Marco, Dan and a Lisbon tart

A PORTUGUESE custard tart at Lisboa, that little cafe with the custard yellow fascia in Sheffield’s Peace Gardens, is £1.95. That’s two euros.

“Last time I had one of these was in Lisbon when it was only one euro,” I say to the chap behind the counter, then pause. “But I expect you’ve heard that before?” The server, wearing a yellow Lisboa t-shirt , nods wearily. “Several times a day. But everything is imported from Portugal.”

“Everything. Flour, eggs, the baker,” says co-owner Dan Martins, sitting at the next table. He opened Lisboa – a bakery and cafe with a handful of tables – last December with fellow countryman and business partner Marco Matias, Sheffield Wednesday’s Portuguese footballer.

Dan, an architect, says: “I always wanted to open a cafe and bring something of Portugal to England. We put our heads together and it turned out out to be pasteis.”

These are not the first Portuguese custard tarts in the city but they are very authentic. And good. We first saw them from Chris Wong, who sold them from a stall in the Moor Market and now from Da Da Shu  on Furnival Gate. The Chinese encountered them in Macao, then a Portuguese colony, from where they travelled to Hong Kong. Local bakeries also make them, with varying degrees of success. And they are made by the Anglo-Russian Cossack Cuisine. The world , it seems, has taken this little eggy tart to its heart.

A pastel de nata (pasteis is the plural) is the photographic negative of the English version. The pastry is flaky not short. The filling, which in England tends towards the underneath of a creme brulee or burnt cream, is lighter and slightly jellied in texture. The top is scorched, not with a blowtorch, but by natural caramelisation of sugars in the oven.

There is artistry in this. A Portuguese can sum up the excellence of a pastel de nata by looking at the markings which should neither be all black nor too pale.

I am a sucker for a pastel de nata. I am not saying it is better than the English version but it is different .

I thought when Lisboa first opened they hadn’t quite got the texture right. Dan agrees. He blames the Sheffield water although I am not sure in which way. The end result, as I ate the other day, is a pleasingly rich mouthful.

Lisboa, which has a floor of authentic Portuguese tiles and a tiled street sign, Rua Fernando Pessoa (he’s the Portuguese Shakespeare), sells some 600 tarts in a good week.

It also makes other pastries, Nutella brownies, croissants, palmiers, custard slices and the Ham and Cheese Wonder, plus a couple of styles of loaves, but if you are going in for a coffee and a pastry you’ll probably have a pastel de nata. The coffee, by the way, is also Portuguese.

There are only three or four tables plus a couple of smaller ones tucked away at the back but an application has been made to the city council for outside seating.

Dan and Marco seem to gave scored a greater success with custard tarts than the Owls have in the Championship.

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Kommune gets it together

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Mann’s salmon fishcake

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

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

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

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

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Part of the seating area

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The curving bar

Food to make a Mexican wave

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Richard and Abi Golland

CURIOUSLY, for a couple who have made a thriving business out of burritos and cashed in on the chilli-hot dishes south of the border down Mexico way, Abi and Richard Golland have never, ever been there.

“We have just been too busy but I think we should set a target to go to Mexico,” says Abi, nibbling away at her chorizo hash in their Street Food Chef burrito bar on Arundel Street, Sheffield. Richard pours agave syrup on his breakfast pancakes and shrugs. They have recently introduced a new breakfast menu and have asked me along to try it.

Well, as it says on their website, you don’t need to go all the way to Acapulco to taste the food and I’m enjoying the huevos rancheros from their new breakfast menu. The last time I ate this was in a Tex-Mex joint in Texas and the chillies blew my head off while I burped all the way round The Alamo. (The Mexicans are still besieging it, although now from food stalls outside.)

The Street Food Chef’s version is milder – I shall not be burping in the Winter Garden, my next stop – but I love the tender black beans and chipotle sauce.

Abi tempts me to a nugget or two home Mexican-style chorizo. It’s gentler and unsmoked compared to the Spanish version, made from local Moss Valley pork. They make the chorizo, mole sauce (chocolate and chilli), black beans and even the small tortillas themselves. “We decided from the start on never buying stuff in,” she says.

