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

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Why they all like ‘Uncle’ Chris

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Chris Wong serves up a jian bing

THE Chinese students called him uncle, Da Shu, when they queued up for their egg tarts and jian bing – traditional Chinese filled pancakes – so Chris Wong reckoned that was a good enough name for his new café and bakery on Furnival Gate, Sheffield.

If you’ve missed your fix of pastéis de nata, those Portuguese egg tarts so loved by the Chinese on your visits to The Moor Market, you can find them at the new place. Chris closed his market stall a month ago to concentrate on the business.

DaShu has a bright, airy shop, 30-seater café upstairs and a bakery in the basement, making those those tarts and other pastries. “Not bad for a business which started out selling street food,” says Chris happily as he serves.

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Portuguese egg tart and coffee

 

His trade so far is mostly from Chinese students. He points out how near he is to blocks of student flats and Sheffield Hallam University. They’re the ones who love the jian bing, Chinese for fried pancake, a traditional breakfast back home. Here Chris doesn’t open until 11am so they eat it for lunch and tea.

It’s a large crepe made with mung bean flour. “Chinese people recognise the smell,” he says as he breaks and spreads an egg over it. Then he flips the crepe to form a lacy omelette exterior. Traditionally the crepe is filled with a hot dog, crispy wanton, onion, herbs and lettuce. Chris liberally squirts his special sweet chiili sauce over then folds and wraps the crepe. The interest is as much between the contrasts in textures as the taste. A traditional crepe costs £3.50.

“English people like it with chicken so I do a jiang bing UK (£4.50) for them,” says Chris. There is a wide variety of other crepes on offer.

He’s an engineer by training but credits the inspiration to his wife, a baker, whom he won’t name because he says she is a very private person. It was she who suggested he make the Portuguese egg tart. Chinese people first came across it in the former colony of Macau, from where it spread to Hong Kong and the Chinese mainland.

It is the reverse of an English egg custard. The pastry is flaky rather than short crust. Where an English custard is wobbly, rather like a crème caramel, the Portuguese version is stiffer, somewhat similar to a curd tart, flecked with characteristic caramelisation marks.

It’s his own special recipe which he and his wife spent three weeks getting right. Don’t expect it to be a dead ringer of the version eaten in Lisbon. “Chinese people don’t like things too sweet so there’s less sugar and the pastry is flakier,” he explains.

Chris is using the shop to sell other lines new to Sheffield but not to the students, such as Korean grilled noodles. I haven’t tried that yet – I was too full of egg tart and jian bing!

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

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Taking wine with Signor Caruso

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Nino, Craig and me at Veeno’s wine tasting

THE next time someone plonks down a plate of gorgonzola in front of me I shall know what wine to drink it with. I shall casually reach for a bottle of juicy red Nero d’Avola and smirk knowingly.

Likewise, should I be confronted by some buffalo mozzarella, I can click my fingers, summon the waiter and say:” Marco, I think we need the sprightly Grillo grape with this.”

Now this never happens in Real Life, only in dreams about cheese and at bloggers’ wine tastings. In Real Life you’re in your favourite enoteca with a board of Italian meats and cheeses on the table and decide you’ll have one red and one white, the second cheapest on the list, because you’ve got to eke out those holiday euros.

As this is not a dream we’re at the estimable Veeno in Ecclesall Road, one of a chain of Italian enotecas co-founded by the splendid Nino Caruso, a name that sounds as if it has been made up by public relations but hasn’t.

I have used those complimentary adjectives not just because Signor Caruso is footing the bill. I genuinely like the place, having been here three times before and spent my own money on each occasion, once investing in a third share of a £26 bottle of superb Greco di Tufo. And I have a loyalty card.

Now I hope you don’t think I am not taking the event seriously. I am. All around me people are Tweeting and Instagramming and photographing while sloshing and slurping their vino so it hits all the taste receptors. I am wondering if I can go for another slice of speck.

I like wine but very often I don’t detect what others do in the glass. Here’s a Veeno chappie telling us that the Sicani Grillo hints at apples on the palate. The vinophile next to me says Granny Smith’s but I get pear, although I couldn’t swear if it was Comice or Williams.

However, it was my favourite wine of the night because I like its dryness and acidity. I could also comment on the delicate notes of oak and acacia only I’d be reading from the crib sheet.

What I like about Veeno, which you can read in my earlier review here, is that it has plenty of atmosphere and a slate of good wines from Nino Caruso’s family vineyard. The wines are interesting, although the house white is a bit too thin for my liking, and the food is tip top quality.

