Birdhouse trills a happy tune

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Bao Buns with pork belly

WE might eat first with our eyes but sometimes we taste what we think we see. So, hands up, this veteran foodie has just confused pickled onion for chilli.

Chef Kevin Buccieri has brought us his Thai green ice cream to try and first I get flavours of lemongrass followed by chilli coming through the cold. It’s a little unsettling but intriguing. I wonder how he does it. Is the chilli infused or is it these little flecks of red, I ask? No, that’s pickled red onion, he says. I taste again and now I know the pickle flavour comes through. Doh!

It works. Brilliantly. Kevin thinks this dish should be a starter or certainly a palate cleanser (palate confuser, more like!) but diners prefer it at the end, like we had.

We have been invited to eat as guests at the Birdhouse, the tea emporium run by mother and daughter Julie and Rebecca English in a former workshop in  the charmingly named Alsop Fields on Sidney Street, Sheffield. They recently hired Kevin, ex-Rutland Arms No 2, to up the food offer from pies.

The menu, his first, is a pot pourri of small plates or tapas, mostly with an oriental slant at around a fiver each. And they often come with a chilli riff.

The chilli sidles up almost as an afterthought with the slices of crunchy stir-fried lotus root. It comes at you full gallop with the Puy lentil curry, firm and toothsome. But it is instantly addictive, particularly since it is on a contrasting bed of crispy kale. My wife loves it and she is a woman who has shunned kale all her life.

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Chef Kevin Buccieri

We’ve been here before to buy tea but not lingered. There’s a sunny courtyard we now look down on from our upstairs table in one of two first floor rooms, all beams and brick, seating around 50. From the windows across the room you can see the Porter Brook filter its way through the city’s industrial backside.

Sidney Street is a little out of the way and apart from an A-board and a slightly outdated menu pinned to the front wall – there’s not even a menu or picture of a dish on the website as I write – so Kevin’s food is being hidden under the proverbial bushel.

Seek it out, if only for the pork belly filled steamed bao buns. I’d half expected a chopped filling  but the pork is in whole strips of tender hoisin-flavoured meat, a lovely contrast to the spongy, airy bun. There are two for £8.50 but the dish could easily be reduced to one to keep the fiver price point.

I first encountered Kevin, or his food, at the Rutland pub, just a stone’s throw away on Brown Street, where I had praised head chef Richard Storer (aka Chef Rico) for a stunning fennel ice cream with cucumber jelly. He sportingly gave all the credit to Kevin.

Kevin, in return, acknowledges his culinary debt to Rico. He’d left college after training as a joiner but found that without experience he wasn’t wanted so took to pot washing. After the usual round of pubs and restaurants, without much ambition, he found himself beached up at the Rutland “where I truly found my passion.” A light bulb had been switched on. He stayed for over four years before striking out on his own.

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Curried lentils, crispy kale

Now the Rutland is an odd place, a scruffy, some may say eccentric-looking boozer, with an inventive, experimental kitchen which daily faces the heartbreak of sending out the pub’s best-seller, the Slutty Rutty, a massive chip breadcake, to those who should eat better.

For this reason you will not find chips on Kevin’s evening menu (it is available from 6pm). “The nearest I come to chips is the patatas bravas,” he says. Ah, we didn’t try those. But we did seem to have everything else. Dishes kept arriving (remember, we were being treated) and we were in danger of becoming Monty Python’s explosive Mister Creosote.

We loved the delicate goats cheese arancini balls winking like eyes with little ‘pupils’ of yellow pepper puree and the crunchy cubes of tofu (served with silky avocado) in a sauce of teriyaki, wasabi and golden syrup (rather than honey, to please the vegans). Since tofu is all texture and no taste it needs these companions.

There were big, generous slices of home cured salmon with paper-thin beetroot as well as seasonal asparagus served the classic way, with poached egg, hollandaise and truffle oil.

Despite his surname – great grandparents came over from Naples and he grew up in Darnall and Birley – Kevin cannot speak Italian nor cares that much for Italian food. But he does do a celeriac ‘tagliatelle’ with pesto. See if you can guess what the sauce is. A clue: apart from the pesto the dish only has one ingredient.

Writing all this I realise just how much we ate so my tastebuds can be excused over the Thai ice cream (I ought to mention we also tried an Earl Grey ice with gin and vanilla sauce but don’t ask me for a considered opinion – I was flavoured out)!

