There’s no gin in ginjinha!

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Ginjinha

IT’S just the thing you need on a chilly night – chilly for Portugal, that is – a little shot of ginjinha from a hole in the wall bar on the Rossio. On a recent trip to Lisbon we did it every night as a pre-prandial before hitting the town.

 Despite the name, it has nothing to do with gin or ginger. It’s a locally made cherry-infused brandy boosted with sugar to take away the rawness and cinnamon because, well, the Portuguese love cinnamon. And for just E1.40 for a thimbleful, with a cherry or two, it’s a bargain.

 In places posher than the A Ginjinha bar on the Largo Sao Domingos (which serves it in tiny plastic cups) you might get it in a chocolate ‘thimble’ which you eat after draining. That will cost more.

 But the tiny bar has history: it’s been there since 1840. The floor and counter can also get very sticky from the spilled drink so make sure you don’t get jostled in the queue.

 It wasn’t until after I’d had a noggin or two that I remembered I have been making something very similar back home in Sheffield but more of that later.

 Ginja, as it is also known, is made from a Portuguese brandy called aguardente (which literally means fire water) in which sour Morello cherries are infused. This is then sweetened with sugar and flavoured further with cinnamon. You can have it with or without the cherries but be warned they have not been stoned. And with these tiny quantities nor will you.

 I’m not going to pretend it’s a fantastic taste but it is pleasant and warming and is enjoyable as a little ritual.

 The bartender serves it from a bottle packed full of cherries which he keeps topped up with alcohol from one of three spigots on the back wall. He first pours the ginja, holding back the cherries with the bottle cap, then with a deft flick of the wrist sends two or three of the tiny cherries into your cup.

 

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Taking a tipple at A Ginjinha

I was going to write that you can’t miss the bar but we managed to do it on our first trip to Lisbon!

 Each year when I pick cherries in Attercliffe cemetery I use the smallest for jams and jellies and keep the juiciest and biggest for fruit salads. And I always fill a Kilner jar with pitted cherries immersed in cheap brandy. They liven up puddings and fruit salads in the following months. Then when the cherries have all been eaten, we drink the cherry brandy left. There’s no extra sugar or cinnamon and it doesn’t seem to need it.

 Tonight we had just enough to fill two shot glasses and say cheers to Lisbon! Next year I will be picking extra cherries for a bottle or two of Sheffield-style ginjinha.

 

 

 

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Autumn in a bottle (or a jar)

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Sloes + gin+ sugar = sloe gin

I’M no good at finding sloes, that bitter fruit of the backthorn, but it doesn’t really matter because I know someone who is. Every year I get two or three pounds of berries and have to find a use for them.

Particularly as the person who provides them (my ex-wife and her boyfriend who bungied off a bridge to get them) had taken so much trouble.

That’s not difficult and this year they have come early, big ripe juicy berries which haven’t needed a frost to soften. They have been compensation for a poor blackberry season my way (although the berries on a bramble in my garden were excellent) and a dismal crop of tiny, tasteless bilberries up on the moors.

The most obvious recipe is sloe gin or vodka and I reckon it takes a pound of berries to a 70cl bottle of gin plus four to six ounces of sugar, depending on how sweet you like your liqueur. Don’t spend a fortune on gin either. The award winning Oliver Cromwell at Aldi is a best buy at just under a tenner.

Normally, after destalking and washing, this is a painstaking business pricking the hard little berries with a pin to enable the juices to leach out. I have been given another, quicker, tip: run them against a grater. But I didn’t need to do either, they crushed easily in my fist.

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Juicy ripe sloes

I put them in a large jar which I had strained only moments before of last year’s sloe gin. You do, of course, get more than 70cl of sloe gin because the volume increases with the sloe juice and dissolved sugar. It doesn’t really take a year to make the gin liqueur. I was just lazy. It should be ready for Christmas. Autumn in a bottle!

But what to do with those used sloes? They were still gin soaked and it seemed a waste to throw them out.

