Kommune gets it together

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Mann’s salmon fishcake

AT Sheffield University in the Eighties urban geographers detected an invisible line which ran through the then Hole in the Road. Below it, past C&A down to The Wicker, taking in the Castle, Sheaf and Rag and Tag markets – and the courts – was territory occupied by what sociologists called rough working class.

Above it, from Rackham’s to High Street, Fargate and the Moor was the domain of the respectable working class and the city’s relatively small middle class.

Modern sensibilities being what they are, we no longer use these terms but some may raise a wry smile that there is now a bridgehead of gastro-gentrification in what was the old Brightside & Carbook Co-Op in Castle House, now the Kommune Food Hall. Here they sell lobster thermidor for £30 a go, Korean spicy pork, vegan salads and sourdough loaves not 30 yards from the Poundland opposite.

Kommune sounds a bit beardy and trendy with tattoos optional and indeed it is, on both sides of the counter. But in the opening weeks this enterprise with 10 different food options has had a real vibe and exciting atmosphere. Sit at the communal tables, bar stools or booths and you get just a hint of Lisbon’s Time Out food hall, although not the sophistication.

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Part of the seating area

On our first two visits it was packed and difficult to find a table, on our third, a Tuesday, it was quieter but still busy. And certainly livelier than when you went to get your divi at the old B&C.

At lunchtimes you order from each kiosk, pay and are given a buzzer when your food is ready. Evenings are more relaxed: pagers are dumped and food is brought to your table.

Kommune is still being developed. On the non-food side there is a splendid bar curving around the well of the building’s impressive spiral staircase, an art gallery and arty magazine shop but the building still has acres of empty space.

I’ve eaten or bought from seven of the independent businesses here. There is a ubiquitous burger and a pizza place, which I have yet to try, but the star of the show has to be Mann’s fish bar, the offshoot of the wet fish business at Sharrow Vale (where owner chef Christian Szurko already cooks up lunchtime fish ordered from the slab).

Kommune is all about street food and you might say Mann’s is hardly that. Here we had an excellent, if slightly small salmon fish cake (£10, to a Savoy Hotel recipe) on a dazzlingly good dill sauce and a ‘fish finger sandwich’ of battered goujons inside a squid ink-coloured bun. Chef Scott Mills, Christian’s partner, is enthusiastic about things so far.

The menu looks tempting: there is also dressed crab, clam chowder, steamed mussels and stuffed squid but did he really sell many thermidors? “They fly out,” he said, perhaps a little over-dramatically. “We don’t make anything on them but it gets us known.” He covers the breakfast and brunch market with dishes like kippers and haddock frittata with more expensive and sophisticated offerings at night.

We have yet to go at night. A trip to the Chaat Cart, a South Indian street food joint, produced an excellently flavoured chicken kati roll (£8), spiced-up poultry with vegetables on a roti. It was chicken for me from Shoot The Bull, a rotisserie and grill. I enjoyed my quarter chicken (£7.50) which was hardly more than a leg. This had been first brined then basted with maple syrup so there was plenty of flavour in the flesh and skin. The price included top quality chips fried in beef dripping. One thought: I never saw more than two birds on the rotisserie so the stall lacks kerb appeal.

Pom Kitchen is an Australian-inspired vegan and veggie option. The salad bowl (£7) was lively salad with decent focaccia let down by boringly bland hummus. A trip to Yoki, a Korean enterprise, offered an interesting spiced pork (slices stir-fried with chilli) which combined heat with a touch of sweetness. It came with a timbale of rice and salad garnish.

Kiwi coffee from local enterprise Tamper is stronger and richer than your average cup (each shot uses 42g of beans instead of the usual 36g) so you might not be safe drinking it after 2pm!

So far, so good. Kommune could do with a desserts offering, perhaps to justify lingering in the evening. It’s so refreshing to see something good, locally owned and independent in the city centre as a change from all those dreary old chain eateries.

Kommune is at Castle House, Angel Street, Sheffield S3. It opens Tues to Sat 9am to 11pm, Sun 9am to 9pm. Web: http://www.kommune.co.uk

#Castle House, a Grade II listed building has a lot of history and a story of delay caused by two world wars. Land was originally bought by the B&C on Angel Street in 1914 just before war broke out so building was delayed until 1927. It was slowed by discovery of the Sheffield Castle site and not completed until 1938. The building was destroyed in the Sheffield Blitz of 1940. The new building, designed by G S Hay, took as its inspiration Irving Park’s Sears Roebuck department store in Chicago, with its two blind walls on the first and second sales floors. The splendid interiors, including a mural, are by Stanley Layland.

