adding some brandy to fortify the wine (as is the case in Portugal). It’s not bad!

I did this back in April, left it in the cellar then forgot about it until this week, so that’s longer than eight weeks but I am sure it was all the better for it.

My recipe:

500g sloes

100g sugar

75cl good red (preferably Portuguese) wine

200ml brandy

I got enough to fill one full bottle and an empty brandy hip flask

I did have hopes of using the berries a third time but found two lots of alcohol had by now leached out all the flavour. You can also do this with damsons if you’re making damson gin.

Peaky’s Vito plays a blinder!

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Long service: Boss Vito Ciaraolo

SOME restaurants are like people you’ve lost touch with. You know where they are, you like them but, somehow, you never get round to saying hello again. And so it was with us  and Vito’s on South Road, Walkey.

“We’re off there tonight,” says my wife in the greengrocers as she pays the bill. “Used to be Pepe’s, run by Pepe Scime,” I add, picking up the bags.

“And before that Roy’s Bistro,” says a woman behind us. “It had a chandelier in the hall.” Gosh, she’s got a good culinary memory. It was one of Sheffield’s earliest restaurants of note. In fact between them Roy, Pepe and Vito have forged some gastro history at this little restaurant at the corner with Industry Street.

Roy’s I never went to (although I did its successor, the Four Lanes at Hillsborough). Pepe’s was my introduction to Italian food, lively, boisterous, exciting, and, well, 100pc Pepe, until he sold up in 1993 to his chef and business partner, Vito Ciaraolo. He’s been there 26 years, longer than both his predecessors put together. And it has gone decidedly upmarket.

“Minty,” says one of my friends, studying the menu before we go. With antipasti such as fried ravioli with with rocket and stracchino for £10.90 or main course lamb with prunes for fivepence shy of 20 quid it is easy to push the barca out here.

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Lobster ravioli

If you want to create an impression order the beef, usually Fassone from Piedmont or Chianina from Tuscany. Fillet with gorgonzola is £25.95. A bigger splash? The specials board offers Chianina fillet at £90 for two.

You can tread more carefully. Cheaper dishes are available. They even do pizzas although these are classier than most, perhaps topped with ndjua (Calabrian salami paste) or black truffle – Vito makes regular appearances in The Star with his latest fungal acquisition.

He’s even appeared on the telly, as the menu reminds you. He was an extra in the first episode of Peaky Blinders. There’s a picture of him. Very mafiosi.

We’re on the town with food blogger and Italophile Craig Harris and his wife Marie and it’s their first visit.

So Vito’s is going-on posh yet its owner hasn’t completely shaken off the old Sheffield-Italian image: ceiling and walls are still partly Artex and a whopper of a pepper mill is still produced at the table.

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The specials board

There’s nothing Sheffield-Italian about the food. It’s authentic. One mouthful of Marie’s spaghetti carbonara (£7.20), done the proper way with guanciale, eggs and pecorino and absolutely no cream thank you very much took her back on holiday in Minori – springy pasta, creamy sauce.

Even something as simple as my Sicilian starter, grilled aubergine with marinated anchovies and olives (£9.95), shone brightly. The aubergine took on a meaty texture, the white anchovies were first class and so were the olives.

Just a few highlights: Craig’s agnello alle prugne, lamb with prunes, sounded as if the spicing had been recently unloaded off an Arab dhow,  ginger, saffron, cinnamon, garlic, almond, olive oil and honey.  The meat was ultra-tender, the flavour exquisite.

My main course lobster ravioli (£14.95) was heavenly, an eggy pasta surrounding a very generous filling with prawns which tasted really luxorious. Vito freely admits he buys these in directly from Italy. This prompted a round table discussion on the merits of doing so.

My wife’s merluzzo Fiorentina (£18.95), firm, tasty cod in a spinach, cream and almond sauce, also bore the hallmarks of this restaurant’s kitchen: accurate, precise, unfussy cooking, letting first class ingredients take centre stage. That’s always the intention but it’s not always the case, is it?