In previous years I have painstakingly stoned the fruit and turned them into Mother’s Ruin Chutney. I still have the odd jar and it’s terrific. I have also made truffles out of them and if you want to know how to do it see here

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Sloe truffles

I warn you, it’s fiddly so I for one am not doing it this year! Instead I decided to use them in a hedgerow jelly, when there’s no need to stone anything. I used the gin soaked sloes, some fresh ones, half a pound of blackberries from the freezer where I also found some blackcurrants picked earlier this year on the Ponderosa. These last would provide the pectin to make things set. It occurred to me I could also call this Black Fruit Jelly: blackthorn, bilberry and blackcurrant.

Making jelly is easy. There must have been several pounds of fruit, tipped into a preserving pan, just covered with water and simmered until soft. Then tip them into a scalded jelly net (I have now bought a little jelly making rig so I don’t have to suspend it from an upended stool) and allow to drain overnight.

The discarded fruit went in the compost and I measured the juice, just under a litre. For every 600ml of juice you need 450 grams of sugar or pro rata. Simmer until dissolved then boil fast (about 10-15 minutes) until you get a set. I ignore my deceitful jam thermometers and use the saucer test: chill two or three in the freezer, take one out, put a blob of jelly on it, turn off the heat, put the saucer in the fridge for five minutes, then see if it wrinkles. I got a result, a nice, soft set, on the second attempt.

That made half a dozen small jars. The jelly makes a change from jam on toast, can be used to fill cakes and a spoonful really enhances sauces and gravies.

I still had some sloes left over so I bunged them in the freezer until I decide what to do with them Any ideas?

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Hedgerow jelly

Veggie and vegan with added fish

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For veggies, vegans and yummy mummies

Another in the series on former Sheffield restaurants and restaurateurs

THE legend on the café’s sunshine yellow fascia read “Food, Drink and Enlightenment.” And the best thing about the Bohemian at 53 Chesterfield Road, Sheffield, was that it didn’t cost you much.

It was something of a regular when I was reviewing for the Sheffield Star. There was that time when I did a Dine Out for a Tenner series (three courses, coffee not included) and we went then.  We got in under budget by sharing dessert. It helped you could BYO with no corkage.

This was a feature not without embarrassment. Our feverish calculations in one restaurant were overheard by nearby diners. The woman whispered loudly to her companion: “That poor couple have got hardly any money!”

The last time I ate there in 2009, a couple of years before it closed, main courses could still sail in for under £10.

As befits its name, a Bohemian kind of customer frequented it: those who preferred organic, vegetarian and vegan food but that didn’t mean you wouldn’t also find fish on the menu. It was popular in the mornings with mothers and children. The blackboard menu listed ‘stuff you can eat before lunch,’ as well as sandwiches and salads plus a heavier menu which ran all day. In the evenings they lit the candles.

It was a 30 seater with no more than five tables at the front and a couple more at the back, just in front of the kitchen. On the wall was a framed photo of a bearded man in a turban. He was Sufi Master Sheik Nazir, the ‘guardian angel’ of Camran Munir and his brother Imran, who advised them to open the Bohemian.

The brothers also had the Shaan takeaway a few doors along. They came from a catering family. Their granddad had run the Mama café in Attercliffe.

Despite their background there wasn’t a lot of asian food on offer. That came later when the premises were turned into the Bhaji Shop, run by the very English  Matthew Holdsworth,  whose own family had made their name in supplying bhajis to Eastern and Western customers.

The blackboard might include mussels in tomato and chill, grilled sardines, mezze, goats cheese risotto, or lentil and vegetable filo parcels. Local ladies supplied the cakes and desserts.

The chef was Jonathan Cummings although he always seemed to be off when we called.  One night it got busy with a couple of rookies in charge so Imran called his brother, who also cooked.  Midway through our main course he burst through the doors, clad in his motorcycle leathers, and hurried up the stairs before returning to the kitchen. It was like a scene out of Blackadder.

While I can’t remember when it opened it had closed by early 2011. There was to be no more food, drink and enlightenment  on Chesterfield Road.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Eddie ran it come what may

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The restaurant on Abbeydale Road

Another in my series of bygone Sheffield and South Yorkshire restaurants and personalities

IF there was a prize for the best restaurant name in Sheffield it would have to go to Kumquat Mae, the vegetarian eaterie on Abbeydale Road. Unless, of course, you wanted to award it to Sam n Ella’s on Ecclesall Road.

