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

 

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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

A bunch of Sunday lunches

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hereOysters Kilpatrick at Peppercorn

MY wife had stirred disconsolately through her bowl of modgy fish chowder, so thick and full of overcooked potato you could stand a spoon up in it. “I feel like Jacques Cousteau: I’ve just found a piece of fish at last.”

Oh, I remember it well: One of our many Sunday Lunches That Went Wrong.

We are speeding towards one now and have high hopes but to pass the time reflect on some of the others we have had in the 25 years or so when I wrote about restaurants for a living instead of for fun, as here.

Sunday lunches were our special treat and usually chosen carefully. We regarded it as a perk for filing a review on time and never missing a single week. It was also compensation for giving up our day of rest (Wednesday or Friday night reviews didn’t seem so onerous) and it kept down the housekeeping bills.

So we would make sure we did the Peacock at Rowsley (country house hotel with famous guests, super food and Sunday newspapers by the fire) at least once every three years and preferably on a rainy winter Sunday. There were a few others like that, on a rota, but every now and again you had to take pot luck.

Wherever I went I almost inevitably had roast beef. My reasoning was that this was the dish most people would order, certainly the men, and Sunday isn’t a day to go experimental. My wife could explore the menu’s more exotic slopes.

That modge of a chowder was in an hotel dining room on the edge of Sheffield where the chef had unwisely bunked off in the middle of service to leave a trainee in charge. My roast beef wasn’t any better but the gravy was surprisingly good. I shan’t name the place because it’s still there but I will the Middlewood Hall Hotel, long deceased, like the chipolata served up with my daughter’s roast. It had been baked so hard she couldn’t get her knife through it so gave it to her mum. Mum couldn’t either so it was Pass the Sausage and my turn. It was Man versus Chipolata and I lost.

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I always order the roast beef

 

At another place, where customers piled their plates so high they looked like relief models of Mount Kilimanjaro with clouds around the top – oh no, they were cauliflower florets – the kitchen had burned an apple pie badly. The chef had tried to conceal the error, submerged under a sea of custard.

Sometimes we got it right but customers got it wrong. I trilled a hymn of praise to the rosy red beef and brown bread ice cream (in the days before it was retro) and the following week it was so inundated with customers they couldn’t cope. Diners hadn’t been reading my review closely. “My beef was undercooked,” one reader rang in, who liked his meat grey.

I went back some years later and the highlight of our visit was not the food but a diner who strode to the table in flat cap and Wellington boots. Well, it was in the countryside.

No one is wearing flat caps or Wellington boots at Peppercorn on Abbeydale Road South. We had meant to be a four but friends cried off so we kept the booking just for us. Now I have reviewed Sunday lunch on the blog here just over a year ago so I’ll keep it short. Chef-patron Charlie Curran and his wife Kelly had disappeared to Filey to relax before the Christmas rush leaving the kitchen in the capable hands of sous Dan Kidd.

It was notable for a starter I’d not seen before, oysters Kilpatrick. This comprised three rock oysters toped with cheddar cheese and bacon lardons, baked on hay. I think it’s Australian in origin and the cheese can be optional in most recipes I’ve seen. I liked it. Flavours were subtler than I expected, I didn’t get the briny blast you have with a raw oyster, so it’s not so much Margate, more Frinton. With light as a feather batter on my wife’s squid rings (“If my cheese soufflé is as light I’ll be pleased,” she said and she was) and up to the mark roast beef, we enjoyed ourselves.

#Peppercorn, 289 Abbeydale Road South, Sheffield S17 3LB. 0114 235 0101. Web: www.peppercorn-restaurant.co.uk

Don’t trifle with this jelly!

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Jelly and ice cream the Rutland way

 

THERE’S always a moment of tension, isn’t there, when you rush to praise a dish to the head chef only to find it was made by someone else in his kitchen?

It happened to me the other day at the Rutland Arms on Brown Street, Sheffield, with a super little dessert of fennel ice cream and cucumber jelly (‘yes really,’ as it said on the blackboard menu). Coming after two classy small plates featuring octopus and duck croquettes I was bowled over by its refreshing qualities.

Unusual flavours of ice cream are not uncommon and as a lover of the aniseedy qualities of fennel I was pleased it came through clearly. As I always find the taste of cucumber elusive (it’s wasted on me in fancy gin and tonics) I was delighted it registered so brightly in the jelly. I fancy there might have been a bit of mint in it. The combination of the two was a delight.

To be fair to the Rutland’s head chef Richard Storer, or Chef Rico as he calls himself on Twitter, he didn’t turn a hair and was keen to give the credit to his assistant Kevin Buccieri. “We were all surprised how well it turned out. He’s excelled himself,” he said.

The Rutland is an enigma wrapped in a chip butty, which seems to be the most popular order, at least at lunchtimes. It’s not what you expect from a city boozer even if it is in the city’s Cultural Quarter. In other cities this inventive, clever, passionate cooking would have them queuing at the door. Here they ask chips. The Slutty Butty is popular here.

