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

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

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Fritto Misto

Ready to order your ethnic authentic? It’ll take 30 years

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Lamb on the bone

FOREIGN restaurants go through a period of evolution when they arrive in this country. The first Indians, Chinese or Greeks might want to give their English customers a taste of what they eat back home but they soon realise it doesn’t pay to be that authentic.

Indian restaurants, in reality Pakistani or Bangladeshi, for long had dishes that wouldn’t be recognised in their own countries. Many still do. Chicken tikka masala? Pull the other poppadom!

I still remember Sompranee Low, who opened the city’s first Thai restaurant, the Bahn Nah, back in the Nineties (Sheffield has always been late for dinner compared to the rest of the country) telling me that she ” dialled down the chilli heat” for customers.

It wasn’t good business for a pallid Englishman, more used to the tranquil flavours of cottage pie or bangers and mash, to be left reeling by an authentic but fiery chilli.

So what we got was a pale shadow of a native cuisine, filtered through several layers of difficulty. The first restaurateurs may not have been natural cooks (many, particularly, Italian and Indian, were redundant steelworkers), the ingredients, herbs and spices were often not available, and Mr and Mrs English knew no better.

If they thought spaghetti carbonara came with cream and complained when it didn’t, unaware that the creaminess came from the emulsion of egg, water and cheese, they got cream.

Then things happened. The first was foreign travel. Holidaymakers in Italy realised that pasta didn’t grow on trees or come out of a tin. The sharper ones, who didn’t high tail it down to the English pubs on the Costa Brava, realised there was a difference.

Secondly came the wider availability of exotic ingredients. Avocados and aubergines started appearing on menus, and much else.

And, thirdly, there are now other customers to please besides Mr and Mrs English: Their own countrymen and women.

Earlier on, immigrants were too poor, too busy or just not in the habit of going out to eat so there was then no need to cater for them. And they would probably have something sharp to say if they did.

When, say, the Pakistani, Chinese or Italian diasporas in Sheffield got to a certain size and had the habit of eating out and money to spend, they could support their own authentic restaurants. This is not true yet of all communities. A Thai woman told me recently: “Why should I eat out when I can cook it myself?”

So we have seen little Pakistani and Kashmiri restaurants spring up in the city, unconcerned about Anglo trade, and just think what has happened to the Chinese restaurant business with the influx of students from Mainland China. Suddenly restaurants other than Cantonese have appeared, along with noodle bars and hot pot eateries. Some have not even bothered to have menus in English.

Not too long ago my wife walked into a place full of Chinese. We were the only Europeans and the waiter confidently expected us to take one look at the menu, which contained not a word of English and leave, so he didn’t bother to come across and ask our order. We stood (or sat) our ground until he did.

I don’t suppose that would happen now as there is a band of ultra foodies who delight in finding the most obscure ethnic places and reporting their finds enthusiastically on social media and blogs. (I have followed up some rave reports with less than euphoric results.)

So where is this leading? These thoughts were triggered by a visit recently to one of those little ethic restaurants, Apna Lahore, on Abbeydale Road, Sheffield, with fellow foodie and blogger Craig Harris. Now Craig majors in Italian cuisine but is currently studying for a critical Dip Ed in Pakistani food and this is one of his regular haunts. He’s written about it here

Its sit down custom is almost exclusively Asian, although this place started life as a takeaway. I’m scanning the menu and see among the specials is maghaz, which means brains.

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Samosa and pakora starters

I have eaten brains and trotters, also on offer, before, although in very upmarket restaurants, so miss these and take Craig’s advice to order lamb on the bone. It is a robust, earthy, fiery curry with plenty of chopped bone but I am a natural gnawer so that no problem. And it’s the bone which gives it a deeper flavour.

He has ordered chicken daal, not on the menu, but basically chicken in a sauce of large, soft lentils still holding their shape.

Gutsy is the word I would use to describe both dishes, good nourishing stuff without any hairs and graces.