Kumquat Mae was that rarity in Sheffield, a vegetarian and vegan restaurant, founded by Eddie Poole, a name to play around with. Eddy in a pool, geddit?

I first came across him running a Japanese restaurant from a room at Morrissey’s East House pub on Spital Hill, although I am not sure whether that was also called Kumquat Mae.

Nor am I sure when he opened the premises at 353 Abbeydale Road but I visited at least twice, in 2004 and again 2007 and almost certainly on previous occasions.

What you could say about the place was that it was quirky. Certainly in design because the rear of dining room was up a couple of steps so it acted as a kind of stage, from which you could gaze down over a balustrade at other diners if you had a table ‘upstairs.’

The menu was on a big blackboard and dishes included fried halloumi, pea and asparagus risotto, vegan Thai red curry and so on. I don’t remember any kumquats although stuffed aubergines were popular. I always thought it was more expensive than a BYO veggie place should be. Wednesdays were cheaper.

It was also quirky because it had a very relaxed attitude to life. On one visit, in 2003, we arrived, found no one to greet us, sat ourselves at a table, borrowed a corkscrew and poured our wine. It was a good ten minutes before a waitress wandered through from the kitchen and acted as if there was nothing untoward.

Four years later on one blowy January night we found the door locked although there were people inside. Eventually a customer got up to let us in. The catch didn’t work properly and the door kept blowing open so it was locked.

By that time Kumquat Mae had been taken over by Eddie’s assistant Nicky Harris, partner of Martin Bedford, the illustrious poster designer. She inherited the place’s quirkiness. On that visit she wandered out of the restaurant, rucksack slung over her back, midway through service. “I do need a night off occasionally,” she said. She left the cooking to her son, Morgan.

Not too long after Kumquat Mae closed for good and it has had many identities since but none as quirky as its veggie days.

It did resurface for a time as a ‘roving restaurant,’ or what would now be called a pop-up, on at least two nights at different pubs. It had a Facebook page through which people could book and order their meal in advance.

It was still quirky. Kumquat Mae, which had proudly flown the veggie and vegan flags, was now offering a meat option.

NOTE: Previous posts in the series were the Kashmir and Pepe’s

Poppabombs and the curry philanthropist

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Long gone but not forgotten – the Kashmir

The first in an occasional series on former Sheffield restaurants and personalities.

THERE was lino on the floor, the three dining rooms were filled with mismatching Formica-topped tables and, so popular legend had it, a notice on the wall had declared ‘Today’s special: chicken curry’ for the last 20 years.

Apart from the twinkling fairy lights in the window looking onto Spital Hill, Sheffield, this could be the Asian equivalent of Butlers Dining Rooms, the ethnic Sheffield workman’s café par excellence across the city on Brook Hill.

The Kashmir Curry Centre, one of Sheffield’s oldest curry houses – restaurant is too strong a term for what was essentially a caff with great food – closed in November 2010 after 36 years. Such was its reputation that some people thought they’d been there when all they’d done was read about it, as one writer ruefully admitted.

Behind a counter sat the owner Bsharath Hussain, who’d worked there from the start, as a boy of 14, in the business started by his Mirpuri-born father. Bsharath was affectionately known as Paul by his customers and by me when reviewing until the time he told me apologetically that the elders in his mosque had asked him to use his proper name.

The clientele was mostly white, very often wimmin from Walkley, at least on our visits. “If you can get past the Guardian reading clientele and the woefully outdated decor, there’s an excellent curry waiting for you,” said one contributor to a local website. The Harden’s Guide echoed that: “Great cooking if you don’t mind the bare tables.”

I remember the breads, wonderfully light. “The plain naan is unlike any other – in colour and texture somewhere between leavened bread and Yorkshire Pudding,” said one currylovers’ blog. Others praised the Kashmiri lamb, the “near sublime samosas,” the vegetable thalis and the fact that the food was not overladen with ghee.

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It was also inexpensive. Well, you weren’t paying for the surroundings or the waiters. With two cooks in the kitchen Bsharath, who avoured traditional dress, did most of the front of house himself. A carafe of water went on the table when you arrived and if you wanted something stronger you could bring it yourself from Morrissey’s East House pub across the way. Incidentally, the upper room of this pub once housed the city’s first Japanese-style restaurant.

