Luke’sPlace? It’s down Blackberry Way*

Luke Reynolds: One man band

TO Luke’s Place, a new uber-trendy micro eaterie currently getting fave raves in an old takeaway on gritty Infirmary Road, Sheffield.

It’s a seven course tasting menu for £30 but you’ll have to guess what’s on the menu because it changes with whatever is available or foraged on the day.

While a keen forager myself I am a little bit sceptical of tasting menus – all nibbles and nothing really hearty to get your teeth into.

I still remember one tasting menu where a course featured a radish and greenery often seen growing through the pavement cracks. I sneak chickweed into a salad but don’t want to pay good money for it. ( That night we hurried home to a cheese sandwich. )

Luke’s Place is a mostly one-man-band run by Luke Reynolds and if you like chefs with beards, tattoos and a baseball cap on backwards he fits the picture,

He has a ploughed a small inheritance into the restaurant which gives more than a nod to the new Scandinavian school of cookery – pick it, preserve it and pretty it up.

Amuse: Beetroot, curd, rye, nasturtium
Porridge: Barley and mushroom

The website tells us it’s an eight-seater but there are 12 of us sitting at a counter, screened by Perspex, watching Luke cook and chat. Very laid back, very relaxed. There’s funky music in the background – don’t ask me what it was – but it isn’t overloud.

Publicity so far has been on social media and TripAdvisor, which has been almost universally enthusiastic.

Portions are small but flavours and textures can be intriguing. After an amuse of cubed beetroot with curds, topped by a rye crumb and ultra-mustardy nasturtium leaf we had lovely wholemeal bread rolls with a yeasted butter ( roasted yeast flakes ), spread on by a silly, clumsy wooden knife.

There was nothing wrong with the barbecued leek, split for a filling of crunchy roast onions and served with a burnt cream sauce, other than that the leek skin was tough and difficult to eat.

And I really enjoyed the mushroom, barley and rye ‘porridge,’ in reality a barley risotto, given a lovely resonance by a rich mushroom stock and a ‘floss’ of marinated and roasted oyster mushrooms, torn to resemble pulled pork. Very clever.

There wasn’t any meat or fish on our totally vegetarian menu although it has appeared on others. Some might feel short changed paying the same money when ingredients cost pennies while others pounds.

Barbecued leek: Intriguing

There did seem to be a lot of barley, rye and blackberries, the last of which must have been foraged. We had them as a jam, roasted and raw although sometimes things jarred.

You can lavish as much care and attention on a green blackberry, pickling it in homemade elderflower vinegar, but it is still going to be a hard, little green nub of winciness.

This appeared alongside a heftily flavoured basil pannacotta which I liked but my wife didn’t.

There were more blackberries with a yoghurt ice cream and an excellent honeyed tuille.

Bread and butter: Yeasty treat

Booking via the website wasn’t easy – and it was made for our party of four by fellow blogger Craig Harris who had a previous career in computer tech – and downright misleading: you get a booking confirmation for one hour later than the sitting begins.

The website also promises a £20 a head ‘drinks flight’ which was unavailable, as was the promised ‘natural wine.’ So we had distinctly under ginned cocktails and the sole beer, Asahi.

We ended with an excellent cube of fudge flavoured with smoked salt but this is a case of petit fours with no coffee. They don’t do it.

Nor is there an actual written bill – just a total shown on Luke’s device.

Inside: Funky

While others have clearly enjoyed the experience, and there were some things to admire, I felt some ingredients had been partnered simply because they were available and I wanted a wider selection. I also would have liked to watch more cooking instead of assembling dishes.

We didn’t need a cheese sandwich afterwards – the sturdy porridge saw to that – but this hasn’t changed my mind about tasting menus.

*For younger readers, The Move, a popular music combo, had a hit with this in the Sixties.

This restaurant has now closed.

Luke’s Place: A former takeaway

132 Infirmary Road, Sheffield S6 3DH. Web:

Just a tweak and a prayer in the old Mission Hall

It looks good at night

BEFORE Covid struck there was a hit play in the West End called The Play That Goes Wrong, in which Murphy’s Law rules supreme. Actors miscue, scenery falls down, things explode. It’s a real hoot.

It happens in the hospitality business too. Welcome to The Meal That Goes Wrong.

In this case it has happened early on in a restaurant’s life when things have still to be tweaked, staff to settle into routines and systems work the way installers promised

So although things went wrong on our night at the new Cornerstone restaurant in buzzing Dyson Place, just off Sharrowvale Road, I still thoroughly recommend it. Because by the time you go they will have tweaked big time.

