Rafters’ team dip more than a toe in the Riverside

Alistair (L) and Tom: new boys at Ashford

ALISTAIR Myers was mixing negroni cocktails at Rafters when he got a call from a free-spending customer. It wasn’t to book a table but a new chapter in his career.

How would he like to upsticks and run another restaurant? asked care home boss John Hill of Hassop Hall.

“I said there was no way we could do it,” recalls Alistair, who runs the high class guidebook-listed Sheffield restaurant with chef Tom Lawson.

Flash foward some time later and he and Tom are being shown around the Grade II listed Riverside hotel and restaurant on the banks of the River Wye at picturesque Ashford-in-the-Water.

“By then it was no way we could NOT do it,” enthuses Alistair, aged 36.

And so on from November, Covid-permitting, the pait will reopen the building as Rafters at the Riverside, a restaurant with rooms. There are 14 bedrooms, a restaurant seating around 30-36, a smaller Range Room for 14 (featuring an old cooking range) and a private dining room for a dozen guests.

The old Riverside, owned by Penelope Thornton and once a feature of the food guides, had closed in March and was on the market for £1.6 million.

Ironically neither John Hill nor his wife Alex had visted Riverside before deciding to buy it, unlike Hassop Hall, which they have converted back from a hotel to a swanky private residence. “We celebrated our wedding anniversary there,” says Alex.

The Riverside: On the market at £1.6 million

She will be heading up the renovation and I caught her knee deep in paint charts. With a background in design, she’s already done a similar job at Hassop. The paint was Farrow and Ball, of course.

With her youngest child now at school, she was looking around for a project. “I like to keep myself busy,” she says.

The couple are regular diners at Rafters in Oakbrook Road. “We have been a few times and it is a little gem. We absolutely love the food,” adds Alex, who recommends the place to their friends.

Now she and John will have another recommendation up their sleeves, Rafters at Riverside. But expect the menu to be a little different. Rafters has long run a set tasting menu. Alistair and Tom, aged 29, think their North Derbyshire customers will prefer a three course menu.

“Tom’s putting together the new menu and there will be a bloody good Sunday lunch,” says Alistair. Fingers are being crossed about Covid-19 but bookings are already being taken.

Oernight guests can expect to pay £350-£390 for dinner, bed and breakfast.

The biggest pitfall in catering is when a successful restaurant expands: how to keep those elements which have made it a hit in the first place. So will Alistair and Tom be stretching themselves too far?

They think they’ve left a strong team in charge in Sheffield. “Ben Ward will be front of house at Rafters. He’s spent five years with us, rising from pot washer to manager. And sous chef Dan Conlon, who came from Sheffield College, has been promoted to head chef,” adds Alistair.

Riverside looks romantic at night

For the Hills this is another big venture. And just as when they bought Hassop, there were also rumours locally that Riverside was to be another care home. The gossips were wrong again.

Meanwhile, back at Hassop, the family are not shy of showing the world how they are getting on, as can be seen on the Instagram site Hassop Interiors. “Our kitchen is now finished” (the couple had been using the Butler’s Pantry, as you do)” but everything else has come to a standstill, says Alex.

However they do wish people would stop driving through the gates to have a gawp as their children play on the driveway. There’s a plea to this effect on Instagram.

Meanwhile Tom and Alistair have a big task on their hands. And Alistair may well be reflecting what might have happened if he had taken the advice of that teacher who, hearing of his interest in hospitality, advised him to get a proper job!

John and Alex Hill

http://www.riversidehousehotel.co.uk

Well worth a detour

Liver and bacon

THEY don’t care much for fashion and foodie fol de rols at the Omega at Abbeydale, I’m thinking as I glance down its two short menus. In fact I could have eaten most of this any time in the last 40 or so years.

The carte has roast beef and Yorkshire Pudding, fish and chips (dressed up as cod goujons) and, gloriously, calves liver and bacon. Sixties’ school dinners have failed to dampen my appetite for this. The TDH offers roast rump of lamb or fillet of plaice with a herb crust.

The monkfish with a cauliflower and gently curried lentil puree might not have been seen pre-Fanny Cradock (for it was she who made the fish popular) so this is perhaps the only nod to modernity.

There is a leek and potato soup, with no temptation here to fancy it up as Vichyoisse, but then up pops herrings Bismarck which in my book is rollmops.