Street Food Chef has been around since 2010, the couple rather longer. They met in Oxford. “Richard was living on a boat on the river making gargoyles to sell to tourists. I was teaching,” she says. As Richard was from Sheffield they decided to make their home here in 2006 but needed a business idea they could both get involved in.

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My huevos rancheros

They thought of food but Richard had had his fingers burned while running a restaurant and wasn’t keen, at that point, to plough their money into property. So they decided to go on the streets with a trailer. But what would it be?

“We thought about ideas such as (selling) soup, porridge or hot dogs but as the council issued the licence they wanted something healthy. It was Richard’s dad in Toronto who kept sending us pictures of burrito bars,” adds Abi.

It was pretty good timing. Mexican food was just coming into fashion in the UK and Sheffield is notoriously always half a decade behind in food trends. There was not much Mexican food in Sheffield so they went to London to taste it there. “It was winter and I remember tramping the streets and thinking it was going to be cold selling here!”

They did well at markets, fairs and events – it’s a quick learning process and you either sink or swim. They learned a lot. But when they went to the council for a permanent pitch the following year they were persuaded to take “four square metres” in an empty building on Pinstone Street, in 2011.

The young business started winning awards but now they needed to get into bricks and mortar. Arundel Street opened in 2012 and there is another branch on Sharrowvale Road (one on Glossop Road, proved to be the wrong place).

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Chorizo hash

Their clientele in the city centre tends to be local business and university lecturers and staff. I’d have thought students but perhaps the average spend here of around £8.50 puts them off. But the couple make no claims that their bright, very red and yellow cantina is a destination place. “You come here on your way to somewhere else, the theatre or the Showroom,” says Abi.

With the enthusiastic assistance of chef Rob Cater-Whitham, who ensures even the queso fresco (fresh cheese) is made in-house, the couple have been able to fend off corporate Pedro-come-latelys in the Mexican market.

Customers may have drifted off to sample the likes of Taco Bell and the introduction of a KFC Mexican menu but “they’ve come back with their tails between their legs,” laughs Abi. In fact, the new arrivals put sales up.

The menu offers the usual mix of burritos, tacos and quesadillas although as Abi points out the former  is more a Californian thing. Mexicans always go for tacos.” Mexicans in Sheffield, they say, have responded favourably and particularly like the corn tortillas. You could say Abi and Richard have been given a cheerful Mexican wave.

So have their three children, Billi (23), Alfie (19) and Phoebe (16), all of whom have helped in the business and given their parents candid criticism. “The best people to test your food on is not your friends – they say ‘that’s very nice’ – but your children,” their mother says.

Richard, whom his wife describes as a serial entrepreneur, is already thinking up his next one. “We’re going to focus on pop-ups,” he says, describing the sizes of the carts they have. And perhaps go back to the idea of US-style hot dogs.

Who knows? Perhaps one day they’ll even find themselves down Mexico way?

*The breakfast menu is available until 10.30am on weekdays and until noon at Arundel Street, weekends only at Sharrowvale. Web: http://www.streetfoodchef.co.uk

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Street Food Chef on Arundel Street

New Omega gets an alpha-plus

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Jamie (left) and Steve – old faces in a new setting

IT’S STILL the same. The table holds a two tone loaf, half white, half brown, on a board with a bread knife to cut it yourself, dish of butter, bottle of tap and crudities of red onion and tomato with Melba toast, just like before. The dining room is smaller but the view from the picture windows is better: a rugby pitch instead of a car park, grass not concrete.

We have made it at last to the Omega at Abbeydale, the true heir and offspring of the fabled, legendary and sorely missed Baldwin’s Omega banqueting suite on Brincliffe Hill, Sheffield, which closed after 37 years last summer.

Its champagne and strawberry bashes, Caribbean evenings and Eighties disco nights, the works and office knees-ups and the cracking lunches staged by David Baldwin (Mr B or The Big ‘Un, depending on who was talking) and his wife Pauline deserved to live on and they have.

The surroundings may have changed and the name slightly altered – this is now The Omega at Abbeydale Sports Club – but the ethos is the same: great food, much better than you’d expect for the price, Value For Money written in big, shiny letters of Sheffield Steel.

