A few buts but you’ll like Butta la Pasta

IMG_1438 Gnocchi with rocket 02-08-2018 19-47-01THE A-board outside new eaterie Butta la Pasta on London Road proudly lists a TripAdvisor review: “The Most Italian place in Sheffield – 5 stars.”

Whoa, hold on there! You can’t blame the owner for chalking it up but, even by the usual hyperventilating of that website, this is quite some claim. Particularly as it is situated halfway between the best two Italians in Sheffield, VeroGusto and Marco@Milano.

Besides, the chef-patron comes from Penistone not Palermo.

Now normally, as my wife reminds me, I get a little sniffy at Italian restaurants run by non-Italians even though Modern British Cooking acknowledges a debt to the Italian repertoire.

But owner Stephen Ogden is a man after my own heart. He’s fallen in love with Italian cooking, digested it and, declining to go down the pizza, steaks and Artex route, opted for a short menu exploring some of the remoter shores of Italian food.

Take my glorious Tuscan-style papa al pomodoro (£4.50), simply quality tinned tomatoes with sweet local cherry toms soaking good bread with lashings of olive oil and basil. Now where else in Sheffield would sell you that? It was seasoned brilliantly. I’d show you a picture but my camera was playing tricks.

IMG_1445 Chef-patron Stephen Ogden 02-08-2018 20-39-40.JPGStephen, aged 38, a former children’s nurse (“I was the one who woke them up after an operation”) is taking this seriously. In another life he’d have been christened Stefano. He brings over a doorstopper of a book, La Cucina, a bible of Italian cookery, to show us the recipe. I notice Elizabeth David’s Italian Food is on a shelf. My Italian bible is The Silver Spoon, I remark. “I’ve got that but it’s pressing a flower,” he says.

Butta is a long thin eating space, a little austere with white walls, a minimum of pictures, bare table tops and, yes, an Artex ceiling left over from previous owners. The only music comes from the kitchen. The name means “throw in the pasta” so it is a little odd that none of the pasta is, as yet, home made. I was so disappointed I went home and made myself some ravioli at the weekend.

My potato and flour gnocchi (£9) is, though, and it’s all I can want, firm but yielding, in a rocket ‘pesto’ and ricotta sauce with toasted pine nuts on top: my ultimate Italian comfort food.

It wasn’t quite perfect. It needed more pepper. There are no condiments on the tables so the waitress had to borrow the kitchen’s solitary grinder and they soon wanted it back.

All of the other mains feature pasta: spaghetti, rigatoni, linguine, lasagne, tagliatelle and orrecheti. Be advised, this is cooked Italian al dente not British al dente, which means it might be slightly more toothsome than you expect.

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Spaghetti Lucia

It didn’t bother my wife who downed her spaghetti Lucia (£10), prawns in vibrant tomato, anchovy and lemon, with enthusiasm. Personally I like it done a minute or so more. Luckily this kitchen does not adopt another Italian custom – serving food tepid.

Stephen is obviously thoroughly enjoying his new life, coming out of the kitchen to chat, taking orders, bringing dishes so the waitress has time on her hands.

He couldn’t do all this socialising if it was just him in the kitchen and Stephen has help, an Italian chef called Sam, and he is from Palermo. So I am not entirely sure who does what.

Stephen makes the focaccia, studded with redcurrants, which is pleasant if dry at the edges. It is served with barely a tablespoon of olive oil and the Gaeta olives we order are a little shrivelled. After that, they’ve run out when the next table orders them and it’s hardly 8pm.

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Antipasti at Butta la Pasta

My wife had ordered the antipasto (£4.50), which looked, and was, unexciting: some Parma ham,  slices of fontina and  griddled yellow courgette presented poorly but redeemed by a very nifty, pliable piadina (flatbread).

We finished with some acceptable cakes, a lemon tart and pistachio loaf, although next time we’ll try the home made ice creams and granitas, and coffees.

It’s BYO and there is no corkage, which takes the sting off paying £3 for fizzy water. Stephen makes his own lemonade.

Butta la Pasta still has some rough edges. I’d get some condiments (Aldi has bargains), stock up on olives and start making some pasta. But we liked it. We paid our own bill, £48.50, but we did push the boat out with three courses.