Before our visit last month I’d been faffing about, unable to find a menu either on the restaurant’s website or Facebook page but it turns out it’s the same as the lunchtime one. What is different is that the Omega now does evening meals and we wanted to show foodie chums Craig and Marie Harris just what we’ve been raving about as they both work over lunch.

When I take restaurant manager and co-owner Jamie Christian gently to task over a lack of published menu he explains they did until hake was posted as a dish but decent supplies failed to come ashore so it was beached. A customer had made a special journey for it and blew up a gale when her hopes were sunk.

Jamie Christian

So chef and co-owner Steve Roebuck scrapped it to avoid the aggro. He may be wrong on this in my book but if you ask nicely they can send you one.

New diners should really start here. The Omega at Abbeydale is the son of the fantabulous Baldwin’s Omega banqueting suite off Psalter Lane run by David Baldwin, who sadly died earlier this year. So great was the esteem in which he was held that crowds of former customers lined the streets, with chefs in their whites, as the cortege passed.

Baldwin’s never opened for dinner – the evenings were devoted to private and public banquets, apart from the odd ‘pop up.’ While Jamie and Steve are continuing in the Baldwin’s tradition they can now do dinners as well as lunches.

The food was marvellous. I’ll not dwell on every course but let’s consider the calves liver. Ideally it should be of the highestest quality and cooked just briefly, barely kissing the pan to seal and stiffen but not by much. And there should be crispy smoked bacon to offset the liver’s sweet succulance. With it should be the silkiest, creamiest mashed potato you could wish for and caramelised onions, soft and sweet.


Reader, it was delivered. It was magnificent. It was memorable. It matched up to the Italian version of liver and onions I had a couple of years ago in a Venetian restaurant. I’d have given Craig a mouthful but he has spent a wasted lifetime hating liver. Instead, he was on the roast beef with Yorkshire pudding.


Just look at the picture. Wouldn’t you want to eat that? In the Good Old Days of Baldwin’s Omega it would have come theatrically on a trolley with the chef carving it from the joint at your table. But no trolley could manage the present kitchen steps.

In the pink – roast beef


We ate contentedly through three courses, remarking that it wasn’t always best to follow the latest food fashion and if the old ways worked, why change them?

I enjoyed the wispiest of tempura batter on my prawns, dunked in a gutsy tomato aioli (which you certainly wouldn’t have seen in the Eighties). And I finished with a lemony creme brulee with the crispiest of toffeed topping.

Now the Omega appeals to a certain kind of customer, monied and probably getting on in years who likes his or her food expertly cooked. The Omega might not even occur to the younger set (unless they attend Abbeydale Sports Club where it now resides).

But give it a try. It’s well worth the proverbial detour.

The Omega is at Abbeydale Sports Club on Abbeydale Road South, Sheffield. Web http://www.omegaatabbeydale.co.uk

Part of the menu

A dustbin full of spuds

THIS autumn I won’t be grumbling too much when I sweep up the fallen leaves in the garden. For I know I can turn them into potatoes.

I’ve found you can grow spuds successfully in a mix of rotting leaves, a shovelful or two of compost, spent tea leaves and coffee grounds and the contents of old flower pots.

Last autumn I must have filled up at least half a dozen bin bags of leaves and too busy (or lazy) to go to the tip I left them around the garden, mostly under a hedge.

I started a tidy-up this spring then remembered I’d seen or read a piece on growing spuds in seaweed. Would it work in semi-rotted leaves? There was only one way to find out.

I filled two old dustbins and four binbags with a mix of rotting leaves and homemade compost and planted them with some seed potatoes but mostly spouting spuds from the vegetable basket.

As they developed foliage I kept them topped up with whatever I could find – more leaves, spent plant pots, coffee grounds and tea bags. And worms.

The first two bags had disappointingly few potatoes although oddly these were the ones which received the most attention as they were nearest the back door. Probably too many coffee grounds!

The two dustbins yielded better results, as did two more black plastic bags. Nothing spectacular but a decent amount. They tasted ok (nothing more!) and did tend to break up when cooking.

It was an interesting experiment. I found a home for all those leaves, got some free spuds and the compost was rotted further into soil.

I have another bag of half composted leaves, some sprouting spuds and I am giving those dustbins another go. Should be ready for Christmas!