Bsharath, who whiled away the quieter restaurant moments reading a copy of Vikram Seth‘s almost 600,000 word novel A Suitable Boy which a customer had recommended, had a good sense of humour. He styled himself the Curry Philanthropist because prices were so low. In 2008 starters seldom topped £2 and mains a fiver. But that didn’t help profits.

Around 2006 the place got a makeover. There were pictures on the walls and each Formica table was covered with identical plastic gingham tablecloths. “After 30 years I realised that if you buy some plastic it all looks the same,” he said dryly.

The menu was also jazzed up. South Indian dishes such as idli and dhoka made an appearance as did his famous ‘poppabombs,’ golgappa or pani puri, crisp little spheres of semolina flour stuffed with chutney and tamarind. It was quite possibly the first appearance of this Indian street food in the Sheffield.

Sadly, it wasn’t enough and he and his wife made the decision to close in 2010. It all happened rather suddenly. Bshareth, then 49, could no longer afford to, in effect, subsidise his customers’ dining.

The Kashmir was the nearest thing Sheffield had to the stripped-down curry houses that Bradford is famous for. Almost ten years later it is still missed.

Still shouting to the Rafters

 

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My review soon after Rafters opened in 1989

THE chef didn’t cook with onions and garlic, the waiter started a discussion about Adolf Hitler within minutes of us sitting down and we had no idea this odd little restaurant would become such a shining star in Sheffield’s culinary story.

 But by the end of the evening we knew we’d had a damn good meal at Rafters even though we had the whole place to ourselves.

 The other day Alistair Myers, the current owner (along with head chef Tom Lawson) posted on Facebook that the Good Food Guide-listed place was celebrating its 25th anniversary. Great news in an industry where even the best places can be short-lived but it is not the whole story. It may be 25 years since the Bosworth brothers, Wayne and Jamie, put the restaurant on the map but the roots go back even further, to 1989.

 The establishment of the restaurant, the naming and its ambition was the work of three enthusiastic amateurs in the hospitality business although they were not new to another branch of catering.

 They were June Hall , a former bakery worker and mother of six, George Taylor, her partner, financier and, on our night, the rookie waiter, and baker Steve Sanderson, with June, the chef at Rafters.

 Between them they had a burning ambition to run a posh restaurant. So do a lot of other people but it was the way they went about it that impressed. The two chefs honed up their cooking skills at evening classes at Earl Marshall, where June even found the time to learn upholstery to recover antique dining chairs they’d bought on Abbeydale Road.

The upstairs restaurant had previously been the Carriageway café and before that it was known as the Lord Mayor’s Parlour.

 She was determined to get the look of the place right. There was white linen, cut glass, Wedgwood plates and Sheffield cutlery underneath the black rafters which spidered across the ceiling and which gave the place its name.

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Wayne Bosworth in the Rafters van in the Nineties

 We paid £51.50 for our meal, big money back then, which is why, perhaps, we were the only customers that night. They had opened in February and we went in April. But the food was good.

 We began with prawn gratinee (£3.25) and smoked salmon and egg roll (£4), followed by soup and sorbet, the country house fashion at the time. There were 14 main courses, half of them steaks, but we had duck with Cumberland sauce (£12) and veal with a watercress and almond sauce (£12.75). Steve was responsible for the mains. “I cook without onions and garlic and I keep asking myself if I’m doing wrong,” he said afterwards.

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A youthful Jamie and Wayne Bosworth

 It’s fascinating looking back on menus from 30 years ago. There was crab and avocado among the starters and a main called chicken mango, rubbed with sesame seeds and cooked with a mango and cream sauce.

 “I’ll shout it to the rafters . . . that we know something Sheffield doesn’t. They serve a memorable meal” I wrote after we finished off with petit pot of chocolate and a frozen Grand Marnier orange, a sweet from the era of Abigail’s Party, if ever there was.

 Despite my praise it did not thrive. By the time the Bosworths took over Rafters was closed more times than it was open. “They were just opening Saturdays and using the restaurant as a base for outside catering,” recalls Jamie.