The decor is bright and basic and very blue. There is music but not too loud. It is of course, alcohol free. You get a bottle of water and glasses when you sit down. Most customers eat with rotis, just workaday bread in my opinion, although cutlery is available.

Pickles and fajitas are very good. Meat samosas come man-sized with proper crisp pastry not filo. The chicken pakoras aren’t bad either.

Two courses, with rice, comes to £26. It’s a bargain. Probably not a first date night place but one to put on your list.

We finish with unspiced Pakistani tea with condensed milk. And a plate of ginger biscuits. Dunking away, we are both impressed by these. Did they make them themselves?

“We get them from Lidl,” said Ali, our server.

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Chicken daal

Apna Lahore is 342 Abbeydale Road, S7 1FN Sheffield.
Tel: 0114 258 8821

Jarvo keeps his mojo with lomo

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Peruvian dish lomo saltado

HEAD chef Steve Jarvis has never been to Peru but he knows a bear who has.

And take it from Jarvo, as he is known to his mates, Peruvian food is the Next Big Thing.

If so, he’s ahead of the game because the Andean country’s national dish, Lomo Saltado, is already a big seller on the new menu at the Lone Star restaurant on Division Street, Sheffield.

Now you might think of Peru as all llamas and Machu Picchu but there’s a definite Northern twang to this dish which centres on chips and gravy. Of course, there’s more to it than that!

The Chinese brought this to Peru as a beef stir-fry but Steve, 42, who took over the kitchen just before Christmas, cooks beef shoulder until it pulls into strands in a sauce with onions, vinegar and cumin, which provides intriguing base notes. Then it’s served with chips and rice: double carbs but they’ve got to keep the cold of the Andes out of their bones, I suppose.

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Steve ‘Jarvo’ Jarvis

It was a new one on me and something I savoured. It’s also a hit with customers, although how they know about a Peruvian dish Steve himself found on Pinterest beats me. Perhaps it’s the friendly waiting staff who push this one, available in two sizes at £5.95 (enough to serve as a tapas along with others such as Baba Ghanoush or crispy, crunchy, fiery Korean popcorn chicken) and £11.95.

We’re here at Steve’s invitation. He’d just left Rotherham College of Art and Technology for a new life in catering after a career in building when he emailed me at The Star to recommend the college training canteen. We popped round to review and enjoyed it. So we reckoned Steve knew a good thing when he saw it, even if it was his own.

At 32 when he switched from building conservatories to catering, he was one of the oldest students there. It came about on the death of his gran, whom he enjoyed cooking with as a kid, so maybe there is a connection.

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Bao buns with pork

He’s cooked around the area since college and “eight years in I have still got my mojo,” he says. Well lomo has helped him keep it!

Lonestar, opened last year by Barnsley-based Brook Leisure which runs Sheffield’s Crystal Bar and other nightspots, is in premises previously  occupied by Costa Coffee.

It’s towards the town end, not that far from the City Hall, so somewhat off the student beat. In fact, the majority of customers are 35 or over.

To the casual observer the menu covers a lot of ground, from tapas to sourdough pizzas, Mexican to Moroccan, with a good line in cocktails offered on a two for £10 basis. Or as Steve puts it, “Here, there and everywhere.” Or as they say in the guides, eclectic.

It still is but he’s introduced a pie (in answer to Pieminster which has opened up across the road) and that safety-first dish fish and chips to cater for all tastes. Lonestar is running a Pie Week from March 2.

Our other main was a very pleasing curried cod (£12.95), nice, firm flesh, mildly spiced in a mango sauce on a bed of potatoes and cauliflower.

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Window onto Division Street

Not everything is made in-house. The popcorn chicken (£5.95) isn’t nor the bao buns (£6.95), but the filling certainly was, juicy pulled pork given a sweet edge with a little apple.