 

Not just your average Italian

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Slow cooked Ox cheek

 

WE HAD gathered for pre-dinner bottles of Peroni, just to get us in the mood for our Italian evening, and scrolled a little apprehensively through VeroGusto’s menu. I don’t know what the Italian for big spondulicks is but you do need a lot of them to eat here.

Dry-aged fillet of beef £31.80 and that’s without the chips. Mmmm. Pan-fried Gressingham duck breast . . . tempting but £25.50 and no spuds mentioned.

Across the table there was a passable imitation of Mount Etna erupting. “Rocket leaves with Parmesan shavings £6.50 . . . I am not paying that.”

I nodded. “We shall have to pick our way very carefully through the menu,” I said. My companion added: “I don’t mind paying high prices but I want to be blown away for it.”

As it happens we dodged the salad and the duck and we were both gastronomically blown away by some long-cooked, slow-cooked, low-cooked ox cheek.

But we are getting ahead of ourselves. We haven’t even got through the door of this swish little family-run Italian on Norfolk Row. It looks classy from the outside and the sight of the black waistcoated waiters within confirms it.

Expensive bottles of wine line the back of a long narrow room which once housed the town’s tourist information office but which goes back to Georgian times. This is not your average Italian ristorante.

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Delicious octopus

I’ve known this restaurant across two locations and three changes of name ever since Esterina Celva and partner Bruno Saverio opened on Church Street as Gusto-Italiano.

“You should be charging more,” I told Ester back then after a lunch eating her cheerful, happy food. She and Saverio, everyone seems to call him by his surname, did just that when they moved across town, first as Gusto, then as VeroGusto, and went spectacularly upmarket.

The food is exactly like that you would hope to discover away from the tourist traps down one of the smarter streets of an Italian city. You’d come back bursting to tell your friends of your little find. Somehow finding it a few yards from a Sheffield bus stop doesn’t have quite the same glamour but it will save you the price of a plane ticket.

VeroGusto is for most people without big wallets a special occasions type of place which is why, for us, we haven’t been there for a couple of years. But tonight is my wife’s birthday and we are celebrating with friends Craig and Marie Harris, fellow foodies, Italophiles and bloggers.

I fancy portion sizes have crept up a little since our last visit. You longed for more on the plate and deep down all Sheffielders, even the swankiest, treasure Value For Money. We got it here.

Enjoying food comes on so many levels: presentation, smell, texture, flavour and afterthought – reflecting with satisfaction on what you have experienced.

My starter of polipo (£11.95), octopus, would have been the price of a main in many cases. It looked good. The firm meaty flesh was cooked to perfection with a tang of the sea and, as Craig remarked, with just a touch of the grill.

It came with chicory, the biggest pine nuts I have seen, olives and sultanas and a sort of pretzel, a tarollo Napoletano, which I had not previously encountered, rather like a hard biscuit.

Birthday Girl’s fritto misto (£13.85) was squid, prawns and courgette flowers in the wispiest of batter, more negligee than Winceyette pyjamas.

Saverio, now sporting a lockdown beard, had read out some specials including one I liked the sound of, ox cheek with creamed potatoes. Now that’s what caught my attention because at that point I was going for the duck but was mentally grumbling I’d have to pay extra for spuds.

I asked the price. Why don’t restaurants give it automatically when they’re reading out specials? People don’t like to ask but what else do you buy without knowing the cost? I don’t have the bill now but it was cheaper than the duck so I ordered it. Craig must have had the same thought processes and did, too.

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Plenty of monkfish here

It was wonderful. The meat had held together but the texture was so soft and tender you could have sucked it up through a straw. And the sauce, a reduction of wine and the bed of vegetables the meat had sat upon, finished with just a hint of sweetness.

It’s a dish you’ll find on many a Modern British menu but you’ll have to look hard to find better. And the mash? Silky, smooth, luxurious. It came with a Parmesan tuille which always scores an extra point with me.

P1000997Marie was clucking happily over her house lasagne (£15.95) “So many layers,” while my wife enjoyed her taglierini pasta with monkfish (£17.50). I hoped neither of them noticed we men had the more expensive dishes.

As you might expect, wines are pricy here but we managed to find a bouncy bottle of Primitivo for about the price of the ox cheek.