There Is a little booklet they give you so you can road test any or all of a selection of six bottles or glasses so I won’t add much more. That Nero d’Avola, by the way, is, according to my own notes, rich, velvety, tannic and smoky: in other words, very full on. I also loved the gorgonzola with it.

If you’re the sort who dodges that end-of-meal limoncello offered at your local trat, the one served here has none of the oily, oleaginous, cloying qualities you expect but is light and elegant.

For a much better review of the wines check out the post on fellow blogger Craig Harris’s blog. He’s the one who shouted Granny Smith’s and can gurgle in Italian.

They gave us a bottle of that house white to take home.

http://www.theveenocompany.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hospital food which doesn’t give you the glums

IMG_0790 lasagne at the Claremont 06-03-2018 14-26-01I’VE just been to hospital for my lunch. And very good it was, too. In fact, if you’re passing, I thoroughly recommend the Claremont on Sandygate Road, Sheffield. You don’t have to be a patient!

The last time I ‘reviewed’ hospital food I was in a bed at the Royal Hallamshire posting glum messages on Twitter and Facebbok about breakfasts limited to cereal or soggy toast, and mince and potato pie with two more kinds of potato. When I discharged myself early my notes read: “Reason for discharge – does not like the food.”

A family member has been receiving NHS treatment at the private Claremont and I took myself off to its restaurant, like the rest of the place, bright and clean. That day I had fish and chips and thought it was lovely – excellent fish with a crispy batter.

The next time it was lasagne and I was halfway through eating it when the realisation hit me (one can get distracted in hospital) that this was really, really good, baked with a light touch. Sadly, it was half-eaten by the time this happened so a picture was out of the question.

Now I’ve just been again and as luck would have it lasagne was on the specials menu at £5.95. It wasn’t as elegantly presented as the first time round but it tasted just as it had before. The pasta was so melting I would have sworn it was home made but, as a chef explained, it wasn’t. But the meat filling is and it’s as fine as anything I could eat on the shores of Lake Como. I liked the way it was not overwhelmed by tomato but the cheesy béchamel took precedence.

According to the chefs – the kitchen staff often serve at the table – it was tray baked and when reheated to order a little tomato juice is sprinkled on the bottom to stop it burning. I like the cheffy tip! But I did enjoy the way it was beginning to crisp – just – at the edges.

Apparently they get lots of compliments about the food and I can see why. Enjoying your meal is one way to get better, as the Claremont recognises. Polish head chef Bart Komuniecki was at Sheffield’s Kenwood Hotel when he cooked feijoada, Brazil’s national dish, for that country’s Olympic 2012 judo squad, staying in the city.

And he headed the team at Nottingham’s four star Belfry Hotel before coming here.

We have another appointment at the Claremont in a couple of weeks. I can’t wait to see what’s on the menu! I just hope they improve the machine tea – strong and stewed!

Bart Komuniecki

Claremont Hospital head chef Bart Komuniecki

 

The ugly Bengali fruit that tastes divine

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Lamb Shatkora at the PrithiRaj

NOW you wouldn’t want to eat it raw but when cooked it makes food taste like the stuff they must serve up in Heaven. Your starter for ten if you can guess what it is.

It’s an ugly, pointy-looking fruit which is green and nobbly and looks a little like an oversized lime but is called a wild orange. It’s as sour as a Seville but has a touch of the grapefruit about it. But the taste belies its looks. If you knew this is the shatkora you must be from Bangladesh because that is where it grows.

I’ve never seen on in the flesh, so to speak, but I have tasted it three times in curries at the PrithRaj on Ecclesall Road, Sheffield, and on each occasion my tastebuds have gasped with delight.

I reckon the shatkora is the Bengali answer to the truffle. Its flavour pervades and enhances a dish. In the curries at the PrithiRaj it has a polite sort of tang which sidles across your tastebuds, not harsh and rasping, with a touch of lemon or lime. And there’s an unexpected, momentary little burst of sweetness right at the end. Flavours are vivid. The sauces are rich and grainy and the meat tender, even when it’s lamb, because this is a curry which must be cooked for a long time to get the most out of the fruit.

Celebrity chef Rick Stein discovered it on his TV travels in India but when he got back to Cornwall to cook it had to make do with a grapefruit.BanglaLemon-5602[1]

Green and nobbly but don’t overlook the shatkora

I first came across it in 2012 when reviewing the newly opened restaurant, which had been revamped from the long-established Ayesha’s, for the Sheffield Star. I was bowled over. Dining there with friends earlier this year I ordered the lamb version again, wondering if it would be as good. It was. But because I was too busy talking I couldn’t give it my full attention. I resolved to come back again on a quieter evening.