You very certainly will be charmed by the 100-cover eaterie on two floors in the former Mission Hall, which had been empty and dark for years until developer Martin Flowers came along.

Those ‘tram seats’ are a little hard

A building where the congregation once raised the roof in praise to God has had it raised yet again (and the floor lowered) to make enough space for tables on two levels.

And they probably won’t keep you waiting for an hour for food, bar bread and olives, and then arrive with your main course because the electronic ordering system has pinged your starters into Kingdom Come.

And, hopefully, the food won’t be tepid because it has waited on the pass too long under lights fitted too high up to keep things warm.

Nor, fingers crossed, will the fire alarm go off for five minutes because the barbecue in the kitchen is sending flames sky high.

This was the sort of night, to be honest, I would have given my right arm for when reviewing professionally because the story really writes itself. People, being what they are, like a touch of calamity. And it was my job to tell it how it was.

Well, I am a blogger now who pays his own way (unless where stated) and this is not one of those anodyne blogs, you’ve seen them, where Everything Is Simply Wonderful.

Folks, that’s not how life works.

Cornerstone is the project of brothers Richard and Michael Massarella, third generation members of the well-known catering family which runs a cafe empire across the North. It was grandfather Ronnie who started it off, building upon an icecream business developed by his own grandfather who emigrated from Italy over 150 years ago.

So they are not rookies in the business.

I’d booked for four of us online and a few days before the meal the agency sends a breezy email checking we are still going. Good idea to stop the no-shows. Then it suggests clicking a link to check the menu on the restaurant website. Bad idea. It’s not on there.

“We are still tweaking the website,” says Richard when we find our table, handing out flimsy paper menus because they are seeing what works and what doesn’t before they commit themselves to laminate.

Lamb kofta and flatbread

The place is open all day and Massarellas don’t need any lessons on providing café dishes. Where the brothers have raised the eyebrows of older members of the family is angling the afternoon and dinner menu to World Food.

So while it nods at their Italian origins with pasta and chicken Milanese it goes progressively East with halloumi, harissa, falafel, kofta,Korean chicken and even a Vietnamese dish, cocking a cheeky snook at the Vietnamese restaurant across the block.

The building itself features bare brick walls with big chapel windows on one side looking onto the table-filled forecourt with heaters. Banquette seating runs round the walls while down the centre is a wooden arrangement which looks and feels, according to the ladies of the party, like old tram seats: fair enough for a five minute journey, not comfortable enough for a two hour meal.

A new metal staircase leads a low raftered first floor where, incidentally, three of the four unisex toilets are.

We order padron peppers with chorizo, sesame prawns with a dip and watermelon with whipped goats cheese but they never come. Our waitress has typed them into a tablet but they disappear into the ether.

We nibble at decent olives and bread (with no plates) and wait for them to arrive. And wait. Suddenly the alarm goes off just after a burst of flames in the partly open kitchen. Our pal Craig thinks it’s his peppers being barbecued.

View through the pass

There is a conclave of staff clustered at the controls for seemingly five minutes and a cheer goes up when it is finally turned off. I notice Richard leads a round of applause and he gets five stars for chutzpah. I like him.

When our mains arrive we vaccilate. The waitress says she will re-order our starters and they go back to the pass. But we worry we will get the same dishes back later and scrap the starters and recall the mains.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a lady in possession of a fish does not want it with bones. Or if it is, the menu should say. My wife’s Vietnamese monkfish was served not as a fillet, nor as a steak, but completely on the bone. It was heavily spiced but the heat made up for the food being barely warm.

My lamb koftas were pleasant enough, served on a flatbread with labneh ( strained yoghurt) with rather too much coleslaw.

Craig was quids in, raving enthusiastically about his flatiron steak which, tweaking the menu himself, he had served with a broad bean, pea and feta salad, swapped from another dish. It, too, was lukewarm.

To be fair they offered us free desserts but we declined, perhaps a bad move as I have been told they are good. So Richard scrapped the alcohol bill. We liked him even more. Our bill was just over £70.

And Cornerstone had lots right: a relaxed, interesting menu, pleasant staff who kept to their stations so you weren’t being asked the same questions by different people, and a good atmosphere.

It’s not always right on the night, particularly when a reviewer is there. Murphy’s Law again. If things can go wrong, they will.

However, the runes are good for Cornerstone. I’ll go back. A tweak and a prayer should get them there.

The courtyard at Cornerstone