We left happy if lighter of wallet. Ester, who has managed to bring up two delightful children while cooking so brilliantly in the kitchen, and front of house Saverio give the city centre restaurant scene a much needed touch of class.

And to think, when at Church Street they were thinking of packing it in until a rave restaurant review turned their fortunes around.

Web: http://www.verogusto.com

VeroGusto1

Fritto Misto

And the band played on . . . the wall

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Music and sound projected on the wall

OUR table is ready. There’s oil, vinegar, salt, pepper . . . and sanitiser. I must remember not to pour this last on my food as I did the contents of an oil lamp in a gloomy restaurant while not having my glasses.

The cutlery arrives on a linen napkin with the waiter handing it out for us to take without him touching it (although I did wonder how he’d put it on in the first place).

And instead of putting our plates on the table we have to take them from a tray.

It’s a funny old world eating out in the Covid-19 pandemic.

They give it the works at Trippets lounge bar on Trippet Lane, Sheffield. Hand sanitiser at the door, plastic screens over the bar, single use menus, one in-one out for the toilets,  sterilising the tables, lots and lots of handwashing although thankfully owners Debbie and Carl Shaw have been told they don’t need masks or gloves.

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Salt, pepper . . . and sanitiser

There’s even a screen on the hatch between kitchen and bar.

You get the feeling they would hose you down with disinfectant if that was what Health & Safety required.

I’ve been itching to write a review since Lockdown was eased but the first restaurant I visited didn’t do any of this: tables already laid, menus re-used, the only sanitiser was in the loos. So while the food was lovely I didn’t write a word, secretly hoping environmental health would give them a talking to.

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Debbie and Carl and a plastic screen

As it happens the council’s health police checked out Trippets on the buzzing first day it reopened and gave them the all clear.

“It’s cost us a fortune,” sighed chef Carl.

Now a health warning of my own. No reviewer with a heart, and certainly not this one, is going to give any restaurant a thumping for the next few months. Businesses which have struggled through the Hell and High Water of Lockdown don’t want any sniping from the sidelines the moment they reopen. Hence my silence over restaurant #1.

Not that Trippets would ever get a thumping. More of a thumbs up and a sigh of relief. It’s still a pleasure to eat here, particularly after owners and customers thought Lockdown spelt The End. Beer was given away, wine returned to the suppliers . . . and there were tears.

But they’re back as before. Almost. Aside from its food, Trippets is known for its gin and jazz. Debbie is Sheffield’s number one ginslinger, forever the Woman in Black, with a spectacular array of bottles on offer. But there is no live music, banned by the authorities just in case a musician blows a treble clef full of coronavirus across the room.

It means the loss of a vital attraction for the restaurant and no work for the musicians. But after a splendid crowdfunding effort by customers Carl and Debbie have rigged up a system which plays and projects specially recorded performances at Trippets on a wall. The musicians (and singer) got paid, the restaurant got its music.

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Chocolate and almond slice

Ironically, the loss of the performance space means extra tables, to make up for those lost in the restaurant proper.

In common with so many other restaurants, everything rides on people’s reaction to eating out in the next few months. Will the Great British Public follow Boris Johnson’s call to Eat Out To Help Out? For the Shaws, who opened on Valentines Day 2015 after 15 years at the highly-rated Black Bull in Ashford-in-the-Water, it could be make or break time.

No one should have anything to fear on the health and safety aspect. As to the food, it’s a succession of ‘small plates’ which included excellent boquerones and Gordal olives, spinach, mint and feta parcels with taztziki, rump steak with red pepper salsa and a risotto with crispy prawns – its Indian spices making it seem fresh from a naughty night out with a kedgeree.

Trippets, understandably, is open on a restricted basis at the moment, from Friday to Sunday, including brunch. And plenty of gin.

*89 Trippet Lane, Sheffield S1 4EL. Tel 0114 276 2930. Web  http://www.trippetsloungebar.co.uk

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There are now outside tables

Raising a glass to Mr B

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The hearse on Abbeydale Road South

THERE won’t be another Sheffield funeral like it. The rain was teeming down but people lined the pavements, regardless of the spray from passing cars.

A big cheer went up as the hearse drove slowly past my vantage point. People clapped and hollered. Some, clutching bottles of wines or cans, raised a glass. Cars in the funeral cortege following the hearse hooted in reply. Through steamy windows I could see glasses waved in salute.