I visit it once a month to sample the food and meet old colleagues but I can’t wean them away from their butties even when I eat in front of them. They don’t know what they’re missing. Each small plate costs £4 or three for a tenner. For this you could have a burger but it won’t give your tastebuds such a treat.

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Looking sexy – the octopus

The octopus arrived as a brightly coloured tentacle lolling seductively across the plate on chopped up sections of a fellow limb. Octopus scores more for texture than flavour. This was slithery, firm and tender. The tastebuds were treated to three kinds zing: a lemon and caper butter, pickled chilli and XO sauce, a favourite with Rico. “If you see a dish with lots of foreign ingredients, it’s mine. If it looks like something that comes from a chef who does Modern British Cooking, it’s Kevin.”

The duck had been cooked like a confit and shredded into rillettes, combined with Hoisin sauce. Rico has been raiding the oriental supermarkets again.The meat was rolled into balls, given a crunchy coating and fried. They came on a salad, a nod to that classic staple of Chinese restaurants, crispy duck.

For a tenner, it was a pretty memorable lunchtime. And so was that cucumber jelly. Perfect. “Kevin was at Sat Bains’ (the Michelin-starred Nottingham restaurant) the other week. His brain has not quite recovered,” joked Rico. If that’s what it does to your cooking, I’d better book a table!

*86 Brown Street, Sheffield S1 2BS. Web: www.therutlandarmssheffield.co.uk

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Duck croquettes with Hoisin sauce

No Name, this is the pack drill

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Griddled scallop starter at No Name

IT’S a beautifully made piece of ciabatta, I think, as I bite into it at No Name in Crookes. Look how it almost quivers, the open crumb and the delightfully olivey taste. It’s almost a shame to dunk it into the bowl of balsamic and olive oil.

I can recall when ‘Italian bread’ here was half a breadcake wiped with garlic. Then it was called Franco’s Pizzeria, no great shakes for food but chef patron Franco D’Egido ended the evening singing the Wild Rover while his wife Elaine let off balloons.

We went back 20 years later to find Franco had retired, it was still Italian but in different hands and the head waiter was called Nigel.

I turn to my dining companion, fellow blogger Craig ‘Mr Ciabatta’ Harris, a foodie and Italophile so keen on authenticity he slips out of bed early to make his weekly batch. What does he think? He nods enthusiastically.

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Crispy chicken beats KFC

No Name is tiny, a micro bistro. It seats 21 or 24 if you all breathe in. So is the menu with just 3-4-2 choices at each course. The prices aren’t micro, though, so a meal for two would be banging on at around £60 and I get a bit of a grump on when Craig, who books, tells me there are two sittings. If I spend that money I want the table all night, particularly at a weekend. But then again, if you’ve got a place that small, it helps pay the rent.

Happily Crookes hasn’t got the grump because No Name, which opened in June, has been a runaway success in an area which is all pizzas and pakoras and where Modern British Cooking has not previously reared its head. “Simply outstanding,” one diner trilled on TripAdvisor.

The owner-chef is Thomas Samworth, 33, one of Mick Burke’s star pupils at Sheffield College, who won the prestigious Maurice des Ombiaux in Belgium, a junior chefs’ European Cup, back in 2003. After a spell at Gary Rhodes’ W1 in London he came home to head up the kitchen at Rowley’s in Baslow, as well as the village’s Devonshire Arms. We’ve eaten his food at both places as well as at the Schoolrooms in Low Bradfield, although he had fewer tattoos back then.

When I saw the menu (there is no website, just a Facebook page) it looked very safe: butternut squash soup, lamb shank and duck confit. I was proved wrong. It’s the way he cooks them as someone very nearly said.

There is now no Nigel front of house but there is a very expectant Mrs Megan Samworth and the hope skitters across my mind that she won’t give birth between my crispy chicken starter and confit main. “If I drop my food it stays on here,” she laughs, patting her belly.

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Megan and Thomas Samworth

I had no idea what crispy chicken (£7) was but it turned out to be a sort of chicken rillettes bound in Bechamel and shaped into a crispy coated lozenge. That’s very modern and also very old, a souped up version of croquettes. What soups it up is a sauce of blitzed sweetcorn and a good helping of fancy micro mushrooms, lightly pickled.

The rest of the table has scallops (£8), three very sweet pieces, seared one side only, with apple caramel, hazelnuts and celeriac. Craig, a celeriac junkie, wished for a bit more oomph with the vegetable.

We men went for the confit (£16), served boned on top of a triangle of wonderfully crisp and starchy rosti potato, so good it threatened to upstage the main ingredient. This was a lovely dish, helped along with earthy kale and an elegant pickled blackberry jus.

My wife had an excellent piece of stone bass, nothing like sea bass but it’s an ugly blighter otherwise known as Atlantic wreckfish, now becoming popular. Craig’s wife Marie enthusiastically offered portions of her ultra-tender lamb shank to share.

In his micro kitchen (just two rings) Thomas said he had got fed up cooking fish and chips and gammon steaks in country pubs and wanted to rustle up the kind of food he liked to eat out. Some pop-up nights at his family home helped establish a following and by early summer the place was open.