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View from our table

That has been transported across the city by two men: head chef Steve Roebuck and former Operations Manager, sommelier and front–of-house man Jamie Christian. Their belief that the city still values the Baldwin’s concept has been backed up by the diners: we couldn’t get in before Christmas and the dining room is full this Friday.

The menu is still the same, a three course TDH for £16 or a pricier carte, and there’s still roast beef carved at the table, calves liver and that Sheffield speciality starter, Yorkshire pud and gravy.

All it wants is Mr B, I say to my wife, and suddenly there he is in the corner, having driven up on his invalid buggy from his home in Dore. Where once he would have toured the tables with a joke and a casually dropped expletive, now they come to him. I notice that nearly all the tables, most of them former customers, drop by to pay their respects.

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Sea bass with tiger prawns

Jamie and Steve have had a nightmare opening the place. A school bus crashed into the building, not once but twice, asbestos was discovered and windows did not fit. But that is all in the past.

Jamie gives us a tour of the place: the bar which looks directly onto the pitch, a terrace which will be lovely in summer, a private dining room, function room upstairs with stage and the restaurant itself , 50 covers instead of the old Rib Room’s 80. “We’re getting a lot of old faces and new ones from the sports club,” he says.

In the restaurant, still run by Angela Jackson, the food hits the spot time after time. I have a satisfying cod and parsley fishcake surmounted by two fat chips in a pea puree and loin of pork stuffed with large pieces of mushroom, segmented, with creamed and crispy leeks and a rich, rewarding Calvados-spiked sauce. Dessert, an extra fiver from the carte menu, is apple strudel. Most kitchens would have delivered a flibbety-jibbet filo pastry affair but this was proper crisp pastry, firm apple and, if a custard can be stunning, this was: a splendour in vanilla.

Stuffed pork fillet

Pork fillet, Calvados gravy

My wife proves to be high maintenance: a starter of sweet scallops, fried hazelnuts and crispy Serrano ham with a celeriac puree (£10) followed by a fishy special of pan-fried sea bass, the skin properly crispy, with excellent tiger prawns and wispy asparagus on a lustrous red pepper sauce (£16). They do know their sauces here. She ends with an Omega favourite, cranachan, whisky, cream, raspberries and oatmeal. The food rates alpha-plus.

I take a peek in the kitchen, much smaller “but not as far to walk,” says Steve. He’s keeping to the same menu, I observe. “People won’t let us change but we are branching out here and there.”

The operation also has to work as the feeding station for the different sporting groups which use the club. There have been innovations. Those expecting match day chip butties have been met by tagines and cous cous. The jury is still out on that as far as the ladies’ hockey team is concerned.

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The table is set

Old hands will recognise the old lectern at the entrance to the restaurant and Jamie is still considering whether to use the ‘flaming torches’ from the old Omega foyer. The bar, also with great views onto the pitch, has four screens tuned to Sky Sports but the sound is turned off and muzak on. And, just as at Brincliffe Hill, there is plenty of parking.

For the new Omega there is plenty of potential for a brave, new era. The atmosphere may be a little different but there is still the same bright, accurate and reassuring cooking. The ‘Baldwin’s’ may have been dropped from the name but every time Mr B drops in at his corner table will be a reminder of the glory days.

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

Monica makes it so bella!

Monica in the kitchen at Bella Donna

I’VE held back from reviewing Bella Donna, that sparky little Italian restaurant on Sharrow Vale Road, Sheffield, even though I enjoyed it from the first mouthful. I didn’t think I got the best out of it first time round.

It was my fault, not that of the owners, Monica Caravello and Caterina Hammond. I had researched the dishes – and there were many things on this Sicilian menu I was dying to try – and then I didn’t have them.

“Look, there’s fritti misti, you like that” said my wife, and my mind went back to the dish I had at the celebrated Gatto Nero on the shady side of the canal on the Venetian island of Burano . So I had it, nice but Sharrow Vale was never going to win, was it?

So I returned with the same friends and this time had exactly what I wanted to eat. Like the starter melanzane ammuttanate (£5.90), a souped-up Sicilian version of the classic melanzane parmigiano. Baby aubergines come stuffed with mint, pinenuts and anchovies in a sauce of tomatoes and mozzarella and the parmigiano is replaced with pecorino. It was gutsy. It was a belter. It was the sort of dish a member of the Cosa Nostra might order before he went on the night’s business.