Vito, who reminds me it was 17 years since I was last there, writing a review, at the same time as his wife was giving birth to his daughter, operates the kitchen midweek and is front of house at weekends.

Originally the arrangement was to buy half the business and the rest over four years. The deal went belly up and he needed to find the money quickly. “Somehow we managed.”

He hadn’t intended to stay more than a couple of years. Now, aged 56 and originally from Potenza, he’s been there almost half his life. Business is good but “it’s gone down with Brexit. People don’t want to spend.”

But some obviously do otherwise that chianina wouldn’t have been on the specials board.

To sum up, the atmosphere was warm, the service expertly pleasant and the food was great. The kitchen didn’t put a foot wrong. The bill? Well, we splashed out that Saturday evening. You’ll have gathered we liked it.

And I bet you saw the headline coming halfway through this piece . . . Peaky’s Vito plays a blinder!

Vito’s is at 284 South Road, Walkley, Sheffield. Tel: 0114 233 3574. Web: http://www.vitos.org.uk
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How Marco boxed clever and founded a restaurant dynasty

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Marco Giove at 79: among the last of his generation

MARCO Giove, one of the last surviving members of Sheffield’s founding generation of Italian restaurateurs, has died, aged 89. The funeral will be on what would have been his 90th birthday.

HE was a slim, slightly built, man from Brindisi, Puglia – he certainly did not look tough enough to be a handy flyweight boxer – who emigrated in the early Fifties to find work in the steelworks at Staveley.

The work was hard and he soon realised that using his fists was easier and could make him money.

“He used to visit the local fairground boxing booths and win money. His cousin, also called Marco, would point to him and bet the promoter that he would beat his man. He’d win more often than not,” says his son Marco junior, who runs Marco @ Milano on Archer Road.

They went all over the country until the ruse was stopped after the message went out to beware of two Italians, one big and one small!

It didn’t pay to tangle with Marco. Before he came to England he’d joined the Italian Navy at 19, serving six months of his two years in the cooler. A Southern boy, he was picked on by  a senior officer from the North so the plucky little rating threw him overboard.

His good looks also belied his age. He appeared much younger, fooling an 17-year-old girl called Anne, from Rotherham, whom he met at Sheffield’s Locarno dance hall in 1961 and married later that year. She thought he was about 24 when he was, in fact, 32. He told her just before they were married!

She must have forgiven him because they went on to have six children: sons Vincenzo, Marco and Stefano and daughters Susanna, Louisa and Francesca. It is a big family but Marco himself is one of 11 children.

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Marco Giove Senior aged 18

The following year the couple went to live in Italy where their first three children were born. For Anne, the lure of home was strong and they returned to Sheffield and opened their first restaurant, Marco’s, on Abbeydale Road, in 1973.

There were few other Italian restaurants in the city and for many diners it was their first experience of pasta not from tins!

Then followed a succession of restaurants. The business moved to Worksop, Doncaster then Crookes  (below,l eft), also as Marco’s, then as La Dolce Vita on Abbeydale Road, Martini on Campo Lane, Delle Rose off West Street and back to La Dolce Vita, which again became Marco’s (below, right). He retired around 1992.

 

 

But the family hadn’t retired. Son Marco Jnr ran first Rossi’s, now Marco @ Milano, while Vincenzo (Vinnie) had Buon Deli at Broomhill.

Marco, known as il Capitano (the Captain)  kept himself busy, dealing in wine among other enterprises. Customers at Remo’s, Broomhill, before it developed its menu, would have seen him come in with a tray of, perhaps, home-cooked lasagne for owner Remo Simeone to sell for lunch.

Marco died peacefully in his sleep on Saturday, August 10, surrounded by his family at home in Crookes.

The funeral will be at St Vincent’s RC Church, Crookes, at 1pm on Tuesday, August 27, followed by a wake in the church hall. His ashes will be scattered in the sea off Brindisi.

