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

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.

Bacon, eggs and fried banana

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IT’S time for Sunday breakfast, a Full English. Let’s see, bacon, eggs, sausage, mushrooms, grilled (or fried) tomato, baked beans, fried potatoes, fried bread and fried oatcake. But there’s something missing, isn’t there? Can’t guess? Where’s the fried banana?

I have eaten at countless hotels and greasy spoons but I have never, ever seen bacon, eggs and fried banana on the menu. At Chez Dawes I – my wife thinks I’m nuts – have it as a special treat and when the bananas in the fruit bowl are just right, ripe but not going to brown mush.

Bacon and banana is a marriage made in heaven. You get a jolt of caramelised sweetness against the saltiness and smokiness of the bacon, as well as a contrast in textures. Add in a shelled soft boiled egg (another little peccadillo of mine) and the oozing yellow yolk sends things up a gear.

This liking for fried banana comes from my early teens when, out with my parents, I ordered chicken Maryland from the menu because I had never had it before. Fried breadcrumbed chicken arrived with fried banana (they should have been fritters but I remember them naked) and I suppose I was hooked. But only gently.

I indulge spasmodically. I don’t have them every week. And it’s not as if when you’re staying over at someone’s house for Sunday breakfast you can say in an offhand kind of way “Could you add a banana to the frying pan?”

I had bacon, eggs and fried banana for breakfast this morning (as you can see) and enjoyed it so much I want to share it.

And shelled soft boiled eggs? You can’t get them breakfasting out, can you? Fried, poached, scrambled or soft boiled with toast soldiers, yes. But there’s a special pleasure, my father taught me, in deftly shelling a soft boiled egg and slipping it wobbling onto your plate. Preferably eaten with a fried banana.

Pip! Pip! It’s Lindy’s Jam Session

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Faye (right) watches Beulah crack almond kernels as Lindy preps

“HOW many pips have you got in your lemon?” asked Lindy Wildsmith, cookery tutor and author of umpteen books on kitchencraft. Now there’s a novelty. “Five,” said Faye, who was partnering me that day in the demonstration kitchen at Welbeck Abbey’s School of Artisan Food.

“That’s enough,” said Lindy, the woman who wrote Preserves and Sunny Days & Easy Living. It’s the pectin in them, you see. You need it to set your jams and jellies. We didn’t mean to be smug but the people at the next workstation only had two pips.

You join me at the school’s Best of British Summer Preserves & Pickles course, to which I was invited as a guest. Regular readers know I’m an enthusiastic pickler and preserver but there’s always more to learn. There was. As pips are so important but lemons are so unpredictable you can keep surplus pips in your freezer ready for when a citrus lets you down.

This is my second time at Welbeck. The first was in 2009 shortly after the school had opened and I was writing a magazine article about it. I knew it was a stately home, once belonging to the Dukes of Portland, but the title had died out. I was to meet the school’s guiding light, a lady called Alison, but unfortunately had not done my homework.

First we had a cuppa in the farm shop café before she took me for a spin in her battered car around the 400 acre estate. It looks a small posh village. Imposing buildings once used as garages and carpenters shops now housed the school, a brewery, bakery, dairy, cheesemaker and much else. It was only as the car climbed a rise and the magnificent Abbey rose into view and Alison said “That’s home” that it dawned on me she was the chatelaine of Welbeck itself.

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Birthday girl Kate (left) stirs her pot

She was Alison Swan Parente, wife of current owner William Parente, grandson of the seventh and last Duke of Portland. I was being chauffeured by a member of the aristocracy, albeit with her coronet knocked off.

There were seven women and three men on the course. Faye, the youngest, a teacher from Chapeltown, had won her place in a competition at this year’s Sheffield Food Festival. Paul, from London, and Jonathan from Nottingham, were serious foodies. Kate had been given the place as a 50th birthday present by her friends so three of them decided to join her. Likewise Audrey and Caroline, who were sisters. Some had made jams and jellies before, others were chutney chumps.

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Preserving sisters Audrey and Caroline

We had a whole day to make apricot and Amaretto jam, redcurrant and apple jelly, sweet chilli tomato jam, raspberry cordial and spiced beetroot and marjoram chutney – and take them home to our admiring families.

“It’s addictive. You won’t be able to walk past a market stall laden with fruit and vegetables and not wonder what you can do with them,” Lindy said breezily. “It’s not rocket science but certainly very rewarding.” Too true.

A little later she addressed the elephant in the room. You can’t get away from it but jams, jellies and chutneys contain an awful lot of sugar and that contains an awful lot of empty calories. “Sugar is public enemy number one. It’s taken over from salt. You see some people walking around with Coca Cola bottles in their hands – they are living on the edge. But you won’t get that trouble from home made preserves,” she said.

I tried not to think of that day’s story on page four of The Times which said that sugar made men (but not women) depressed. It sounded like junk science but even so I will be spreading that apricot and Amaretto jam (which smells and tastes heavenly) a little more thinly. I don’t want to live on the edge and be depressed.

I liked Lindy’s style. She was patient and thorough and fussed around us like a mother hen as we roasted (the beetroot), simmered, boiled, stirred, zested, strained and funnelled up a whole store cupboard of preserves. Everything tasted good. “I’m going to have that raspberry cordial with some gin tonight,” said Faye wickedly.