Lonestar is a friendly place with pleasant staff and prices which won’t scare the horses. And if you try the lomo saltado and like it, word is that Jarvo has another Peruvian favourite up his sleeve.

And just to keep the Peruvian theme going, the toilets are up a couple of flights of stairs so it can feel like climbing the Andes on a lomo-full stomach.

Web: http://www.lonestarsheffield.co.uk

*This blog ate at Lonestar as a guest

 

 

 

 

A curate’s egg at Butcher & Catch

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Duck breast

THERE’S a famous 19th Century Punch cartoon which shows a young clergyman struggling to say something good about the bad breakfast egg he’s eating at the Bishop’s table. “It’s good in parts,” he says, or some such, thereby launching the phrase ‘a curate’s egg.’

Which is what I think about Broomhill’s trendy Butcher & Catch after a meal there. Good in parts but then not in others.

Let’s start on a high note. You pass an open kitchen before which is set store a display of the tempting meat and fish waiting to be cooked to find a decent sized table in a bright, buzzy room.

And they can cook fish. One of our party had the catch of the day (£17), a whole sea bass as sparkling and fresh and equally as good as that she’d just eaten in Portugal. “Really on point,” she approved.

But why, and here we come to the curate’s egg, had the kitchen served up a heap of practically tasteless new potatoes alongside it?

Our friend’s starter of salt cod and mussel fritters (£6) knocked your socks off in the cod department  – salty, intense, vibrant – but the mussels were hard to find. My wife opened with a blackberry and apple cured sea trout, really quite lovely, but it was set on what was described as a buttermilk pikelet.

“It’s got the texture of a shoe insole,” she bemoaned. It was duly passed around the table and we all agreed it was a load of cobblers.

Both chaps ate the same. Our brioche doughnut filled with sticky oxtail (£6), obviously a Euro riff on a bao bun, was a little underwhelming. There was scant meat inside the sweet bun, burnished with a Henderson’s and maple syrup glaze. The roast carrot puree added an extra pleasing sweetness.

The duck breast (£18) ultimately failed to shine. There was plenty of it, pink and relatively tasty, but why on earth was it served into two big tranches when this is a meat which needs to be eaten sliced thinly? Worse, a thin layer of gristly cartilage was left on both our dishes and the skin, one of the glories of duck, was flabby not crisp.

It did, however, come with a lovely duck leg bon bon which showed what the kitchen can do: lip-smacking, shredded, confited meat in a crisp shell.

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Brioche with oxtail

The kitchen isn’t so hot on the pass, though. Both our dishes were missing their sweet potato fondant. It was rectified but, frankly, sweet potato doesn’t have the texture to make a fondant.

Service here is studied casual so they don’t offer to take your heavy coats unless you ask, put bottles of wine on the table without removing the tops or offering to pour and ask you one too many times if you want more drinks when those bottles are still clearly half full. So, in a similarly studied casual way we don’t leave a tip.

And the wine.!We had a Chilean Merlot and a Spanish Verdejo, both at the cheap end of a short list and poor value, lacking fruit and over acid respectively.

It might have been an off night. I hope so. But they might want to rethink some of their dishes and ask themselves if they really hang together.

In my reviewing days for The Star the tenor of my report often hung on the dessert course. Many a restaurant which faltered on the mains, cooked there and then, scraped home on the starters and puddings, prepped more leisurely in advance.

But this was our money, not the company’s, and my wife and I weren’t prepared to try.

We did, however, give it the old fingers test, where we each raised the number of fingers on one hand to show what we felt. In the spirit of generosity I raised three. She put up two fingers. She had just taken a sip pf wine.

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Sea trout with pikelet

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Lucked out with the duck, again

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The duck looked nice but . . .

TIME was when I ordered duck breast in a restaurant the waiter would lean over his notepad and say in hushed tones, to prepare me for the bloody spectacle to follow, “We serve our duck pink here, sir.” Ah, those were the Eighties when customers expected all meats to be incinerated.