280 London Road, Sheffield S2 4NA. Tel: 07834 561 808. Web: http://www.buttalapasta.godaddysites.com  Twitter: @buttalapasta

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Not quite but tempting

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Pimp my Sheffield fishcake

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The Stag’s poshed up version of the city’s famous dish

IT’S a bit like seeing your favourite auntie all dressed up for the kill. Normally she’s in her scruffs down at the chippie with perhaps a bag of chips and a tub of mushy peas for company.

And that’s what I’m thinking about the Sheffield fishcake in front of me which has certainly acquired some airs and graces. It’s topped with a tangle of peppery watercress and a softly poached egg and sits, not in a polystyrene tray but in a dish atop of some sweet, crushed, minted garden peas.

The humble Sheffield fishcake has gone up in the world.

The dish, a starter, was devised for the new summer menu at the Stags Head on Psalter Lane, Sheffield, by manager Kurt Woods and the enigmatically named Chef Mike. “Chef Mike is an Oxford lad who found his way to sunnier climates in the Steel City. Unfortunately he is a little shy and would like to keep his identity under wraps,” says Kurt.

Despite being poshed up, it still retains its basic identity of ‘batter, tatter , fish, tatter batter,’ or a slice of haddock sandwiched between two layers of parboiled potato, so soft you could be confused at thinking it is mash. The lot is enclosed in an excellent crisp, dry beer batter and because this is a Thornbridge Brewery house the beer is Thornbridge’s Brother Rabbit Golden Ale.

Now haddock and egg are not strange bedfellows. Think omelette Arnold Bennett or smoked haddock with a poached egg on top. Here the whole thing works wonderfully well and while a fishcake at the chippie (if they do it) will be no more than a couple of quid here it is £6. You can read all about the original version here.

Nor is it the first time the fishcake has gone posh. You can get mini versions as canapes from time to time at the George in Hathersage.

I am not sure if the Sheffield delicacy was new to Chef Mike but it certainly isn’t to Kurt. “I am a Sheffield lad and love nothing more than a good fishcake. My local fish bar is the famous Tony’s at Mosborough so we hold the fishcake in high esteem,” he says.

“Last menu we had a smoked salmon fishcake with buttered spinach and soft poached egg but for this menu we wanted something a little more Northern.”

It may be pimped up but it’s still true to its humble roots. Egg, haddock (not cod because the former is stronger tasting) and potato is one of those foodie marriages made in heaven. They could even eat this in Dore and Totley and not feel a scruff.

*The Stag’s Head is on Psalter Lane, Sheffield S11 8YN. Tel: 0114 255 0584. Web: http://www.mystagshead.co.uk

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Murray turns up the heat!

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Lee (left) drains his veg while Clare plates up. Murray’s on the mike

TO be honest there wasn’t that much cheffy action for the audience. On the left was chef Lee Stocks standing there most of the time with a finger pressing down a fillet of salmon in a pan and doing little else. On the right colleague Clare Hutchinson was gently frying off a couple of lamb cutlets.

So perhaps that was why compere Murray Chapman decided to try and raise the temperature of the proceedings.

“I’m worried about the lack of heat from your pan,” he told Lee. Lee looked unperturbed. He didn’t want the flesh cooked before the skin, he said afterwards.

“Will the skin be crispy?” Murray looked doubtful. Lee looked confident. And then, later: “So this is poached salmon?” asked Murray. “No, lightly fried,” countered Lee.

And I thought I was judging the first of the friendly cook-offs at this year’s Sheffield Food Festival! Murray had one more go as Lee finished off the vegetable accompaniment in a separate pan. He turned up the heat with some wicked banter. “Now if that was me I would have cooked it off in the salmon pan, to be honest.” Lee kept his temperature down as low as that in his pan.

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Lee’s salmon

So was the salmon skin crispy? It was. There’s nowt worse than flabby fish skin. And how was the fish? Murray likes his salmon translucent in the middle and he couldn’t see translucent. Nor could I but I can like mine just past that stage. It was on the cusp but very tasty.