If there was a lack of the usual reverence normally seen at funerals it was exactly what David Baldwin, much-loved boss of the Omega Banqueting Suite, would have wanted.

Covid-19 had restricted the number of mourners to 10 at Hutcliffe Wood Crematorium. In normal times the chapel would have been packed like sardines. But these are not normal times.

So his widow Pauline and family had asked his friends and customers to line the route as the hearse set off from his family home in Dore and bring a bottle in lieu of a wake.

But what to wear at a roadside funeral? Half a dozen chefs, all of whom had been helped in their careers one way another by the man they called the Big ‘Un or Mr B, had no doubts. Despite the rain they took off their coats and stood in their whites. Some of the male mourners wore black ties.

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Mourners had been asked to bring a drink

We all cheered: former staff – Mr B inspired loyalty – customers and people from across the hospitality industry.

After the hearse passed we broke away, sheltering under the arch at Abbeydale Sports Club, which houses the successor to Baldwin’s Omega, the Omega at Abbeydale. People swapped stories, remembering his acts of generosity, always willing to give a word of advice or lend a helping hand.

Over at Hutcliffe the funeral service was beginning. “Thank you for the days, those endless days, those sacred days you gave me,” sang the Kinks. There were plenty of days – and nights – to remember at the Omega: works Christmas parties, salmon and strawberry evenings, Sixties and Seventies nights, society shindigs, limbo dancing at Caribbean Nights and midday lunches.

The music faded. Elder son David and daughter Polly gave their tributes. Son Ben read the words of My Way. Things were always done Mr B’s way at the Omega because it was the right way.

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Passing the Omega at Abbeydale

There was a psalm, The Lord is My Shepherd. Prayers. A Blessing. And then music from Les Miserables, Master of the House. The lyrics could have been written with David Baldwin in mind.

“Wecome, Monsieur, sit yourself down

And meet the best innkeeper in town . . .

Master of the house, doling out the charm

Ready with a handshake and an open palm

Tells a saucy tale, makes a little stir

Customers appreciate a bon-viveur . . .”

That’s exactly what he was, a bon-viveur. And he made sure his customers were that, too, while they were in his company. Although the lyrics forget the swearing . . .

“Everybody raise a glass to the Master of the House.”

RIP David Baldwin 1939-2010.

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Order of Service

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s goodbye to the Big ‘Un

 

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David Baldwin and wife Pauline

DAVID Baldwin, founder of Baldwin’s Omega banqueting rooms and the Grand Old Man of Sheffield’s hospitality industry, has died in his sleep at home in Dore. He was 80.

“He passed away peacefully at 3am, about the last kicking out time that would have been at the Omega,” said his son David Junior.

While he had retired through ill health after selling off the Omega on Psalter Lane two years ago, his passing marks the end of an era for the city’s restaurant trade. He put his stamp on it in more ways than one.

“He was most proud of the number of chefs he had trained who had gone on to bigger and better things,” added David. They include Ray Booker, now head chef at the Chester Grosvenor, chef turned fishmonger Christian Szurko, and Sam Lindsay, head chef at Owlerton.

Yet, at the same time, he inspired a terrific loyalty and many staff (as well as customers) stayed with him for years.

Among them were head chef Steve Roebuck, who worked for him for 30 years,  and operations manager Jamie Christian, for 25, who have continued his legacy at the Omega at Abbeydale Sports Club.

He was committed to high standards of food and service, was known for providing value for money, and half the city must at one time have attended an office party or a works dinner, or perhaps been to a salmon and strawberries evening, at the Omega.

Bluff, gruff and wickedly funny, with a personality the size of Yorkshire, he was a great raconteur. A former chairman of the Restaurants Association of Great Britain,  he actively promoted young talent through Young Chef and Young Waiters competitions, and had an unrivalled network of contacts throughout the industry, from Brian Turner to Rick Stein, using them to send his own brightest staff on placements.

He was known for very colourful language. Jamie Christian remembers calling his boss from the kitchen one Christmas after a woman diner found lead shot in her pheasant. He roared back: “What do you think it died of? A f*cking heart attack?”

Known affectionately as Mr B or The Big ‘Un, he and his wife Pauline took over the white-painted hacienda-style building in 1980, after it had been dark for two years.