This time I tried the chicken version with my companion, Colin Drury, who also reviewed restaurants on Saturdays during his time at The Star, for whom a curry isn’t a curry unless it’s a karai.

Now this isn’t the only place in Sheffield where you can get a shatkora – try other places run by Bengali rather than Kashmiri kitchens – but it is the only one cooked by head chef and joint owner Sobuj Miah. And, at £10.50, it is probably the most expensive. The menu at PrithiRaj (which means Beautiful Princess or whatever the waiter you ask decides) is as long as the River Ganges but you’ll find it on the specials.

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Chef Sobuj Miah

I’m told only the peel is used – the pulp is so bitter it usually get thrown away – but I understood Sobuj to say he used the whole fruit. Whatever, he only needs to use a little bit in each dish. It seems its popularity comes in fits and starts. “We’ve sold about 10 or 12 in recent weeks,” he told us.

Now PrithiRaj, which once had a waiter called Elvis, is an upmarket kind of place and the cooking is beautifully judged and easily on a par with any middle market Anglo venture. And like any chef, Sobuj likes to do the odd twiddle and twirl: As with the dainty spiced-up miniature samosa, whispy onion bhajis and little meat ‘lollipops’ we were treated to.

Look the ingredient up on the menu the next time you go out for an Indian ­– it’ll be on the specials and is not limited to meat, it also goes well with fish and other seafood – and you should find you’ll like it.

407 Ecclesall Road, Sheffield S11 8PG. Web: http://www.prithirajrestaurant.com

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Make mine a Veeno

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Every bit as good as it looks

IN need of some refreshment I dropped into Veeno, the new Italian ‘wine bar café’ on Ecclesall Road Sheffield. Make a note of the address or you might find yourself at Veeno’s mini mart on London Road where an involtini may be hard to come by.

Veeno is near Berkeley Precinct (I refuse to call it the renamed Berkeley Centre) in what used to be Carluccio’s, a place some local people called pants although my main grouse was the giant pepper pot they wanted to grind on to your meal before you’d checked the seasoning or flag one down if it turned out you did need pepper. Just leave the condiments on the table!

Veeno is not pants. In fact, it is very good if a tad, no, a soupcon, expensive.

I was alerted to it by fellow blogger and Italophile Craig Harris and his wife Marie who had enjoyed a visit to the Nottingham branch of the 15-strong chain and got me a ticket to the opening night. Like me, the best thing about their Italian holidays is finding a cosy little enoteca (the Italian for wine bar) with good wines and boards of meat and cheese. I always remember one on Lake Como where I upset the owner by querying the bill until I told him I thought he’d made a mistake because it seemed too cheap.

Reader, you won’t be thinking it comes cheap at Veeno although it does food, drink and atmosphere pretty well. Fitted out with tables, sofas, alcoves, walls lined with wine racks, and a bar, plus a tasting room, it serves up some very decent wines with top quality meats and cheese, plus a smattering of bruschettas and spuntini, nibbles, the Italian equivalent of tapas or dim sum.

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Inside Veeno

That way you don’t need a chef, just someone adept at putting good quality ingredients together. It seems simple but then the best ideas are. The two young men who came up with translating the enoteca to Britain are Andrea Zecchino and Nino Caruso, whose family just happens to have a vineyard in Sicily.

We’d found a table and were sipping our complementary glasses of house wine when I flagged down a chap who looked like he was Andrea or Nino. He wasn’t. He was Mike from Hungary but he was the owner as he had the franchise, his second after York.

Magyar Mike must have been in an expansive mood because he generously told us to order some food on the house. Perhaps he thought we were influential: Style setters. We liked Mike. The evening’s photographer didn’t hold the same opinion because he never pointed his camera at us once.

Craig promptly ordered the most expensive board in the house, the Italia, at £24.50. And he did it with a straight face. It was lovely and included some Formaggella al Tartufo, a northern Italian cheese with truffles and some runaway gorgonzola with walnuts, speck, the best fennel salami I’ve had, breads, oil, honey with truffle and plenty more. The price could have been worse. In Bristol the same menu item is £26 while in Kingston upon Thames it is £26.50. Magyar Mike is obviously pitching his prices at what he thinks Sheffield will stand. I thought that top whack for the same thing on Lake Como would have been 15 euros but then you’ve got to factor in the air fare.