Then I had the ravioli (£11.50) which was what I should also have had first time round: stuffed with broad beans and ricotta in a mushroom, pesto and walnut sauce. Presentation can be a bit hasty – this came buried under a mound of rocket – but this was another dish going nearly over the top for flavour. It tasted like it wanted to be eaten with gusto. So it was.

The aubergine starter

The premises used to house a very standard sort of Italian restaurant and I was slow to notice the place had changed until I stopped one day to look at the menu. Many of the dishes were out of the ordinary. Heavens, they did chick pea fritters and other Italian street food.

I realised I’d first met the owners when they took over the restaurant at Michael Menzel’s eponymous wine bar on Ecclesall Road, Sheffield, in the early 2000s. Monica had come to Sheffield from Sicily by way of Barnsley. Since then they have had a succession of places in the area.

The room is long and thin with a semi open kitchen at the far end and a bar by the door. It fairly buzzes with atmosphere and if you half-close your eyes you could imagine you had discovered some little out of the way gem in Italy itself. It helps when there are Italians also eating there!

On our first visit Caterina was front of house and Monica was cooking and you could tell that here food was taken seriously. She invited me to taste what was cooking in her big pots . On the second visit Monica had left the kitchen to work the floor while Katerina had the night off.

Under all that greenery are ravioi!

I ate with fellow blogger and Italophile Craig Harris, who has written so vividly here https://craigscrockpot.wordpress.com/2018/10/14/review-bella-donna-sharrowvale-or-is-it-palermo/ about his first visit.  He was with his wife Marie.

This is one of those restaurants where you fancy almost everything off the menu and then you’ve got the blackboard specials to contend with. As the pair have got more confident about their customer base the menu has gradually got more Sicilian and a good thing, too. Even more than France, Italy is a country full of regional cuisines.

So doubtless I shall be going back, if only to try a whole plate of Sicilian street food,  mussels with chickpeas or one of those rich stews the kitchen cooks up.

Bella Donna is at 352 Sharrow Vale Road, Sheffield S11 8Z. Tel: 0114 268 5150

The restaurant

Thanks for the calamari, Kam

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Calamari reminded me of Malta

PROUST got it right with that Madeleine, didn’t he? Food is not only the stuff on your plate. A chef can devise layers of texture and flavour with a dish but sometimes, just sometimes, there is another layer of which he has no inkling: the diner’s memory.

For Proust it was a cake. For me the other night at Richard Smith’s Cricket Inn at Totley, it was two perfect rings of calamari. With one bite I was back in a seafront bar in Malta the year the Icelandic volcano blew its top.

In that bar, not far from where the famous Maltese Falcon yacht was anchored, I ate a dish of lightly battered squid, the coating so crisp, the flesh so tender, almost ethereal, that it blotted out years of chewing rubber. It was heaven on a plate. If only all calamari could be half as good!

I’ve not experienced it again until those two rings cooked up by sous chef Kam Bajorek, which he had partnered with a crouton of mashed avocado and baby octopus. They had, my wife enthused, the texture of silk.

We’d been invited as guests to a chef head to head night where each of the pub’s chefs draws a course out of a hat and cooks something up to a theme, tonight Round the World. Each diner marks his own menu card and the winner was the chef with the highest score.

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Apple strudel

It’s a chance for the kitchen to show it can do more than fish and chips or burgers, the more usual orders in the dining room next door. We were in the room once used as a morgue for fatalities when digging the Totley Tunnel.

Despite my raptures for Kam’s calamari it didn’t get my highest marks. That went to executive chef Oli Parnell’s stonebass en papilotte, the eventual winner. This was an exceeding clever dish in which a portion of fish was tightly bound by ultra-thin layers of potato and pan fried. The flavour of the fish penetrated the spud and completely hid its origins, the outer layers at least.

It turns out Richard had suggested this one to Oli as it was a dish he had cooked himself 20 years before at his previous restaurant Smith’s of Sheffield, one he had taken from New York based French chef Daniel Boulud.