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Delicate goats cheese arancini

My tastebuds were very much in action at the start of the meal with the arrival of home made bread with tzatziki. Sourdough, I silently groaned, for local bakeries all seem to make the same rubbery, damp bread. This was none of that and it was close crumbed instead of holey. Kevin was disappointed with the lack of air pockets but not us. If we want holes we’ll eat focaccia.

This menu is very much an opening salvo. Kevin, a one man kitchen, has high hopes of doing more fish, probably pickled, possibly a ceviche. And a duck dish with a chocolate nod to Sat Bains’ Nottingham restaurant may appear when he’s happy with it.

Sheffield’s food scene is currently the liveliest I’ve seen it. Strip away the seemingly endless burgers and pizzas and there are plenty of fresh ideas and talent.  The Birdhouse adds to the mix. Just don’t ask for chips or Italy’s most famous export. Kevin might sound Italian but “I hate making pizzas,” he says.

You would be in the dog house at the Birdhouse!

Birdhouse is at Alsop Fields, Sidney Street, Sheffield S1 4RG. Tel: 0114 327 3695. Web: http://www.birdhouseteacompany.com

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The Birdhouse. Our table is in the top window

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Yet another wild garlic recipe!

WHEN the wild garlic appears I go demob happy from winter and high-tail it down to my favourite spot to gather armfuls of it. But there is only so much pesto one couple can consume.

I have a jar in the fridge and more in the freezer and it’s been in soups, as a dressing for new potatoes, inside ravioli, spread on braised pork chops but, as it happens, not very much as a pasta sauce. A few fresh leaves have found their way into tonight’s bubble and squeak.

But I still wanted a few more ideas on what to do with ramsons or Stinking Jenny, by far the best folk name for this short-lived spring green. And I found it in my copy of Katie and Giancarlo Caldesi’s The Gentle Art of Preserving,

It’s a recipe for wild garlic wrapped labneh (a soft cheese) preserved in oil. You can use any soft cheese, or goats cheese or feta, but they made theirs with home made labneh and so did I.

It’s rewarding in itself. Just strain a 500g tub of Greek yoghurt through a double layer of muslin overnight (I used a sterilised jelly bag) and by the morning you’ve got, in my case, 270g of creamy, tangy soft cheese. This needs to be mixed with a teaspoon of sea salt for each 150g and chopped herbs of your choice.

Now I gather if you leave it for a day or two the labneh firms up but I’d already picked my ramsons and needed to press on. Don’t select either too small or too big leaves, which will be coarse, but something in between. You will probably need two teaspoons to put a blob of cheese at the bottom of the leaf then roll up towards the pointed end.

I sterilised a Kilner har by boiling it and, when cooled, put a little oil in the bottom. The recipe stipulates extra virgin olive oil but as this was an experiment I used ordinary olive oil. Using tongs, I managed to get the little parcels in without mishap. Then I added a dried chilli and topped up with oil and sealed the jar. I got about nine parcels of varying sizes in.

Normally I’d roadtest this recipe before blogging but if you fancy having a go you’ll need to collect some ramsons before the season is over. I’ll give them a week in the jar and report back.

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Did Shakespeare eat this bacon?

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Rashers Elizabethan-style

IT IS April 23 as I write, which is both St George’s Day and Shakespeare’s birthday, although some say it was Francis Bacon who really was the Bard of Avon.

I’m having no truck with that. In fact, I’m thinking ‘Did Shakespeare really eat this bacon?’

Recently I’ve been making my own bacon at home to an Elizabethan recipe which uses ginger and caraway in the cure, along with salt and sugar. In the finished product you can’t really isolate either spice but they meld together in a gentle, subtle way. And it’s just the thing Shakespeare could have eaten.

The recipe is courtesy of Maynard Davies, regarded by home bacon curers as the absolute tops, who took the trouble to research the cure. But it comes second hand, being quoted in that excellent book, The Gentle Art of Preserving by Katie and Giancarlo Caldesi (Kyle Books, 2013).

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The joint has been boned and is ready for curing

Their version of this recipe can be made in a sealed ziplock plastic bag, or similar, without any of that draining and repeated rubbing in conventional dry-curing as outlined here. 

You can use either pork belly (for streaky) or loin (for middle cut) and it’s probably best to ask your butcher to bone the joint for you. I always keep and freeze the bones until I have enough for a stock or feel like boiling or baking beans. I buy mine from Waterall Brothers (www.waterall.co.uk), the pork specialists on Sheffield’s Moor Market.

I ask for a kilo of bacon at a time, or just over to allow for the bones to be filleted, which is the size which will fit the bag. If your butcher cuts too big a piece simply cut off what you don’t need and use the meat some other way.