So why did I give the honours to Clare and her cutlets? Well, for a start I prefer lamb to salmon, even if it was from Loch Duart, and the latter did all that was asked. It was accompanied by good saute potatoes and some sprightly beetroot slices.

Clare had bravely stepped in at the last minute when the original contestant dropped out. It was nerve-wracking since Clare, head chef at True North’s Crown and Anchor at Barugh, Barnsley, was up against her boss. Lee, is regional head chef for True North’s ten pubs.

Since the food festival persists in giving chefs different ingredients to cook with there’s not really a level playing field so I was treating it as a little bit of fun. Both dishes were of equal merit.

And Clare was cooking against her gaffer while Lee was cooking against Murray!

*The chefs also had some fresh ingredients picked that morning from allotments run by SAGE Green Fingers based in Burngreave. SAGE stands for Support Arts Gardening Education, which runs therapeutic activities for vulnerable people. Lee used some of the herbs for a salsa verde with the salmon.

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Clare’s cutlets

A very Sheffield take on doing lunch

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I wrote this piece for the Sheffield Food Festival magazine. The event runs from 26-28 May, 2018

IF you don’t mind eating your fish lunch a few feet from a reproachful looking turbot or expired monkfish on a pile of crushed ice then come with me to Hunters Bar. While Leeds may have its famous Chef Behind the Curtain restaurant our city can boast The Chef Behind the Counter wet fish shop and café.

At Mann’s fishmongers’ on Sharrowvale Road you can walk in, choose a likely looking fish on the counter and ask chef turned fishmonger Christian Szurko to scale, fillet and cook it for you.

Prop yourself on a bar stool while you wait and Christian will cook it to order for just the price of the fish plus £2 ‘cookage fee.’ He’s a dab hand at fish: besides previously running his own restaurants he did a spell in the kitchens at London’s celebrated J Sheekey fish eaterie.

You can have your fish fried or poached and Christian usually has two or three sauces ready. You’re welcome to ask for your own recipe “but people are usually happy to leave it to me,” he says. “I can do 20 or so lunches on a Saturday but we’re open for lunch all week.”

If you fancy a glass of Chablis then Mann’s has its own in-house wine bar. On Saturday’s Jane Cummings of Olive & Vine wine merchants will sell you a glass. In the week pop into the Starmore & Boss wine shop a few doors along for a bottle.

If a fish lunch is too much on the day then Mann’s is also an impromptu oyster bar. It’s a shuck ‘em while you wait operation at just £1 a shellfish with shallot vinegar or Tabasco thrown in for free.

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Christian beheads the hake

Staying with fish, you might like to help save Sheffield’s very own fishcake recipe from dying out. It’s a piece of fish sandwiched by two slices of potato then covered in batter and fried. Or as Sheffield folk describe it: “Batter, tatter, fish, tatter, batter.” It is unique to the city.

Bruce Payne of the Market Chippy in the Moor Market does a lovely little version for just £1.45 but thinks its popularity is waning. “My record when I had a stall in the old Castle Market was 224 on a Friday lunchtime. Now perhaps it’s only 50. Why? Perhaps people don’t know about it or think the mini cod and chips is a better deal.”

Oddly, while he probably sells more than anyone else Bruce, originally from Leicester, had never heard of it until he came here, married into the Pearce family chippy dynasty, and had to be taught it. Some city fish and chip shops also sell it but this version of the fishcake is almost unheard of elsewhere.

You can eat your Sheffield fishcake at one of the tables in the market hall.

Want something even cheaper and ethnically Sheffield? Then try the Tom Dip. Most places which sell it don’t even bother to put it on the menu but it’s there if you ask. It’s a tomato dip and when ordering a bacon sandwich customers ask for it to be dipped in a home made tomato sauce, nothing fancy, just a saucepan bubbling with the contents of a tin or two of tomatoes.

I got mine at Sarni’s all-day breakfast bar in Aldine Court, off the High Street, where it costs 20p for a tom dip. You don’t have to have a bacon sandwich. “If people are dieting they just have it with toast,” says the lady on the hotplate on the day I called.

Now if you fancied something a little more exotic you can choose between a Chinese-style Portuguese egg tart, or a jang bing, a Chinese crepe.