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Winning dish – Stonebass en papilotte

Richard, who was also competing, scuppered his own chances of winning with that tip for he produced a slate of intricate cheese-based goodies, a medley of custards, candied walnuts, fruit crisps, poached pear – and cheese.

There was much to like here. I had my first taste of Brazilian fejoda cooked up by head chef Sam Parnell (he and Oli are twin brothers), a gutsy pork, sausage and beans stew, and enjoyed the light, crisp pastry of an apple strudel from another sous chef Pav.

“Just a nice, fun night,” Richard said later. Certainly – and for me a taste of the unexpected. Thanks for the invite and thanks for the calamari, Kam.

The Cricket Inn, Penny Lane, Totley, Sheffield. Tel 0114 236 5256. Web: http://www.cricketinn.co.uk

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Cheesey delights at the Cricket

 

 

When less is more at Rowley’s

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Coo-ee! We’re over here. Rowley’s starter

SOMETHING fell through so we are early for lunch at Rowley’s in Baslow, the sprog of Michelin-starred Fischers up the road. Just as well: it has a dinky little car park and customers have vehicles as hefty as their wallets.

Nor do they care for space markings so we play musical cars for five minutes before a stratocruiser purrs out of the park to leave a couple of spaces free for our modest Astra.

It is ages since we have been and we are tempted by a sample menu called ‘Lunch for Less’ on the website which is a lot more interesting than what is obviously Lunch for More, two fish and a burger on the mains.

Two courses cost £16.50 and less is more for us when starters include slow-cooked pork belly or teriyaki salmon and mains like hazelnut crusted hake or French-style roast chicken.

Once inside in the white tile-floored bar (this was previously a pub) I notice, over a half of well-kept Bakewell Bitter, that the Lunch for Less menu has been rebranded Weekday Lunch for the same price: More prosaic but not as chirpy.

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Close-up on that starter

More or less on time, we are ferried through to the dining room which has a good view of the buzzing kitchen through a ‘letterbox’ opening.

I laugh at my starter’s presentation. It’s a big plate with acres of white porcelain, the food huddled up against the edge as if it has taken umbrage by a remark from head chef Adam Harper on the pass.

It doesn’t look more than a mouthful (well, three) and the big relatively empty plate hammers that point home but is tasty enough. Initial disappointment that the pork has no crackling (although this is not promised) is tempered by its succulence and the char-grilled hispi cabbage which has become crispy hispi. There are artistic but lonely looking little splodges of butternut squash.

Adam says later that big plates are now the fashion but he draws the line at slates. He has worked his way up through the Fischer’s and Rowley’s kitchens (with spells with Heston Blumenthal and Simon Rogan) although he last encountered us as diners at the Plough, Hathersage.

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Chicken the French way

My wife has the heritage tomato tartare with tomato granita, goats cheese puree and balsamic. Tomato tartare is a posh way of saying concasse which is itself cheffy posh for skinned, chopped and seeded tomato. She is not impressed by the granita. The flavour eludes both of us. “Take the picture because it’s melting!” she cries. But she likes the goats cheese puree.

With both starters on the small side we are expecting Lunch for Less is code for Cuisine Miniscule so are gobsmacked by the size of the mains, as hefty as they come.

My chicken, two generous pieces of roast breast in a mustardy sauce with new potatoes and peas with lettuce, flavoured with lardons, is as French as a baguette. I had something very like this once at a ferme auberge (like an Italian agriturismo), one with a veal calf imprisoned in a tiny crate by the back door.

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Hake with hazelnuts

My wife always has hake at Rowley’s. Last time it had a parmesan crust. This time the two strongly flavoured pieces had a crunchy hazelnut topping in a red wine and brown butter sauce.

So nothing too complicated but ‘hearty,’ as Michelin puts it, with strong flavours.

You’d look in vain for any pastrywork on this menu so we shared a medley of ultra-rich chocolate mousse and pistachio ice cream with a zingy little lime jelly.  The extra course is £4.50 more.

On the subject of baking, the brown, treacly, salty bread at the start of the meal is worth savouring.

Despite having pre-lunch drinks, two small glasses of wine and coffees the bill came to less than we feared: £59.05. And, yes, we paid our own whack.

Web: www.rowleysrestaurant.co.uk

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Rowley’s in Baslow