Of course, chances were it would appear anything but pink, perhaps pinkish but very often grey.

There were two possible reasons. First was inept over-cooking. Secondly, when a duck breast is thinly sliced and fanned – the juices running out to add resonance and depth to your sauce – oxidation quickly sets in and pinkness fades.

Now I have not been having a lot of luck in the duck department while eating out lately and I’m wondering if there’s been a cheffy twist in fashion I have not yet caught up with.

On two recent meals chefs have treated duck like steak, serving it up as thick, bloody, chewy, inelegant tranches of meat. Perhaps they are worried it will go grey. Worse, each time the breast retained a sliver of gristle or cartilage from where it was attached to the breastbone. Inexpert butchering: I wonder whether they have the same supplier?

This last was at the otherwise excellent Silver Plate training restaurant at Sheffield College (I go back far enough to remember it as Granville) which is well worth that proverbial detour if you want a more than decent luch or dinner.

The £25-a-head Wine and Dine evening had rattled through splendidly: excellent canapes which included a dinky little falafel; smoked eel, perhaps not Capstan Full Strength but with just a whiff to balance against delights such as a soft-boiled quail’s egg and a first class cabernet reduction; then hot mackerel fillet strips partnered not with the more usual gooseberry (not yet in season) but rhubarb puree, which is. It delivered just enough tartness on the palate.

Our table of four chortled happily, praising the precision of level three students under the guidance of chef-lecturer Neil Taylor.

Then we had the duck.

It was described as: “Caramelised duck breast (with) glazed pear, truffled gnocchi, celeriac, duck parfait emulsion.” Which sounded lovely.

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Mackerel with rhubarb puree

Sadly, my duck was nowhere near caramelised and the skin was flabby. It was lukewarm at best and a bit of a chew. Oddly, the taste was fine but that strip of ligament prevented me cutting it up properly and I gave up wrestling with it. In Man versus Duck there was only one winner and it wasn’t me. By contrast my wife’s duck was cooked to grey.

A pity, because the other elements were fine: the pear delicate, the gnocchi generously truffled, the foam tasted good (Heaven knows what a duck parfait emulsion is) while the jus was excellent.

But if the central element is off kilter it doesn’t work. A double pity, because the wine pairing in our wine flight (£10 a head), was a little stunner. Look out for Poderi Parpinello ‘San Constantino’ from Sardinia.

The duck apart, the kitchen’s handling of ingredients was impressive. Our dessert, Opera Gateau, a French sponge classic looking like a little like a Tecnhnicolor liquorice allsort came with roast pineapple (makes a change from grilled) with a malty ice cream.

But I don’t want this to be one big grouse: beside, I am going back later in the year, virus permitting.

I want to add a word of praise for the breads, particularly the focaccia and light-as-a-feather rolls.

Just as important in a training restaurant are the front of house staff. They were a delight. I like the way my serviette, accidentally dropped on the floor when I went to inspect the facilities (sparklingly clean by the way), was replaced on my table shaped like a cardinal’s hat.

And our server fielded our grumps over the duck well. It appeared we weren’t the only table. We were promised extra petit fours (petit eights?) but it didn’t appear we did, looking at other tables. But coffees were deleted from our bill.

If you want  a different take on this meal check out Craig Harris’s review here as he was sitting at our table.

Not every meal out works 100 per cent but I do know one thing – next time I order duck I’ll get it in writing how the chef cooks it first!

*Because of the corona virus the Silver Plate has now closed until at least after Easter.**The restaurant lighting is a curious pink so my photographs came out in a bilious colour. These pictures of dishes have been taken from the restaurant’s Twitter feed.

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Opera gateau with malt icecream

 

 

 

 

 

Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam!

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Spam on the menu at Ladybower

ON the last leg (and my last legs) of a five and a half mile hike I was dying for refreshment. It was getting too late for a pub lunch but there ahead in the Birchin Clough layby was the Ladybower Café.