Boss Chris Wong founded his business with a stall on the Moor Market selling cakes and egg tarts to the many Chinese students in the city. Portuguese egg tarts, the complete reverse of an English egg custard, are a big favourite in Hong Kong, Macau and the Chinese mainland. They are made with a flaky, not shortcrust, pastry and the custard is thicker, more like a curd tart, than the wobbly English version.

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Chris Wong serves up a jian bing

“My wife is a baker and she’s the boss. It took us three weeks to come up with the recipe. The one we sell is less sweet with a flakier pastry than the Portuguese version. Chinese people don’t like things too sweet,” said Chris.

The bakery business and eggtarts did so well that Chris has closed his stall, there from Day One of the market, and transferred to a café called DaShu just around the corner on Furnival Gate. The name means ‘uncle,’ the nickname Chinese students gave him and, with a bakery in the basement, it sells egg tarts and another Chinese specialty he introduced when on the market – the jian bing, or big pancake.

These Chinese crepes (£3.50) are made with mung bean flour and an egg is then broken and spread over it to form an omelette. The crepe is then flipped over to give a lacy eggy exterior then traditionally filled with lettuce, coriander, crispy wan ton, a split hot dog and smothered in Chris’s own secret-recipe sauce. It’s as much about the contrast in textures as taste.

“English people prefer chicken so I now make the jian bing UK which includes it,” said Chris. Back in China it’s eaten for breakfast and shops always have queues outside them. Here Chris opens at 11am so students eat them for lunch and tea.

Finally, we go back to the Moor Market but stay very much in Asia to sample a Nepalese curry at Dev Gurrung’s Hungry Buddha stall. It sells thalis, special metal dishes with a choice of two or three curries each day, perhaps chicken, goat or vegetable, with rice, daal and achar (pickles). Prices are no more than a fiver.

Dev had been a trek leader in Nepal when he met South Yorkshire-born Jan. She was one of his group and he helped to nurse her when she fell ill. They fell in love, married and decided to set up home here.

You can’t miss the stall decorated with prayer flags but don’t think you’ll be getting just another curry. Nepalese are milder, for a start. “People may think we are similar to Indian food but our aim is to bring that authenticity which makes it special,” said Dev.

So there you have it: choose between lunch in a fishmongers’, a brace of oysters, a Sheffield fish cake, a bacon sandwich soaked in tomato, Portuguese egg tart, Chinese pancake or Nepalese curry. Why don’t you go on your own food quest to sample them all?

Martin Dawes writes the Another Helping food blog at www.dawesindoors.wordpress.com

*J H Mann, 261 Sharrowvale Road, Sheffield S118ZE. Tel 0114 268 225

*Market Chippy, The Moor Market : Tel 07514 426 434

*Sarni’s, 25 Aldine Court, off High Street S1 2EQ. Tel 0114 270 1750

*DaShu, 30 Furnival Gate, Sheffield S1 4QP. Tel 07919 340 341

*Hungry Buddha, The Moor Market. Tel 07809 476 090

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Take cover – it’s a panzarotti!

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Lorraine and Saverio at Urban-Ita

MY wife takes a knife to cut the panzarotti – a sort of deep-fried Italian calzoni which looks like a pregnant Cornish pasty – on our sharing plate at the new Italian Urban-Ita cafe on Sheffield’s Abbeydale Road. She’s aiming to cut it precisely in two.

Unbeknown to her the little blighter, its insides bubbling hot with tomato and cheese, is also taking aim in a desperate rearguard action.

As she cuts a jet of sauce shoots out towards her from one end. Luckily it misses. Well, mostly.

This is cucina with attitude and what’s more it tastes good as well. You feel that if you could swap the view of Abbeydale Road for owner Saverio’s native Sorrento the food would be the same.

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The panzarotti is at the front

“We get a lot of Italians here,” says his missus Lorraine Dixon, bringing us cups of excellent crema-topped coffee after our meal. In that case it has to be good.

I’ve met them both before. The first occasion was reporting on a Slimming World Italian evening for the Sheffield Star at their old restaurant Dino on London Road some years since.