This recipe doesn’t use curing salts (the type which turns bacon a pleasant pink and makes it last longer) but if you care more about flavour than looks then ordinary table salt will do (rock or sea salt will prove more expensive).

For each kilo of boned meat you will need:

35g salt

18g brown sugar

3g each of ground ginger and crushed caraway seeds

Mix them all together in a bowl and with your fingers massage all of the cure into the joint, ensuring most is on the meat side and just 10 per cent on the skin.

Now slip it into a ziplock or similar. I put this bag inside a big plastic bag to prevent leakage and pop that into an empty ice cream container for good measure. Then all you have to do is leave it in the fridge for seven days (date the back with a marker pen), remembering to turn the bag every day to make sure the resultant brine covers all the meat.

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Wrap the joint in a plastic bag

When its time is up take it out and discard the bags. Drain the bacon (it will feel much firmer than when you put the joint in) and resist the temptation to rinse it but pat it dry. Now you must dry it for a couple of days. I put mine on a plastic draining tray (so the air can circulate) and put it back in the fridge.

You now need a sharp carving knife with which to cut it, particularly if you want rind-on bacon. If not, carefully slice it off. If you think the slices are too thick simply lay them between two sheets of clingfilm and bash them flat with a rolling pin.

A kilo is a lot of bacon so I freeze my bacon in batches of six rashers so I need to cure bacon only once every three weeks or so.

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The finished bacon needs to dry

As far as I can discover, William Shakespeare never mentions bacon once in his plays and poems but that doesn’t mean to say he didn’t eat it.

FOOTNOTE: Maynard Davies is the author of several books on curing bacon, hams and other cuts, beginning with Adventures of a Bacon Curer in 2003. Two others, Secrets of etc and Manual of a Traditional Bacon Curer (2007 and 2009) may well be rebranded books. There is a fascinating video of him, interviewed by Sophie Grigson, available at https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=Sf9RhKlkODk

 

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.

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

Tony and the Mi Amigo – does it add up?

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Tony Foulds outside the memorial

BY now the whole world knows of Tony Foulds, the 82-year-old Sheffield man who almost daily tends the memorial to the crew of the USAAF bomber Mi Amigo which crash landed in Endcliffe Park in February, 1944.

He believes the pilot of the Flying Fortress tried to wave him and other children playing in the park that day out of the way before it crashed. All 10 on board died.

He says he has felt ‘guilt’ ever since that day.

When his story was aired on BBC Breakfast by show host Dan Walker in January as a result of a chance meeting there was an unprecedented reaction. The world was touched by the story of a man who had, in the words of the BBC, tended to the memorial ‘almost every day for decades’ or ‘since 1944’ as the Guardian reported.

His efforts were honoured by a flypast over the memorial this February on the 75th anniversary of the crash. Tony has been feted, local people want him to be awarded an honour and city council leader Julie Dore has called for him to get a ‘star’ in the pavement outside the Town Hall.

But does Tony’s story stand up?

Here he is in a YouTube video recorded in November, 2018, and uploaded the following month, filmed by Sheffield University journalism student Harry Gold https://youtu.be/KEUJfLEaWco in which he says that two years ago he broke from his usual routine and, instead of meeting friends, he visited the memorial. He noticed ‘ how dilapidated the memorial was. From that day on I put flowers on, swept it, made sure that it was clean.’ That’s commendable but hardly very long. And it was recorded before he met Walker.

I am not the only one to wonder whether Tony has been doing this for half or all of his life. Local journalists who have written about the Mi Amigo over the years, have never met him.* By his own admission he never turned up over the years for the annual service at the memorial on the anniversary of the crash, which seems odd.

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David Harvey’s book on the crash

His devotion was missed by the Friends of Porter Valley, who tidy up the park, including the memorial. I was told: “We had not come across Tony before Dan Walker brought him to everyone’s attention. We have undertaken some volunteer work day activities at and around the memorial over the years but presumably not at the time or times Tony has been there.”

Tony’s work at the memorial might have gone unnoticed but for that chance meeting with Walker, who stopped to talk.

Walker tweeted excitedly on January 2: “Just met an amazing man in Endcliffe Park. Tony Foulds was an 8-year-old playing in he park when a US plane crashed in February 1944. He has diligently maintained the memorial ever since. He was planting new flowers. What a man. I’m in bits.”

Perhaps if Walker had been less in bits he would have carried out basic journalistic checks.

For a start, the memorial wasn’t put up until 1969 – a quarter of a century after the event.

He could have interviewed the expert on the crash, David Harvey, author of the definitive account, ‘Mi Amigo – The Story of Sheffield’s Flying Fortress.’ It was published in 1997 after four years of research.