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Marco Giove and his wife Anne

 

 

Ian and Cary get social in Hathersage

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Cary (left) and Ian at their new venture

WHEN LOCAL businessman Ian Earnshaw feels peckish in London he can always pop into the Ritz Hotel for one of his favourite dishes, braised oxtail cottage pie.

Now very soon he’ll be able to do the same much nearer home in the Hope Valley. He’s bought a restaurant, the popular Hathersage Social Club.

He’s teamed up with his old pal, top chef Cary Brown, to take over and run the quirky little eaterie, a favourite with locals and tourists alike,  in the middle of the village. It was put on the market earlier in the year by owners Simon Couth and Lucy Wurstlin who created it out of a garden centre in 2013. They are taking on a new venture in Whitby.

“We have known each other for 20 years and mused about doing something together over the last ten,” says Ian, aged 55, who runs a highly successful fabrications business making staircases, balustrades and architectural metalwork, including the biggest single-span staircase in the UK. He lives near Cutthorpe.

Cary, who is 53, has made his name with a succession of restaurants including Carriages and Slammers in Sheffield, the Devonshire Arms at Middle Handley, the Royal Oak at Millthorpe and until recently  at Barlow Woodseats Hall.

Ironically, neither had set foot in the place, best described as esoteric, until Ian decided to buy it and rang Cary up to see if he’d come on board. Both, though, had heard good things about it.

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The Hathersage Social Club will get a new look

They are calling the venue Earnshaw & Brown @ Hathersage Social Club. Earnshaw & Brown sounds like a gentleman’s outfitters in Pontefract. “Or a soap maker,” laughs Ian over coffee at the nearby George Hotel. Both men are full of enthusiasm for the new venture which should open towards the end of October.

They are anxious to reassure customers that not everything they love about the place will be swept away. So while the old LP covers-as-menus may go in place of new ones featuring a cartoon of the pair of them, the famous waffles will stay.

“We don’t want to lose the fun part that has made Hathersage Social,” stresses Cary, adding that much of what they will be doing the previous owners might have intended if they had stayed.

For Ian, who says his passion is food and wine and cooking at home is his way of relaxing from a highly stressful job, it will be the chance to put into practice what he has learned from his years of eating out at all levels. He very much knows what he likes and can see things with a customer’s eye.

“Ian’s probably eaten at more Michelin-starred restaurants than you and me put together,” says Cary. Ian teases that he can beat his chef in The Battle of the Mashed Potato and can make a better salad. He keeps photos of some perfectly poached egg and impressive roast beef Chez Earnshaw on his smartphone.

Both men had decided on a ‘shop local’ policy for their restaurant but Cary was stunned when Ian came up with a deal for all the meat to be supplied by the Chatsworth Estate.

Earnshaw & Brown will be open for more of the week than previously, initially from Wednesday through to Sunday this year then throughout the week by next summer, offering, variously, breakfast, brunch, lunch and dinner, depending on the day.

That oxtail cottage pie will be on the menu, of course, as well as Cary’s signature crispy fried monkfish with chilli jam, plus classics such as calves liver, chicken Kiev, fish pie, lobster thermidor, Chatsworth Chateaubriand and steaks.

So traditional then? “You will read the menu but it’s not going to come out like you think,” winks Cary, no slouch at porcelain pyrotechnics. And there will be plates, not slates or boards. And no slicks or foams.

Admirers of Cary’s Sunday lunches previous at Millthorpe and Barlow Woodseats will be delighted to know they will continue at Hathersage.

The venue will also be aimed at families. “I’m astounded how even good quality places don’t give good quality food to kids,” says Ian, a father of four. “Our children’s menu, called ‘For The Next Generation of Foodies,’ will have the same ingredients as the adult menu.”

He calls himself “a details man.” And considering that it is very often the woman who decides where a couple will dine, one important detail will be to install separate toilets to replace the unisex loo at Hathersage Social. Cary will have a bigger, better kitchen, dining space will be converted out of the old cinema room upstairs and more covers will be provided outside in a series of phased redevelopments.