With a catering background that included running the Angler’s Rest at Bamford and the Hillsborough Suite at Sheffield Wednesday, they acted on a hunch that Sheffield needed at top class banqueting venue. They were right and in its heyday the Omega was constantly busy but times change and they were hit by the decline in office parties as businesses tightened their belts.

P1050938 Rib Room at the Omega 21-02-2017 16-25-51 (2)

The Rib Room at Baldwin’s

It was offset to some degree by the popularity of lunches in the Rib Room for an elder clientele and people who wanted to give customers and friends a taste of Sheffield. When present and not on holiday abroad, he was a legend in many people’s lunchtimes.

David was born into the hospitality industry as a publican’s son. He was a former communist and a ship’s steward, no doubt accounting for his expletive-laden language. Customers often liked it gently directed at them.

Very much a family man, he had three children, David, in construction; Benny, a TV producer and presenter; and Polly, a photographer. He had four grandchildren.

Many spoke of his generosity. John Janiszewski, a former lecturer in hospitality at Sheffield College, said he had held a fund-raising dinner in aid of its restaurant equipment.

“On a personal note he was a mentor, almost a father figure and a hell of a laugh. We need to think about a proper memorial after Corvid-19.”

The Omega had a certain style, from its massive car park, big enough to house a squadron of tanks, through its entrance hallway with ‘flaming torches’ to the ballroom, scene of so many dinner-dances, with its sprung floor.

The menu might not have kept up with trendier places – roast beef sliced from the trolly by the chef at your table was a highlight – but it was always exceptionally well done. If you couldn’t manage that there was always the Yorkshire Pudding and gravy starter on the plat du jour menu.

Whatever the occasion, lunch or dinner dance, it was always enhanced by the appearance of Mr B himself.

David Baldwin was something of a rarity in the catering trade, equally at home in the kitchen as front of house, a born Maitre D. He will be very sadly missed.

The private funera is on Thursday at Hutcliffe Wood crematorium at 3pm. Friends and colleagues will line the streets as the cottage passes. Donations for the Alzheimer’s Society can be made online at http://www.johnheath.co.uk

TRIBUTES

Some comments from those who knew David

Jamie Bosworth, chef: “He was a true gentleman and very generous. He lent us plenty of catering equipment when we started Rafters (with his brother Wayne) and always provided an ear to listen. Jayne and I  got married at Baldwin’s and we had Wayne’s wake there.”

Cary Brown, chef: “He was the Godfather of so many chefs.”

John Mitchell, wine merchant: “It’s a sad day the Big Un leaving us. There was nobody like him.”

P1050950 Pauline and David Baldwin 21-02-2017 17-41-32

Taken on the announcing of their retirement

 

Back to 1990 – how we ate then

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Reviews from 1990

WHENEVER, however restaurants finally re-open things will never be the quite the same again. But are they ever? Prices change, inevitably upwards. And so do menus and fashions.

But would we notice, I wonder, if we were blindfolded and whisked back in time to, say, 30 years ago in Sheffield and the surrounding area and given a menu?

Take it from me, we would.

With time on my hands I have been leafing back through my restaurant reviews for The Star in 1990, and it is surprising how interesting a year that was. The hospitality business is constantly changing but there was an awful lot happening in those 12 months.

It was the time when the city’s tastebuds were sharpening up and being alerted to new ideas and flavours, often by a bevy of young Made-in-Sheffield chefs. The city’s diners were beginning to realise there was more to life than fish and chips or a curry (although some never caught on).

Let’s start at the top.  Max and Susan Fischer had not long transferred their business from Bakewell to Baslow Hall, with some heartaches along the way,  and were proclaimed the Good Food Guide’s Derbyshire restaurant of the year.

Four months after they opened I tootled over to Baslow to sample the £25 a head TDH – squid ink salmon ravioli on a green herb sauce, venison with chocolate and raspberries, and Grand Marnier and orange mousse, and broke out in purple prose to comment: “Max’s food has a moody, demanding magnificence.”

The bill for two was £64.70, more than twice that at the week’s other review (I more often than not wrote two) at the Admiral Rodney pub.

Things were more light-hearted but no less skilled at Greenhead House, Chapeltown, the guide’s South Yorkshire restaurant of the year (and only entry). Neil Allen’s Anglo-French cooking crossed with English country house offered chicken stuffed with ham, salami and olives, based on a recipe from the Tarn, or fillets of beef with a truffle sauce. And there was the Beano annual and pocket bagatelle in the loo.

