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

 

 

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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

 

 

 

Charlie’s secret weapon: Ready Brek!

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Stephen Wallis’s ‘last night’s curry’  @clearmediasheff

CHEF Cary Brown is waffling on . . . about waffles. “Right on trend,” he coos, looking at his plate. It’s a reworking of a reworking of a classic Southern USA dish, duck with waffles.

There’s a tasty duck confit, a shiny bronze coloured Belgian waffle, some slinky bok choi in a nod towards China because when you think of duck it’s either confit or crispy, and a plummy sauce. And it’s lovely.

He and I are judging a heat at Whirlow Hall Farm Trust’s annual Sheff’s Kitchen cookery competition, in which the area’s leading chefs cook off for the charity with a bit of a laugh.

Tonight Charlie Curran, chef-patron of the highly rated Peppercorn on Abbeydale Road South, and Stephen Wallis, Whirlow’s own head chef, are going head to head on the theme, Flavours of Breakfast for 50 paying guests. So we are looking for wit and imagination and some good cooking.

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Charlie’s Curran’s assiette made us smile

There is plenty of that but we get the result wrong! We hand the prize to Charlie but there’s barely the thickness of a spatula in it, it’s so close. The diners have other ideas and give it to Stephen. Cary and I also got it ‘wrong’ last year so Whirlow may not be asking us back!

Cary, who seemingly has had more restaurants than I’ve had hot dinners and is now wowing them at Barlow Woodseats Hall, is looking for technical skill and expertise, among other things. With some 1,400 meals under my belt while reviewing professionally for the Sheffield Star, I’ll be looking at it from the angle of a seasoned diner. The two approaches are not always the same but should come up with the same result.

With the theme of breakfast in mind, Charlie gets his duck main course on the menu by using the waffle as the hook. For best results eat a bit of saucy duck with the waffle so the flavours soak in.

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Charlie’s duck

Stephen, remembering the mornings after the nights before some beer-soaked curry evenings and reheating the left-overs for breakfast, does a clever riff on Ruby Murray. There’s a roundel of chicken stuffed with lentil dahl, a fish bhaji of tilapia and a ‘tandoori potato’ plus the usual accompaniments, chutney, coriander and a sliver of poppadom.

As last year, Stephen sportingly handed over his kitchen to Charlie and worked from the store across the courtyard. Both chefs were given a £150 budget and had a sous to help: Charlie’s was Jamie McGonigle while Stephen had Amy Lee.

Stephen opens his menu with that breakfast favourite, kippers. He did it all from scratch. He made his own kippers, cold smoking the herrings and turning them into little cylinders of delicate pate, accompanied by a slug of Bloody Mary and brioche. There was a lot of work in that dish.

Charlie went for a mini croissant and a coffee cup filled with a light, lustrous chicken liver parfait ‘coffee’ topped by a cream froth.

While we are not comparing scores it is obvious they are close so it all comes down to the last course. Stephen, riffing on croissants with marmalade, does a yumptious whole orange cake partnered with croissant ice cream covered in an almond crumb, the sort of dish which would be the highlight of a posh afternoon tea.

But Charlie’s makes me smile, then laugh. That’s got to be worth an extra point. His assiette, entitled cereal killer, includes a yoghurt panna cotta, treacle tart and a cheeky little porridge soufflé.

Both Cary and I agree, it’s the porridge wot won it for Charlie but it was as close as a rolled oat. We compliment him afterwards.

“You know what, it was Ready Brek in that soufflé!” he says.

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Parade des Chefs: Stephen, Amy, Charlie and Jamie

*Earlier versions misspelt Stephen’s surname. Apologies.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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