Harvey would have told him the story of the plane avoiding the children was an ‘urban legend’ which first emerged in the 1990s. “There is no factual evidence to support or corroborate this story,” he writes in his book.

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Casting doubt on Tony’s version of events

Harvey recalls Walker messaging him on Facebook on January 23, well after the story was aired on TV, but not following up. The two men have not spoken.

Harvey points out none of the newspaper articles at the time mentions the children or Tony. He writes that if the pilot had swerved to avoid the children the nose of the Mi Amigo should have been pointing uphill. In fact, eye witness reports and photographs show it pointing down. “It could not have been trying to make the infamous belly landing.”

It has since emerged that the plane had circled the city for about an hour and tenders from the National Fire Service had been standing by.

Far from attempting to make a belly landing the Mi Amigo had suddenly spiralled down out of the sky. Tony’s story is at odds with eye witness reports.

Not long after Walker’s report the BBC began getting calls which threw doubt on Tony’s story. But the flypast had been arranged, the BBC had booked the Endcliffe Park Cafe as its headquarters for the live broadcast, thousands were going to turn up.

Local and regional newspapers were also informed. ‘At this stage, having assessed all of the material presented to me by one of my best journalists, I am not minded to publish,’ one executive told me.

I met Tony at the memorial, now covered with wreathes and flowers, and asked him about the November 2018 video, made before he became a celebrity, in which he said he had been tending it for two years.

He said this was the point at which he had decided to give the monument “a bit of colour.”

He insisted he had been attending the site since 1953, at the age of 17, when he had realised the full significance of what had happened. When I pointed out the monument had not been erected until 1969 he claimed there had been “a hole in the ground and a plaque.” He also went around sprinkling flowers.

Author Harvey, who records in his book that the memorial came about through the efforts of Bert Cruse of the RAFA, says this “is the first time I have heard of a plaque prior to the erection of the RAFA stone in 1969.”

At this point in our conversation Tony was getting agitated. Asked how he reconciled his account of the attempted belly landing with eye witness reports in the book of the plane spiraling down he then agreed it had “plummeted,” seemingly contradicting himself.

Tony made clear he did not agree with Harvey’s book. He stressed he himself had been an eye witness and turned away to meet his fans.

But I was left with questions: Why were Tony’s own recollections of the crash so at variance with others and of the evidence? Why had so few encountered him before Walker?

Perhaps only Tony knows the answer.

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The memorial in Endcliffe Park

*Since this post was first written an article in The Star from February, 2018, has come to light with Tony retailing the same account. His claim was reported but not verified against the paper’s own records nor with Harvey’s Mi Amigo book.

From burgers to braised pork

AS predicted by this blog, the site of the long-established Sheffield burger bar Yankees is to open as a Chinese restaurant in April, Lounge 418.

Or, more precisely, as a ‘cafe and Chinese restaurant’ according to owners Chun-Fat Lee and his wife Corrie Wong, who bought the site for a reported £525,000.

This is the Chinese Year of the Pig, which purportedly signals wealth.

It will be the first Chinese restaurant on Ecclesall Road (home to Indian, Japanese, Thai and Italuan eateries) for a very long time, possibly ever. And that’s despite it being a short hop away from London Road, the city’s unofficial Chinatown.

Mr Lee told the Vibe website that the new business would not look like a conventional Chinese. For a start the Yankees’ red (an Imperial and lucky colour) has been painted white and Lounge 418 must be the first Chinese restaurant with a dartboard.

The Hong Kong-based couple are in Sheffield where their son is studying and already own commercial premises further along at Banner Cross.

Yankees, at the corner with Thompson Road, was opened by the Freeman brothers in May, 1979, eight years after Ron Barton’s Uncle Sam’s. In recent years it had lost its way, at one point advertising a menu on banners outside not available within. It closed before Christmas 2016 and will have been ‘dark’ for over two years.

Encouraged by several thousand mainland Chinese students at the two universities a swathe of ethnic restaurants have opened in the West Street area to serve them. They are also a boon to local foodies as there is no pressure to Anglicise menus. Lounge 418 will have a South China (Cantonese) menu.

Some Sheffield-based Chinese restaurateurs have remarked upon the students’ reluctance or ‘laziness’ to travel far off the beaten track. It remains *to be seen whether the New Era complex and tower block between London Road and Bramall Lane, with plenty more student flats, will be near enough for Lounge 418 to attract their attention.

Or whether it will stick to the Anglo market.

Yankees as it was