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The curving bar

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New Omega gets an alpha-plus

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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The Omega at Abbeydale is on Abbeydale Road South, Sheffield S17 3LJ. Tel: 0114 236 7011. Web: http://www.omegaatabbeydale.co.uk

Pssst! Wanna buy a dance floor?

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Jamie Christian with one of Baldwin’s famous flaming torches

FIRST things to go were a couple of the ironwork chandeliers. “A lady wanted them for her barn,” says Jamie Christian. “Have you noticed the torches? They’ve got sold on them.”

So who’s bought them? “I have,” he says.

Ah the famous ‘flaming torches’ in reception at Baldwin’s Omega. Uplit strips of cloth used to flicker like flames. I used to joke they only operated when Mr B – big boss David Baldwin – was in the building. But they will flicker no more here. The Omega is shortly to be demolished for housing and it’s having a closing down sale. Everything must go.

Jamie, the Operations Manager, is keeping an eye on things during the sale, which runs until Sunday. He and head chef Steve Roebuck will be opening a new venture, the Omega at Abbeydale, with the old ethos at Abbeydale Sports Club in September and those torches will be used somewhere.

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The dance floor at the Omega

We wander past tables stacked with candles, vases, wine glasses, crockery, chairs and veteran kitchen equipment and into the ballroom with its sprung floor. Several generations of dancers tripped the light fantastic here at functions and dinners, whisked their partners round the floor on salmon and strawberry nights or limboed under the bar on Caribbean evenings.

Jamie looks thoughtfully at the floor. “We should have cut it up into squares and sold them off to people who had their wedding receptions here.” But it’s for sale. Name a price, Jamie. “£500 and take it up yourself.”

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All for sale at Baldwin’s

I pass on that one but do buy a candle setting for a fiver. That’s not thinking quite out of the box as some people.

They’ve already sold basins from the ladies and one of the urinals from the gents, which once won David and his wife Pauline a Loo of the Year Award. I came down for The Star and we got a saucy picture of him pretending to take a pee. Just in case you were wondering, the Baldwin’s Omega sign on Psalter Lane is not for sale. They plan to take it to their home in Spain.

There are memories all around. The wooden lectern on which there used to be a copy of The Star or seat plans is for sale at £45.

Pauline Baldwin is in the office for very possibly the last time and in reflective mood. She’d expected a rush but perhaps people will be coming later. Will she be sad now it’s all over – some 37 years of company and works’ dinners, social shindigs, Christmas parties, lunches, pop up restaurant nights and private parties? “I won’t miss the admin but I’ll be like a fish out of water,” she says.

The new venture belongs to Jamie and Steve, who will take with them head waitress Angela Jackson, but doubtless the Baldwins will still be around to offer advice.

Indeed Mr B plans to take a seat at the bar at the new place. I look forwards to seeing him there.

*The sale runs until this Sunday.

NOTE: To read why it closed see here

 

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All the plates you could want

Pepe the Human Meatball

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Pepe, left, and Pam when they sold to Vito

Another in an occasional series on famous local restaurants and restaurateurs.

HE called himself the Talking Menu, I called him the Human Meatball. Pepe Scime’s reaction was to scratch his armpits in his native Sicilian gesture of disgust. But he forgave me.

With some restaurants the personality of the chef or owner is as important as the food and so it was with Pepe’s of South Road, Walkley, Sheffield, during the Eighties and early Nineties.

There was no menu, just a blackboard, and the diminutive Pepe would talk his customers through the classics, regional specialities and, sometimes, his own inventions, usually with a gag. The meatballs, he’d say, came from Liptons or, when that name faded from the High Street, from Netto. And he’d scratch an armpit.

Then he’d disappear downstairs to the kitchen leaving the dining room in the charge of his wife Pam. The kitchen was a fascinating place. Here Pepe made his own Italian sausages or air-dried his hams in the misty Walkley air long before it became fashionable.

Everybody knew Pepe. Actors appearing at the Crucible were sent there: Alan Rickman, Pam Ferris (Ma Larkin) and comedienne Ruby Wax. According to Pepe, who was rather proud of the compliment, she told him: “You are more disgusting than me!”

Pepe Scime was a character. For a year or two he sponsored the mammoth Manor Operatic Christmas panto at the City Hall, with giveaways for the children in Netto carrier bags.