And why No Name? “I wanted an air of mystery,” he said. Doubtless he was thinking of The Man Behind the Curtain in Leeds. Well, there’s no mystery why No Name is popular. It’s the good cooking. It’s also BYO so that sort of compensates for speedy eating.

We finish with either spiced plums or a good chocolate mousse with honeycomb. A great night out and we wish Megan and Thomas all the best with the birth. Let’s hope the owners of No Name come up with one for the baby!

#253 Crookes, Sheffield. Tel 0114 266 1520. Open Wed-Sat night. Facebook https://www.facebook.com/pg/NO-NAME-Sheffield-1695321363841840/about/?ref=page_internal

 

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Tiny but perfectly formed

 

 

 

 

 

Good Lord, she’s got chips on her pizza

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Fat lass eats a chip pizza on Lake Garda

I HAVE an uneasy relationship with the pizza, very possibly the world’s most ubiquitous – and abused – street food. It’s everywhere and usually not very well done. Every other new eaterie which has opened up in Sheffield in recent years seems to sell pizzas. Or burgers. Or both.

If I have one it has not got to be piled high with greengrocery, just a smear of tomato sauce, some mozzarella perhaps, olives and, hopefully, anchovies. But, please, not pineapple rings.

As I’m writing this a flyer has come through the door for Domino’s Chipotle Pulled Pork Pizzas. It sounds disgusting. I shall not be buying one.

I’m not long back from Italy and you expect to find them there. But not all Italians are crazy about them. Long ago when Pepe Scime ran his eponymous Italian restaurant on South Road, Walkey (now Vito’s), he would turn up his nose at the mere mention of pizzas and scratch his armpit in a Sicilian gesture of contempt.

I was reminded of Pepe when I came across the Trattoria al Commercio restaurant in Bardolino on Lake Garda. Outside was an A board in three languages. It read ‘Non facciamo pizze’ in Italian, ‘Hier machen Wier keine Pizza’ in German and ‘We don’t make pizza,’ in English. My wife and I thought this is our kind of place and it was.

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No pizzas sold here

Not everyone is as entranced by the food as we were. At the front of the menu it asks for people not to write reviews for TripAdvisor. They say things like they want pizza. But we ignored that and enjoyed the tortelloni, scallopine and a very good spin on zuppa Inglese and reviewed him anyway. And then we went back again.

The dining room, where we were, was packed full of Italians. Tourists are put in the garden room. The owner must have liked us because we ate inside both times. In fact, I visited four times, twice to book, but at the second meal he didn’t even acknowledge us. TripAdvisor thinks he’s ignorant. I think it’s just that he hasn’t got much English.

We had pizzas for lunch in a street café in Verona and another one for tea in Bardolino and on both occasions I was impressed by the quality. However, one at our hotel was pretty dire and probably came from the cash and carry.

But, as ever, we Brits can teach those Italians something about their own food. At a lakeside café I spotted a very fat English lass eating a chip pizza which she must have designed herself. I was so surprised I took a sneak picture. I thought this was the most disgusting thing I’d seen but then I didn’t know about the pulled pork pizza.

 

Anchovies in the tin and on a slate!

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Anchovies in a tin – and on a slate – in Verona

 

IF I was going to enter my dish on that excellent website www.wewantplates.com then I was certainly going for broke on holiday in Verona. I was paying a good ten euros for the chef to peel back the lid of a tin of anchovies and plonk it on a slate with a sliced up boiled potato. Food in a tin and on a slate is the stuff of that site’s nightmares.

 The menu at Caffe Monte Baldo read “Acciughe del Mar Cantabrico, servite con burro, patate e crostini di pane caldi” translated as “Cantabrian sea anchovies in their tin served with butter, potatoes and warm bread croutons.”

 It seemed so unusual that I just had to have it for the novelty value alone.

 And it was marvellous. I’m sure being on holiday and feeling I had to justify my choice had something to do with it but those anchovies were excellent, by far the best I have ever eaten. Pairing them with potato is not new: think of that Scandinavian favourite Jansson’s Temptation, which bakes anchovies and thinly sliced spuds with cream.

 My only grouse is that there was not enough potato and certainly not that many croutons to justify all that butter. Would I pay a tenner for the dish back home although they were extremely superior anchovies?

 There was, briefly, a restaurant in London called Tincan which served everything in its tins but it has now closed. I wonder why? And I believe there is one in Spain which does something similar. But so far the idea has still to catch on.

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Squd ink ravioli with sea bass filling

 Caffe Monte Baldo is one of the city’s top restaurants. I also had a fabulous squid ink ravioli stuffed with sea bass on a tomato and butter sauce. The contrast in colours, black and red, was spectacular as was the firm texture of the pasta again the fish filling.

 Wouldn’t it be lovely to find something like this in Sheffield? No sure about the anchovies in tins, though!

 Web: www.osteriamontebaldo.com

 

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Caffe Monte Baldo in Verona