The second time was a couple of years ago when daughter Kym opened the Italian takeaway Italia Uno on Ecclesall Road. I recall being tickled pink hearing she turned vegan after wearing bearskins and butchering a deer for the Channel 5 series 10,000BC.

Urban-Ita makes a thing about offering veggie, vegan and gluten-free dishes (it’s not hard to be a Italian veggie if you don’t dodge dairy) but meat eaters needn’t feel excluded. There’s plenty for them. As it was, most our lunch turned out to be veggie or vegan but that was more by accident than design.

The premises used to be Bardwell’s, an electrical shop for half a century, but you wouldn’t know it. Saverio, who also runs a small building company when he’s not cooking or designing menus for other restaurants, converted it himself. I’m impressed.

The wooden floor has been cleaned up, walls stripped back to reveal wood cladding, an alcove constructed, a bar designed, kitchen and toilet installed and decking built for tables outside. It looks like it’s been that way for years instead of three months.

There’s also a tiny deli section and a mini library of cookery and travel books.

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Melanzani Parmigiano

We shared a plate of nibbles (buono misto, £10.50) across the menu for starters, the highlights being that panzarotti and a spinach and chickpea polpette, full of flavour. The focaccia (and flatbreads) is homemade here. I was a little surprised it came toasted with chilli jam but we soon got oil to dip it in.

My last meal on earth would probably include melanzane parmigiana ( £5.95) and if I had it here I wouldn’t feel cheated. It looked a little rustic but the aubergine was silkily good, bathed in rich tomato and mozzarella. My wife’s calamari special (£5.50) was light and crispy.

We ended with cake and coffee and one of Saverio’s homemade cakes, a moist Victoria sponge.

When they sold Dino Lorraine said no more restaurants but here they are again. It’s really more of a cafe, opening for breakfasts and lunch and now running through until 9.30pm with a trattoria-style slate of pizza, pasta, chicken and salmon. It’s not licensed but if you feel you need a drink with your pasta then BYO is £2.

I recommend the panzarotti but stand well back!

288 Abbeydale Road, Sheffield S7 1FL. Tel: 07305 181 890. Web: www.urban-ita.co.uk

*This blog settled the bill in full.

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The café on Abbeydale Road

Jamon, ham on! I’m pigging out

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Omar Allibhoy looks good in a hat

 

I WALK into Tapas Revolution at Meadowhall and someone gives me a Spanish straw hat to wear. I hesitate. In these Politically Correct days I might be accused of cultural appropriation or some such codswallop. Besides, such hats tend to make me look like Pedro the donkey troubler. I try it on. It does.

One man the hat suits right down to the ground is Omar Allibhoy, chef-patron and originator of this small but simply scrumptious chain of tapas bars. He’s the right nationality and he’s got the looks – a touch of a young, bearded Paul McCartney.

We are here to celebrate his Tapas Revolution’s (shouldn’t that be Revolución?) second anniversary at Meadowhall, the launch of a new menu and, in the words of a Press release, “a beautiful, al-fresco style terrace usually found in Las Ramblas in Barcelona . . . bringing an authentic feel of Spain to the heart of Sheffield.”

Well shake my maracas. To me it looks like a bit of wooden trellis with some plastic hanging plants. “Rustic timber,” says the hyperbolic Press release. To Omar it is the answer to a senor’s prayers. It seems people have mistaken the bar for the public seating, wandered straight through the restaurant and, worse, gone out the other end.

Now I could no more walk through here without wanting to eat the entire menu than turn down a free holiday in Madrid. For this place serves the tastiest food in Meadowhall.

I know you’ll be thinking here’s a blogger with a free meal inside him but just listen to Omar explain how he puts the juiciness into his range of sangrias. As his barmen can’t reach out and pluck an orange from a tree every time they make a jug of Spain’s national drink ”the fruit is cooked and matured for two weeks to extract all the essence.”

I try a carafe of tradicional (£16 for 75cl) made with red wine, pineapple, orange, strawberry and Heaven knows what else) and you feel you are drinking sunshine or, at least, the essence of Spain.