And when I read the menu it reminded me of Monty Python. For sandwiches I could have Spam; Spam and Egg; Spam Egg  and Cheese Slice; Spam Bacon and Sausage; Spam and Sausage; and Spam and Bacon.

But I had bacon and egg instead!

I hadn’t really noticed the cafe, more a mobile catering van but with tables and chairs in good weather, before although I must have driven past many times on the A57 in the last 15 years it has been there, according to Julie, who served me.

To be honest, I was a little exhausted or would have asked a little more about this splendid throwback overlooking the Ladybower Reservoir. Judging by its Facebook page it has a host of admirers and regulars.

And I got talking to a whisky salesman whom, he said, had been made homeless and was living out of his car. I saw later that he had posted grateful thanks to Julie, who runs it with a bloke called Geoff, for giving him a free lunch.

The Ladybower Cafe (not to be confused with the Ladybower Inn up the road) is apparently very popular with bikers. Among them are Si and Dave, aka the Hairy Bikers, who dropped in for Spam and egg while filming for their TV series.

Sandwiches come in a breadcake, only white, because there is no call for brown or wholemeal, according to Julie.

My sandwich was great and she didn’t demur when I didn’t want tea because I had some left in my flask.

Next time, though, I’ll have Spam.

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Tonco: so trendy but tasty

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Quincewell tart – lovely pastry

IF TONCO, a bijou little eaterie tucked away shyly behind the stone lions in embryonic Dyson Place, Sheffield, sounds vaguely Mediterranean (Greek or Italian, perhaps?) you might be surprised to find that it takes its name from a long-forgotten sarsaparilla drink brewed in Barnsley.

Once you have managed to open the stiff front door, which obviously spent a previous life as muscle improving gym equipment, you find an industrial looking restaurant. Bare concrete walls, old school chairs, tables made from bicycle frames and a bar-cum-open kitchen give a deliberately unfinished look.

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Celeriac, confit yolk, pangritata

Tonco is the first tenant of Martin Flowers’ retail and apartments redevelopment of an old garage, chapel and wasteland behind Sharrowvale Road.

The exact location has fooled some but just tootle up the alleyway between the wet fish shop and the Mediterranean restaurant. This makes it off-off Ecclesall Road.

The place is run by rhyming couple Joe and Flo (Shrewsbury and Russell) who specialise in the currently fashionable small plates (think Anglo tapas) with a very eclectic menu. Someone asked me what the theme was and I said Very Modern Modern British. Quirky might be a better description. Which started by pinching the name from an old pop bottle.

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Tonco – Hidden away in the corner

Quirkiness has its charms but can irritate if it doesn’t work. Flo’s cooking, which juxtaposes unexpected flavours and ingredients, makes sure it does.

Slivers of celeriac are topped with a confit egg and run through with crispy pangritata, the Italian ‘poor man’s parmesan’ of fried garlicky breadcrumbs flavoured with thyme (£7). It doesn’t look much but the runny yolk binds vegetable and crumbs together for comfort food appeal.

The fashion for fermenting is seen in the fermented kohlrabi, another root, combined with wild sea bass, lightly cured, or ceviched, in the fermenting liquid (£7). It leaves a satisfying tang in the mouth and quite a bit of heat from a fiery paprika sauce.

We could have had oh-so-trendy cavolo nero salad with hemp seed and sesame or bigger plates of braised beef shoulder with homemade orecchiette pasta but, instead, settled for a delicious and generous plate of Italian meats: coppa, lomo and finocchiona (£7).

On my next visit I will get my teeth into bigger dishes such as the beef or stone bass with burnt leek, mussels and elderflower emulsion but instead shared a dessert from the list unforgivably headed Pud-Pud. There was nothing twee, though, about the tart, a quince take on Bakewell with spectacular pastrywork.