I met Pepe at the high point of his career. He’d begun at a pizza parlour in the town centre (now Mama’s & Leonies) where he had met Pam. “She had the chef’s special,” he’d joke. “And look what I finished up with,” she shot back. They took over what had been Roy’s Bistro, another famous institution, in 1983.

He gave me a ring early on in my reviewing career, correctly guessing there might be a few things I needed to know about Italian cooking. Did I know, he said, that some places passed off expensive calves liver by marinating lambs’ in milk?

I joined him for the day, which began with an early morning sambucca before a visit to the wholesale market, prepping in the afternoon, watching the cooking in the evening and drunkenly trying to make gnocchi, ending 18 hours later. As I was leaning more crazily than the tower of Pisa my wife was called to take me home.

Pepe and Pam sold up in 1993 to Vito Ciarialo, his chef and latterly partner for the previous 18 months. Vito renamed the place after himself, made it his own and is still there 25 years on this year.

The couple went to Tickhill to run the I Paparazzi bar in the Red Lion but after a while returned to the city to take over Mamma Mia Pepe on Langsett Road. They were there for nine years.

He was then 60 and feeing the long years on his feet in the kitchen. He had taken his brother’s advice, an old Sicilian proverb: “Don’t squeeze the lemon twice.” At his retirement party my wife gave him a tin of meatballs.

The couple retired to Spain and we lost touch but Pepe and Pam wrote their own chapter in Sheffield’s culinary history.

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It tastes great on the radio

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Sheffield fishcake – as seen on BBC radio!

WOULD I, asked the BBC chappie down the phone, like to come on air to talk about the Sheffield fishcake? It is a local speciality I have long championed although I have never made one myself. Eaten them, yes.

 There was just one catch. Could I be in the studio by 7.10am? They’d have a fishcake ready. It was one they’d had made earlier.

 Bleary-eyed I was ushered into the studio to greet bequiffed and fresh-as-a-daisy presenter Owain Wyn Evans, usually Look North’s weatherman but standing in for Radio Sheffield’s regular on the morning show, Toby Foster.

 He had the fishcake in his hand. “It’s big,” he said. “No, that’s the breadcake (bun, roll, bap, buttie or stottie to people not from Sheffield), the fishcake is inside,” I said gently.

 Owain is Welsh. You can tell that from his name. I am a quarter Welsh on my mother’s side but we didn’t get time for any yaki da’s. He nibbled it, cold, and liked it. I couldn’t do that on the radio.

 I’d also brought along some oatcakes, my homemade Sheffield Relish and a snappy soundbite. Owain chewed on an oatcake. He liked that, too. Then he sprinkled a little Relish on his palm, licked it and said “That’s lovely!” Really? ”Yes.” I very nearly gave him the bottle but didn’t. But he’d had a free breakfast and he could keep the oatcakes.

 “That was great,” said a BBC chappie as I was ushered out of the studio. They always say you were wonderful but I never got to use my soundbite.

 The next day I got a call from Ailsa, producer of Georgey Spanswick’s evening radio show, broadcast across all the BBC’s local  stations.  She’d heard the bit about fishcakes and of course it sounded wonderful. So could I talk to Georgey over the phone? I realise I am suddenly the go-to man for Sheffield fishcakes. I suppose there are worse things to be known for.

 It goes well. I rabbit on about fishcakes, then Derbyshire oatcakes, tomato dip and polony sausage, slip in a joke or two and a few free plugs and namechecks. Georgey lets me talk and it must be slowly dawning on the nation, or at least that part of it which listens to local radio, that there is more to Sheffield than steel and an insane council cutting down the city’s trees.

That’s right, an insane bloke going “batter, tatter, fish, tatter, batter.”

 “That was great,” said a BBC chappie ringing off. And I forgot the soundbite.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So fings ain’t wot they used t’be, Dave?

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The restaurant at Napoleons on Ecclesall Road

Napoleons was sold this week for ‘considerably less’ than the £850,000 asking price, according to The Star. It is not known what the plans are.

BIGGEST news this week was that Dave Allen was closing Napoleons casino and restaurant on Ecclesall Road this Sunday after 42 years. Since he already has another at Owlerton (plus a dog track and restaurant) and four other casinos in Yorkshire and London that might have been it: sad but a business decision.