Lindy taught me the upside down spoon test for a set jelly. I do the wrinkle test: put some jam or jelly on a cold plate, leave it in the fridge for five minutes, and if it wrinkles when you push your finger through it’s ready. Lindy scoops some up in a spoon, puts it back in the fridge and turns the spoon upside down five minutes later. If it doesn’t fall off you’re on.

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Jonathan (left) and Paul busy chopping

Some of the students were so keen this was the second or third course. The school runs 15 different courses in baking and breadmaking, 13 in butchery (there’s still time to get on the goat butchery course on October 29, no need to bring your own goat), six in cheesemaking and well over a dozen others from pies and chocolates to foraging and ice cream.

Patience is a virtue in preserving. You can’t rush things. It took Faye and I three attempts before the apricots set. The smell when Lindy dropped in a slug of Amaretto! I don’t mean to be smug (again) but that redcurrant and apple jelly set the first time. And we’d forgotten the pips.

*The School of Artisan Food is at Lower Motor Yard, Welbeck, Nottinghamshire S80 3LR. For details visit www.schoolofartisanfood.org or call 01909 532 171.

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The author pots up

 

A little of what you fancies . . .

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Scones and fancies at the Flying Childers

I’M raising a cup of Darjeeling in the finest Wedgwood china during afternoon tea at Chatsworth, in honour of a horse called Flying Childers. In fact, we’re in the restaurant named after this 18th Century stallion once owned by the second Duke of Devonshire.

With six wins out of six the Duke wouldn’t sell him for his weight in gold. No matter that three of those wins were walkovers, the old boy (the horse, not the duke) went on to sire a champion called Spanking Roger.

And spanking, as in spankingly good, is how I’d describe the twelfth duke’s Wedgwood Afternoon Tea which costs £35 a head. Why, you could almost buy a Wedgwood china sugar bowl for that money. An extra tenner gets you a glass of champagne.

Our table top can hardly be seen for pretty, delicate Wedgwood in bright patterns and colours. There are plates, teapots, cup and saucers, a sugar bowl, milk jug, tea strainer bowls, gold coloured Wedgwood cutlery – a cake knife, fork and spoon – with a Wedgwood china dish to rest them in.  Only the sugar cubes aren’t Wedgwood. “When it arrived we were terrified of breaking anything,” says café manager Meire Heard. So are we and I nearly succeed when my tea cup tips over.

The new menu was launched in March and has been a hit. Chatsworth has invited my wife and I as guests to see just how good it is. The restaurant is in a glazed arcade which runs the length of one side of the old stable block and the first thing you notice is a painting of the eponymous horse.

Walking to our table we pass a party of Japanese women enjoying their scones and jam. The way the Flying Childers does it, this English tea ceremony is almost as complex as their own.

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Coronation Chicken was our favourite sandwich

First you are asked to choose your champagne (if you’re having it) and then the tea. Don’t look for PG Tips or builders’ tea. And it’s loose. A teabag at the Flying Childers would be a scandal. There is Earl Grey but as my wife is already wearing Earl Grey and cucumber perfume she doesn’t want to be mistaken for a tea pot so opts for  full-bodied Ceylon while I have fragrant Darjeeling. “My grandmother told me to always put the milk in first so it wouldn’t crack the china,” says my wife. I’m thinking of my mother who would always crook her little finger whenever she had a naice cup of tea in a naice place to match but this is 2017 so I don’t.

The Wedgwood Afternoon Tea is treated like a three course meal (cheaper versions are available). First comes some ‘gin and tonic’ cured salmon, cut thickly, with a citrusy crème fraiche, salted cucumber and rye croutons. It sparkles as much as our champagne.

This is followed by a plate of sandwiches and tartlets: Coronation Chicken, egg mayonnaise and cress and ham and chutney sandwiches in white and brown bread, and two beautifully done miniature pastries: a goat’s cheese, pine nut and red onion tart in a red (beetroot juice?) embossed pastry case which crumbles as you touch it and a more robust but still excellent pesto and vegetable quiche.

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Goats cheese tart: so tiny but big in flavour

It’s the pastry work at Chatsworth which always has me purring in admiration. There is more in evidence in the third course, the scones, cakes and fancies. The scones, cherry and sultana, are tiny but light and moist. The fancies are terrific: A Black Forest ‘gateau’ is hardly that although it comes with a couple of drunken boozy cherries in a box of the crispest pastry. There’s also a zippy lime and rhubarb shortbread cheesecake, well-scented Earl Grey panna cotta and little kiwi fruit tarts.

The only thing we’re wary of is the macaroons because we fear a sugar rush but, at the risk of sounding like a Two Ronnies’ sketch, I’m glad to see Chatsworth insists on two Os in macaroon and not this new affectation for calling them macarons.

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The Flying Childers restaurant

If all this seems like indulgence you’d be right. The menu wickedly urges you to ‘indulge yourself’ several times. But even gastronomic hedonism has to come to an end.  After a relaxed hour there are just crumbs on our plates (but not many) and a lonely macaroon, while the glasses of Laurent-Perrier champagne have been drained. It is expensive but you are paying for first class service, elegant surroundings and some wonderful patisserie work.

Plus a memory or two. For us it’s already up there with afternoon tea at The Ritz, cucumber sandwiches, harpist and all.

# Wedgwood Afternoon Tea costs £35, with champagne it’s £45. You can book online at www.chatsworth.org or drop in. Teas are served between 2 and 4pm.

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This painting of Flying Childers is at the restaurant entrance