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Sea bass ceviche, fermented kohlrabi

The baking is first class here: try the soft, moist, spongy bread which almost converted me to sourdough with a vividly grassy Greek oil – just pressed by a friend of Joe’s, naturally.

They don’t have an espresso machine so you have to settle for cafetiere, which comes in a homely mug.

Tonco may be achingly trendy but, with the dishes we had at least, it works. What I liked was the excellence of the ingredients and the care with which they are used. So be like Joe: go with Flo.

Website: http://www.tonco.co.uk

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Joe and Flo at Tonco. Picture by @zoegenders

No pizzas but you can have a Margherita

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Terrific pasta at Grazie

ALMOST alone among Sheffield’s Italian restaurants you can’t get a pizza at the latest to open, Grazie on Leopold Street. Not even a pizza Margherita.

But there is a Margherita. She makes the pasta.

Traditionally back home the best pasta is made by ageing Nonnas with bulging biceps who have been kneading and folding and rolling all their lives. The Margherita who makes the three types of pasta here is all of 21 and, not having seen her, I can’t speak for her biceps. But she has brought her mum with her! It’s glorious.

This is the lightest, springiest, toothsome pasta I’ve eaten for some time. I’m having main course orecchiette, ear-shaped pasta made with fine semolina (as is the shell-shaped cavatelli) in my Amore Pugliese (£9.25). It’s tossed with the stems of cimi di rapa, wild broccoli, anchovies, chilli, garlic and breadcrumbs for extra texture.

You could almost imagine being, if you ignore the double-deckers rolling by the restaurant’s picture windows, hundreds of miles away in a ristorante fanned by Mediterranean breezes.

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Sausage and mash, Italian style

Grazie, with a mostly Puglian regional menu, is owned and run by Vito Vernia, from that province via Piccolino in ,where he was general manager. Margherita is also from Puglia so she knows exactly the sort of pasta needed.

Grazie has already been widely praised, not least by my pal Craig Harris, whose review you can read here . I’d just like to add a few comments.

I don’t just like to leave a restaurant with, hopefully, a happy tummy full of good food, but an idea or two I can try at home when I’m feeling particularly cheffy. And, my word, there were quite a few at Grazie.

Craig and his wife Marie have already made one visit and he’s back, this time with us. And I’m eyeing up his main course sausage and mash. But it’s not as we know it.

There are two butterflied Italian sausages, as juicy and spicy as you could want, which have been griddled so there are perfect parallel lines. Instead of mash there’s a pool of broad bean puree and a garnish of caramelised red onions.

Fave e salsicca (sounds better already, doesn’t it?) is very tasty and I think I’ll give it a go, although I want to replace the broad beans with mashed potatoes. And I can’t help thinking that £14 is a bit steep for a couple of bangers, no matter how good.

There are lots of interesting things here. The semolina-rich Altamuran bread is excellent, particularly as a bruschetta tipica (£6.50). It’s smeared with some of that broad bean puree and topped with more cimi di rapa, the leaves this time, crispy onions, chilli and extra virgin olive oil. I love the Italian way of using two different parts of the broccoli. You won’t find it over here but try tenderstem or purple sprouting.

Graizie is in the premises of what used to be the Prosecco Lounge and reminds me a little of the early days of Gusto, then round the corner in Church Street, with its burst of new (to Sheffield) ideas and lively cooking.

Vito is married to Elena and you might see her and their new young baby Joseph popping into the restaurant during the day.

Grazie does coffee and cakes until 12 then the full menu operates through the afternoon and evening. There’s plenty more on the menu for us to explore – and we will.

1-3 Leopold Street, SheffieldS1 2GY. Web: http://www.graziesheffield.co.uk

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Vito Severa (wife and bambino in background)

 

Putting the shine back on Silversmiths

 

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Pork belly with apple

LAST time I was at Silversmiths restaurant on Arundel Street with a camera I was lurking on the corner trying to snap TV superchef Gordon Ramsay for The Star.