The house wine at £4 for 175ml was pretty decent, from the Caruso e Minini vineyard. The same glass is £4.20 in Bristol and another 20p more in Kingston. But as Craig had gone large on the free food he felt it only right to go large on the paid-for wine so he ordered us a bottle of Greco di Tufo at a stunning £28 (a quid less than in Bristol). It had lovely honeyed appley flavours.

So there you have it, a little pricy but a very well put together exercise, which is why the chain is doing well. I cavil a bit at the name, Veeno for Vino, and the clunking ‘wine bar café’ self-description instead of enoteca but that’s just me. It won’t stop me going, though!

Craig will doubtless be reporting at http://www.craigscrockpot.wordpress.com. You can check out the Veeno offering at http://www.theveenocompany.com

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Veeno from the outside

 

The Chef Behind the (Wet Fish) Counter

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Hake with clams and samphire

YOU know how it is, you go out to eat some fancy fish but can tell it’s going to cost you an arm and a leg and then the other two. Well there were four of us and we started with three Colchester oysters and ordered three plates of hake with clams and both fillets of a sea bass and the bill was £43.

Yes, you read that right.

Mind you, we had to make some sacrifices. One of us got out of bed at 5am to bake the ciabatta which mopped up our chilli-spiked tomato sauces while another popped next door but two to the wine shop for a chilled bottle of Puglian white and four glasses.

But if you don’t mind being propped up on a bar stool a couple of feet from a prime display of wet fish on crushed ice while customers come in for their cod or smoked haddock then I can heartily recommend Mann’s wet fish shop on Sharrowvale Road, Sheffield, any lunchtime when it’s open, all week save Sunday and Monday.

An A-board on the pavement invites you in: “Try any fish. We do the rest.”

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The chef, not behind the curtain but behind the counter is Christian Szurko, not some fishmonger who fancies his hand with a frying pan but a fully trained chef with experience at London’s seafood restaurant J Sheekey and the Blue Broom, Lounge Bar and Club One Eleven back here.

Just walk in, size up the fish, tell him how you’d like it (fried or poached, usually) and sit down with a bottle of BYO and wait until it’s ready. All you’ll be charged is the shop price of the ingredients plus £2 per person for the privilege of having it cooked. The hake was £18 a kilo and the sea bass £14. If you really want a fish called wonga the halibut is £40.

While we were the only ‘diners’ on a blowy Wednesday the previous Saturday there had been 20 eating. “Not bad for a wet fish shop, is it?” said Christian, cutting very generous steaks off the fearsome looking hake lolling next to squid.

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Christian beheads the hake

My wife and I were joined by fellow foodie blogger Craig Harris and his wife Marie, both staunch Italophiles, and it was he who had made the lovely springy ciabatta that morning.

Customers could already eat in after Christian started an impromptu oyster bar a couple of years back. At £1 a pop it was and still is a bargain. “It escalated from there. We always had the induction hobs because we make our own stock for the shop,” he added. So is he scratching a cheffy itch? “Partly, but I also run pop up restaurants. I’m looking for new premises now.”

If you fancy a glass of Chablis to chase it down then Jane Cummings of Olive & Vine wine merchants has a berth there on Saturdays. As it was midweek my wife nipped out to fellow wine merchants Starmore Boss with a tenner and came back with a chilled A Mano Bianco. They also loaned us the glasses.

Christian, who took over the then Hillsborough-based business with his brother Danny (who has since left the shop) in 2008, could offer the fish with spiced lentil salsa, daal with paneer, spicy tomato sauce or garlic mash that day. We already had the bread so didn’t need the mash but the tomato sauce sounded good. “Throw in some clams and samphire?” asked Christian. You bet.

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Lunch is on the right

We almost forgot the oysters until Craig prompted me. They were expertly shucked by Craig’s new partner in the shop Scott Mills, another chef turned fishmonger. These were Colchester oysters in tip top condition.

So was the hake, heralded by tempting cooking smells. I sometimes find the texture of this fish, a favourite with the Spanish, a little on the heavy side but this, while still retaining firm-fleshed meatiness, was also light and flakey, set off nicely by the tomato sauce with a little crunchiness from the emerald green samphire. The clams were fine but I don’t go into raptures over a vongole. What is it but a posh cockle? Give me a winkle or a whelk any day.

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Christian plates while Scott supervises

It made for a very pleasant and enjoyable lunch where we could all pretend we were Rick Steins popping in for a bite with an obliging chef. This is one you all must try.

#Mann’s is at 261 Sharrowvale Road, Sheffield S11 8ZE. Tel: 0114 268 2225 On Twitter and Facebook

Check out what Craig thought of the meal at www. craigscrockpot.wordpress.com

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A feast of fish