Making up the area’s top trio was Tessa Bramley’s Old Vicarage at Ridgeway, really Sheffield but technically just over the border in Derbyshire.

There was soon to be some serious competition.  At the Charnwood Hotel (now apartments), a new head chef had not long moved in to take charge of its two restaurants. “I have yet to sample the new Henfrey’s, now under the wing of style merchant Wayne Bosworth, but his food at the adjacent Brasserie Leo shows considerable panache,” I wrote.

In a faux-Parisienne setting you could eat baked marrow bones, salmon and crab terrine with a lobster sauce for £3.95, cod medallions steamed with ginger and, wait for it, pancake baked inside a soft meringue. There was to be much more to come from Wayne.

North of the city the Charnwood’s former head chef was opening at Hudson’s at The Rock, Crane Moor. For a shilling under £20 Cary Brown offered chargrilled smoked salmon or stuffed quail in puff pastry, then a soup or sorbet (those old country house hotel choices), best end of lamb with a kidney sauce, ending with an almond basket of  fruits with honey ice cream.

Then, as now, there was a financial squeeze and there were casualties. The excellent Arcadia, at Hillsborough, run by Rex Barker and Paul Betts, by far the best place ever in this suburb, closed, as did the equally upmarket Armstrongs in the city centre. Boss Roy Fellows blasted the city’s diners as “£8 bellyful merchants,” not without cause.

Yet Barnsley could sustain Armstrongs’ twin, of the same name, under the charge of Nick Pound, last seen running restaurants in London. And there was more gastronomic excellence when Max Fischer’s sous chef Michael Peano opened in town, to say nothing of Jim Gratton’s shrine to the Barnsley Chop at Brooklands. 

1990 Sheffield even had an oyster bar – briefly. Long before Loch Fyne  opened (and closed) a seafood restaurant in the city you could sample their wares at an oyster bar which opened at the Lyceum Theatre that year. Sadly, it didn’t catch on.

Sheffield’s hospitality scene always served up big portions and some didn’t stint on quirkiness, not least at Mr B B’s( now Otto’s)  on Sharrowvale Road, almost the city’s sole veggie restaurant, run by owner-cook Peter Wigley. He had revamped it from Singin’ Hinnies, the year before.

The £8 a head three course menu featured bulky veggie food but the most memorable part of the evening was when the waiter put his hand on my wife’s knee. Peter Willamett offered spiritual healing along with the chilli con coconut.

This was an era when hotel dining rooms held sway. The Hallam Tower Hotel might have had a reputation for posh food at big prices but £9.95 Sunday lunches were pretty standard fare. The main attraction was that for an extra quid diners could use the pool.

Its rival, The Grosvenor (now demolished) had Gary France as its head chef, who was to make more of a name for himself when he moved to the Harley Hotel with its sprung mini dance floor. While if you wanted to be seen spending money there was the Beauchief  Hotel with tournedos Rossini on the menu.

There were dinky bistros like Parkes and Four Lanes, Hillsborough, lovely little country places like the Millthorpe, in the village of that name, and the Lazy Landlord at Foolow. While Baldwin’s Omega on Psalter Lane was in its champagne and strawberries heyday.

For me, feeling my way as a reviewer, it was all exciting stuff. There would be more, much more, to come.

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And more!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s lockdown – but is it showdown for city’s chefs?

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Cooking along to Jamie Bosworth’s Facebook show

EVEN before the government turned the key on the nation’s restaurants Marco Giove had acted. Rather than take out tables to preserve social distancing he closed the fine dining business he has run for the last 20 years from a former police station in Archer Lane, Sheffield.

And he turned into a one-man-and-his-family ‘Deliveroo’ service, cooking up pizza, pasta and parmigiani for customers who were dining in rather than dining out.

“When Boris came on the television we shut almost immediately because I knew people were going to stop visiting  restaurants,” says Marco.

All across Sheffield restaurants are having to rethink their business models. Some, like the Summer House, on Abbeydale Road South, offered a takeaway service and were “overwhelmed by demand.” But they had to abandon it as the sheer logistics of working and finding staff became too difficult.