I found him in the street making a phone call during a break from filming his Kitchen Nightmares restaurant rescue show and got my front page picture – it was a bit blurry – but he caught me. “Did you write that piece in the paper?” he quizzed. I had to admit I had indeed wrote that he was a “foul-mouthed chef.”

He paused and walked silently back into the building. Interview over! When the series  was screened in 2009 there were 310 F-words in one episode alone and Silversmiths has become known all over the world.

Ten years later I’m back, this time legitimately, to see whether it will be third time lucky for this Sheffield restaurant since then owner Justin Rowntree, who had called in Ramsay to save his struggling enterprise, sold a transformed business on in 2017.

The last two reincarnations of the place have failed and doubtless there were a few more F-words when it suddenly closed in August, leaving diners in the lurch. So Silversmiths has a reputation to rebuild.

And Justin is back but in a different role. He’s been called in by new owners Rick Bailey and Matt Ray as consultant to publicise and advise on the relaunch. In a sense he’s doing a bit of a Ramsay “but without the swearing,” he laughed, inviting me to do a review as a guest diner.

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Silversmiths’ interior

They’ve pinned their hopes on tousle-haired head chef Ashley Bagshaw, just 24, who has already made a name for himself at the two AA rosette Chequers pub at Froggat Edge, to put the shine back on. I’ve already enjoyed his cooking at the much acclaimed Airoma pop-up venue with best mate Luke Hanson.

He’s opened with two menus: Simply British, with old favourites like fish and chips, a nod to Ramsay who instituted a pie night (here fish pie and a home-smoked brisket), burger, lamb rump and a steak; and a shorter, more expensive and adventurous a la carte featuring a mustard panna cotta starter, main course grouse with hazelnuts and a trio of desserts separate to the British menu.

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Blue cheese cigar

The restaurant, which seats around 60, seems wider than I recall (there is a separate dining room upstairs). That’s all to do with clever lighting, I’m told, and a row of mirrors helps. The familiar banquette which runs the length of the wall has been retained and so has the stage, a relic of its days as the One Eleven Club and Justin’s Runaway Girl (Ramsay changed the name).

Ashley cooks brightly. A blue cheese ‘cigar’, encased in a crisp pastry sheath (£7) which had absorbed the cheesy flavours, along  with melon balls and pine nuts, was an elegant starter. I had hoped for the panna cotta, which proved unavailable, so went for a very precisely steamed piece of cod enlivened by a hot but not blistering harissa sauce (£8)

My main course was pork belly, perhaps because I’d read that day it had been declared one of the world’s top ten nutritious foods, in at number eight between Swiss chard and beet greens.

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Sticky toffee pudding

Belly pork can be a dream of tenderness and succulence and this didn’t let me down, although my initial disappointment at the absence of a crisp piece of crackling was tempered by seeing Ashley had shattered the skin into crumbs and scattered them on top. The porkiness was continued through a quenelle of black pudding mash (£16). There was a nice piece of roast apple on top.

Chicken is so ubiquitous today that it often makes for a very dull meal. Here a supreme (£16) was full of cluck with plenty of flavour, alongside a rosti made up of a medley of root vegetables rather than just potato, and creamed leeks.

The long bar dominates the room and tables now occupy the stage which makes this a warm, friendly feeling place. Good music on the sound system, too.

We were greeted by general manager Paul Handley but most of the time we were served ably and enthusiastically by waiter and trainee sommelier Nathan.

We finished up with a chocolate suet pudding and a pretty nifty sticky toffee pudding.

The new Silversmiths is a bright, friendly place with a more than decent menu which should please those whose tastes are conservative along with others who want something a little bit different. Let’s wish it well.

Martin Dawes was a guest of the restaurant in writing this review.

*Silversmiths is at 111 Arundel Street, Sheffield S1 2NT. Web: http://www.silversmithsrestaurant.co.uk

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Head chef Ashley Bagshaw