He and Wayne, who had come from working at the Chantry, Dronfield, were innocents abroad in those days and set about running it without the restaurant licence they required. To cover themselves either June or Steve sat in the kitchen with them until the licence came through. It was then they saw the quick cheffy techniques which had taken them ages!

Meanwhile the brothers were agonising whether to change the name but they couldn’t come up with anything both agreed on. “It’s not easy. Eventually we settled on Bosworth Brothers @ Rafters for a while,” says Jamie, who is glad they didn’t change it.

The Bosworths put Rafters into the guides and made it one of the city’s leading restaurants. After Wayne’s death in 2000 Marcus Layne joined the partnership, eventually buying the business and running it until, beset by ill-health, he sold it on in 2013 to Alistair and Tom. At 14 years, his has been the longest tenure at Oakbrook Road.

.So while Rafters is right to celebrate those 25 years we shouldn’t forget those brave pioneers who laid the groundwork.

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Tom Lawson and Alistair Myers

 

 

 

 

Cross words at the Cross Scythes

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The Cross Scythes at Totley

FOR pub landlord Terry Groves it could all have gone terribly wrong. His local paper ran a story online listing the Cross Scythes at Totley as among 11 Sheffield eating places which got a big fat zero in the city council’s Scores on the Doors hygiene ratings.

Within hours it was on social media across the city. The Sheffield Forum website linked to it under the heading ‘Sheffield food places to avoid.’ There among a group of grubby looking takeaways was a pub with a gastro reputation in a posh suburb. So did trade slump? Quite the opposite. “A lot more people know about us now,” he told me.

The ratings run online all year but get an annual publicity boost in January. It’s part of a national scheme. Newspapers use it as a hook to run stories and while some of the places on the list might not raise eyebrows the inclusion of the Cross Scythes, which had a reputation as a gastropub under a previous head chef, Simon Ayres, certainly did.

In better times The Star would have told a reporter to ring up and find out what was going on. Instead it ran a series of 11 photographs, online only, with brief details, requiring users to click through to discover each one. As one disgruntled person commented on Sheffield Forum, this is ‘clickbait’ which would have exposed him to numerous adverts, according to his adblocker. It’s a deliberate way to earn the website money from more ‘clicks’ but lazy journalism..

So what was the story which The Star failed to find? Terry, aged 63, and his wife Glyn will be well known to local pubgoers. They ran a couple of Beefeaters, including the Mossbrook at Eckington, which they opened, as well as the Bradway Hotel and the Nelson on Furnival Gate, re-opening it as the revamped Grape Treaders and Hop Pickers.

They took a break from the trade to raise a family but were running the Shepherds Rest at Lower Bagthorpe in Nottinghamshire when they took over Enterprise Inns’ Cross Scythes last October. They now look after both.

“We knew about the zero rating. The previous tenant had said the chef had taken home the paperwork and forgotten it. Hmm. I suppose it was partly my fault I didn’t tell Environmental Health we had moved in but we were running two places and Christmas was coming up,” Terry said.

When the story went online (it hasn’t appeared in print) Terry went on Facebook to complain The Star was being unfair and to explain the situation. He’s asked, twice, for a new inspection but the council has a backlog. Terry is sanguine. The pub’s Facebook page has had plenty of hits and shares and comments have been “90 per cent positive. Until this happened I hadn’t realised the power of social media. A lot more people know about us. Some have given us five star reviews out of solidarity.”

Terry believes the rating was a paperwork problem: that gets an automatic zero. The kitchen was reasonably clean when he arrived but some equipment needed replacing. Staff training has been improved and he is happy for anyone to inspect the kitchen.

As he and Glyn moved in the previous chef walked out. Local boy Connor Lightfoot has moved up from sous to head chef. These days the Totley boozer isn’t going for gastropub status but is happy with pie, tapas and curry nights with a new specials and a la carte menu just being introduced.

Locals have rallied round on Facebook. “You’re my local. The food is always spot on,” says one. Terry reflects: “You know, there really is no such thing as bad publicity!”

Web: http://www.cross-scythes.com

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Tapas at the Cross Scythes

FOOTNOTE: The Cross Scthes has now changed hands and is run by Scott Philliskirk , formerly of the Hidden Gem.