So did Michelin-listed Rafters, on Oakbrook Road. Tables were taken out and takeaways sold but the moment social distancing came in they knew it it was time to stop, says front-of-house Alistair Myers, co-owner with talented chef Tom Lawson.

The pair have kept their core team of 12 on furlough – the government money came within three weeks – and are using the time wisely, devising new menus and drinks (Alistair has one made from pineapple skins) and cultivating the restaurant allotment.

They realise keeping the talent in the restaurant is as important as keeping a loyal following in this high-end sector of the business. Alistair  thinks the accent is going to be even more on local produce when things return – but that will be the crunch time. “There will be casualties, more when we are eventually allowed to re-open when there is no government support. The ones which will survive will be those with a loyal following.”

Others, like the guide book listed No Name Bistro, abandoned fancy meals and offered bangers and mash (although with some style) to NHS and other key workers on the Coronavirus front line.

Others tried to keep a presence on social media so they would not be forgotten if and when their doors reopen. At the George Hotel, Hathersage, where new head chef Carl Riley had hardly time to warm up the ovens after arriving, cocktail recipes such as the racy Porn Star Martini have been posted online.

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A customer enjoys a meal at home from Marco@Milano

Over at Thyme in Broomhill, Sheffield, there are plans to put dishes from its 15 year old recipe book online.

But few can have made a bigger splash than Jamie Bosworth. No stranger to the cookery demo – he’s a regular fixture on BBC Radio Sheffield – he streamed a live show on Facebook which has had well over 7,000 views.

“I try and cook simple, easy dishes for three course meals using store cupboard ingredients with plugs for local producers,” says Jamie, who was joined for the second by vocalist daughter Katie for the second,  60 minute cook-a-long. “I could catch up at the stove while Katie sang.”

It was a family affair with wife Jayne holding the camera for a Floyd-esque show, with guest appearances from son, cat and dog.

Jamie has owned and run a clutch of top restaurants and is now a development chef who “keeps his hand in” with regular pop-up bistro evenings at the Rendezvous coffee shop, Totley.

“I had to cancel the last two because of Coronavirus so there’s going to be one hell of a night when we re-open.”

Meanwhile, back at Marco@Milano  Marco Giove, with a helper, is busy prepping orders for deliveries. His partner and her son help take the food to the right doorsteps. To emphasise the new informality customers are encouraged to send in photos of themselves enjoying a Marco meal.

But the current crisis has prompted him to take a different direction, one he has been contemplating for a while. “This restaurant will be one of the last to go back. I am going to change it completely, away from fine dining to something more relaxed with a deli and coffee shop for all the family,” he says.

There is no doubt the crisis has been a big jolt for the city’s restaurants. Some will fall by the wayside. The survivors may take other directions. But it has given restaurateurs and chefs the time to talk to each other and perhaps help each other out.

As the government keeps saying, we really are all  in this together – restaurants and customers alike.

*If you have a coronavirus story or views on the situation do get in touch.

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Tom Lawson ( left) and Alistair Myers in lighter mood

 

 

 

 

 

 

Show us the Crumb Shot

IN porn, they tell me, there is a certain moment which has to be included in every video. They call it the money shot.

Currently in the online food porn world of Instagram, Facebook and Twitter enthusiastic amateur master bakers have been proudly showing their latest loaves and rolls, very often sourdough (ugh) and very pretty they look, too.

But inside every burnished crust, perhaps sprinkled with poppy or sesame, is the crumb. Whether holey or close, firm or light, it is the texture of the crumb which ultimately dictates how good the bread is.

And it’s surprising how few pictures there are of what I call the Crumb Shot.

The picture above of my current loaf, a cobbled together mixture of four floors, isn’t bad but it could have done with a little more kneading.

But without the Crumb Shot, how would we know?

I have just been flicking through one of my many bread books. Here are farmhouse and bloomer loaves, split tin, baguettes, pistolets, rye breads, Danish and Portuguese Maria, all lovingly pictured in their entirety but a knife has been nowhere near them.

How many bread baking videos have I watched on YouTube where the loaf is whisked out of the oven but never cut? OK, I know you should let a loaf cool before cutting but we could be given a glimpse filmed later.

I am as guilty this myself. I’ve looked back at my photos and the crumb shot is missing in most.

So in future, whenever I want show the world my latest loaf I’ll give you a slice.