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Crispy calamari

The tapas start coming and with the Jamon Iberico de belota Montenevado, dry aged for at least two years from acorn-fed pigs I feel I am eating essence of pig. So thinly carved you can almost see through it, it is salty, tangy and exquisitely porky. It is ham to die for, or at least the pigs did.

Omar passes by and I enthuse about his ham. His eyes light up as he tells me to look out for something even better. “We have found ham from North East Spain where the free range pigs are fed on chestnuts. They can’t call it organic because, being free range, they don’t know what else the pigs eat.”

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The Spanish version of cheese on toast

Almost all the tapas are first class but I‘ll mention just a couple in detail. If you thought cheese on toast was just cheese on toast then you’ve never had Pan Mallorquin. This is grilled bread spread with fiery chorizo paste topped with melted, gutsy Manchego cheese dribbled with honey. It makes the prospect of Welsh rarebit as enticing as a wet Sunday in Pontypridd.

The croquetas, deep-fried balls of chorizo and Bechamel, oozed flavour while I loved the lemony, honeyed chicken wings (Alitas de pollo a la miel y limón) and, a star turn, Chorizo a la sidra (spiced Asturian sausage roasted in cider).

Omar keeps a close eye on Meadowhall, as he does all his seven restaurants, visiting them regularly. He is still passionate and enthusiastic about his food, insisting on the best ingredients and it shows on every plate.

I plan to be back but they won’t make me wear that hat.

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The décor at Tapas Revolution

A gherkin in my gusset

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Tall story: The Cricket Inn’s posh burger

BURGERS, bloody burgers, was my attitude when restaurant reviewing for a living so I seldom ordered them. There were three good reasons: They were boring, ubiquitous and it was extremely unlikely the chef had ‘lovingly hand crafted’ them as I once saw written on a menu.

Instead he got them ready-made from the butcher and it would have been a miracle if he gave the man a recipe and another miracle if the butcher kept to it. The buns, of course, would have come from the baker, the tomato sauce from Heinz and the pickles from the cash & carry so what on earth was there to review? The pictures on the walls and the overhead model railway, that’s what.

Now those days are over and I can relax a bit. We are lunching at Richard Smith’s Cricket Inn at Totley and while the set menu looks tempting my wife wants fish and chips. I once wrote that for a top chef Smithy probably sells more of this dish than anything and anyone else. But my eye was caught by the burger, what must be the second most popular pub order.

I didn’t feel too guilty as it looked as if someone had sat down and thought about this dish and the Cricket wasn’t going to bowl me a googly. The pattie comprised three cuts of beef, short rib, brisket and chuck, all of which carry a lot of flavour. “Home minced,” it said on the menu just to let you know they had made it themselves. It was sandwiched between a bought-in bun, but a superior one, a brioche from the Welbeck Bakery.

It had all the trimmings, melted Swiss cheese, a gherkin, Thornbridge Beer BBQ sauce, tomato salsa and what was described as purple sauerkraut but tasted no more than sliced purple cabbage. The brioche was good. The dish, with skin-on skinny fries, was £12.

I liked it. I particularly enjoyed the pattie, about 6oz, which tasted really beefy and was coarsely minced so there was plenty to get your teeth into and a lovely burst of mouthfeel. It was well seasoned and I fancied there was a hint of cumin, although that could have been from the curried lentils which unaccountably came with my wife’s fish and chips.

For another £2 I had an extra trimming: pickled onion rings. Not pickled onions cut into rings and battered but lightly pickled rings of onion battered. Nice but they needed to be a tad stronger pickled for me.

While my wife had her food on a plate I got mine on one of those trendy slates, set in a board. It could have been worse: a shovel or a flat cap. Burgers are not the easiest thing to eat. They disintegrate like a bomb full of shrapnel and a board is not big enough to catch the fall-out. This burger towered up higher than it was wide. And the inevitable happened. I got bits in my lap.

The front of house sympathised but said the kitchen claimed it was all about presentation. I’ll remember that next time I retrieve a shard of flying gherkin from the gusset region.

Cricket Inn, Penny Lane, Totley, Sheffield S17 3AZ. Tel: 0114 236 5256. Web: www.cricketinn.co.uk

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The Cricket Inn on Penny Lane, Totley