But what set the greyhound among the pigeons was his parting shot: “Time moves on and Ecclesall Road is not what it used to be.” Coming from one of Yorkshire’s wealthiest men and certainly its wealthiest pigeon fancier (you can currently buy a DVD online for £9.99 entitled Dave Allen: The Living Legend filmed with a trip around his loft), it seemed a dismissal of one of Sheffield’s liveliest arteries.

He cited the imminent closure of Baldwin’s Omega, which would affect trade, as patrons would no longer be following on their entertainment at his tables. However, while the banqueting trade is certainly not what it used to be, the main reason David and Pauline Baldwin are selling is because of retirement and the chance of a nest egg.

It would have been handy to know what David Easton Dey Allen meant by that remark. But, typical Dave, he’d said his piece, in a statement released on his website, and was not taking calls from journalists.

The Star ran with the story on Wednesday and I bought the weekly Sheffield Telegraph the following day, which splashed it all over the front page. But I cannot have been the only one disappointed to find this was simply a repeat of the daily’s story with just two quotes, one from an existing trader and one yet to open. No background, no analysis: a chance missed.

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Dave Allen

I mention it on this blog for Dave, who heads A&S Leisure, is pretty good on the food front. I am not a gambling man but on the one occasion I have eaten at the Ecclesall Road casino I was impressed by the quality and value. The same goes for the Panorama restaurant at Owlerton although my review which included an obvious joke about eating expired dogs met with a furious response. It might have been a bad joke, it was also bad timing. Co-incidentally a leading Chinese restaurant had put out a Press statement dispelling a rumour it was serving up greyhound stir-fry.

Coupled with the news that Ecclesall Road was closing came details that a 500-seater banqueting suite was planned for Owlerton (presumably hoping to pick up the Baldwin’s business) and another casino, bar and restaurant opening in Manchester. With such big expenditure planned it made sound business sense to axe Eccy Road, a prime redevelopment site.

So why the swipe at Ecclesall Road in general?

It can hardly have escaped Dave’s notice that the road is considerably different than from when he opened in the Seventies. Then it was dubbed Sheffield’s Golden Mile and the ‘Bond Street of the North’ on account of the swanky, pricy boutiques: Alicia Kite, Paces, Posh, Elizabeth’s, Robert Brady and hairdressers such as Andrew Hook’s La Coupe. There were just three pubs and precious few restaurants beyond the Ashoka and Ron Barton’s Uncle Sam’s.

Since then the number of pubs, bars and restaurants has multiplied beyond measure. Ecclesall Road is busier, and  livelier and while trade might be difficult the ‘offer’ to consumers is wider and more comprehensive than it ever was.

In fact, to nick a phrase from Dave’s own casino business, Ecclesall Road is still a place “where a great night is always on the cards.”

My Sloe food project


SO you’ve strained all the gin off your sloe berries and those bottles look a beautiful colour. But what are you going to do with all those leftover berries? Get the worms drunk?

It’s notoriously difficult to squeeze the last vestiges of gin from hard blackthorn but the alcohol is still in there. And as the watchword of this blog is Waste Not, Want Not, they are crying out to be put to more good use. As it’s Christmas, why not sloe gin truffles?

There is a small problem of getting the pulp off the small hard stones but I used a Mouli and got satisfying amounts of berry pulp through. You only need 75g for this recipe so freeze the rest for when you have time to make a boozy jam, jelly or chutney in the new year.

This recipe makes around 15 good sized truffles.

You will need:

25g butter
75ml double (heavy) cream
200g good quality chocolate, broken
75g sloe berry pulp
2 tbsp sloe gin
cocoa powder

Slowly melt the butter and cream together in a pan, stirring slowly. Let it just come to the boil for a minute then remove from the heat and stir in the chocolate, bits at a time, and stir until melted in. You may need to return the pan to the heat from time to time, still stirring. When all the chocolate is melted, thoroughly stir in the pulp and a little bit of your sloe gin.

Pour onto a Swiss roll tin, let it set then put in the fridge to firm up for a couple of hours. Then sprinkle the cocoa onto a plate and on your hands and scrape up spoonfuls of chocolate mixture and roll into balls. Cover with cocoa powder and put into little paper cases. The truffles soften quite quickly so you may have to put the tray back in the fridge halfway through for the mix to firm up.

Keep them in the fridge. They should last for a week if you’re planning ahead. They taste very good with a glass of sloe gin but be warned, they are very rich. It goes without saying you can use any other fruit you have used to infuse your gin or vodka.