In the past Cary has had business partners who have left the lot to him but this time Ian will be pretty active in the restaurant, concentrating on keeping the cogs oiled, leaving his chef plenty of time to concentrate on the cooking.

Both seem to be relishing the project. Ian, not content with striking a good deal with Chatsworth, is still busy sourcing locally. Sourdough and duck eggs were mentioned. Cary, who has never needed much to light his blue touchpaper, says: “He is bringing the buzz out in me this time.”

*Due to open Friday, 18 October.

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Cartoon of the pair to appear on the menu, by Dave Howarth of Howarth McSwain Ltd

 

Eating calamari on the Costa del Donny

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Great squid at Clam & Cork

THEY all rave on TripAdvisor about the calamari at the Clam & Cork on Doncaster’s Fish Market. “Soft and delicate,” wrote one diner. “To die for,” said another. Even grizzled Guardian food critic Jay Rayner approved of them in their salt and pepper batter although he quibbled slightly that all the membrane hadn’t been removed.

So, of course, we had to order some.

It’s quite right. They are as tender as a baby’s bum and as delicate in quite a fiery coating. They are very simply done: The rings are kept moist then dunked to order in a bowl of seasoned flour before being deep-fried. And the membrane certainly wasn’t evident. They were perched on a chipotle mayonnaise. Very spicy, very nice for £7.50.

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Prawn cocktail in a glass!

I’m not sure if the Guardian tried the oysters, Irish from Carlingford Lough. I had four (£1.50 each), well presented on plenty of ice with lots of lemon and an excellent shallot vinegar. They were sweet and briny. They would have been even better if the chef hadn’t doused them under the tap after shucking to remove any stray splinters of shell. That lost their exquisite natural juices.

The little stall, with not more than 18 seats on three sides round the kitchen and a few tables outside, opened last year. I read Rayner’s enthusiastic review a little later and wondered whether it had anything to do with the broadly similar Med at the Market which we visited in 2013, feasting on Catalan fish stew and fish kebabs. It hasn’t and that is now closed.

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Monkfish on tamarind coleslaw

The Clam & Cork has been praised for its friendliness and informality and good food, as well as being an unexpected outpost of culinary excellence on what we must call the Costa Del Donny.

We went on a Wednesday, not the busiest day of the week for most of the stalls are closed (try Tuesday, Friday and Saturday) and some of the ones that would have been open were not as their owners were attending the funeral of a popular market butcher. There was loud clapping as his hearse, a coach and horses, went by during our meal.

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Irish oysters from Carlingford Lough

The eaterie, squeezed in between two shellfish stalls and a fish stall proper, has a short, simple menu of small and large plates. The former listed calamari, fried monkfish, Pil Pil prawns, scallops with lime and coriander and prawn cocktail, the latter cod and chips, monkfish burger, coconut fish curry, pan roasted salmon and sea bass with a crab salad and brown crab mayonnaise. No sign of a clam, though.

Along with two generous glasses of pinot grigio we ordered two more small plates to follow. The monkfish (£7.50) was a generous portion and came in a similar batter to the calamari, this time on a coleslaw spiked with tamarind.

 

The prawn cocktail (£7.50) was nicely stocked and was served, purists will be pleased to see, in a large wine glass. It was also trendy. The traditional Marie Rose sauce had been dumped for pink grapefruit and avocado. I wasn’t offered any but was told it was good!

The bill with wine for a relaxed and pleasant lunch was £39.50 and I can quite see why the Clam and Cork is number one in Doncaster on TripAdvisor. You can’t reserve seats so choose your moment to go, perhaps for an early or late lunch. The place stays open until 4pm.

For those seeking a wider range and more inventiveness with fish then Mann’s fish bar closer to home at Sheffield’s Kommune Food Hall takes some beating. But that, as yet, hasn’t had a visit from Jay Rayner.

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Not many seats but the food is good