I RECKON the waiting staff at Tonco, that quirky little restaurant tucked away in the corner of Dyson Place, Sheffield, play Menu Bingo in idle moments.
And the one who draws croquettes usually takes the prize.
It’s the most requested dish most days says our server Simon.
Small wonder. I remember one with courgettes in the summer, all creamy interior inside a crisp, dry shell. So I’ve got my taste buds cued up for the blue cheese and Jerusalem artichoke with a quince aioli. Now there’s a novelty.
But it gets sidestepped by a special described as ” Hog’s head with our own brown sauce. “
It sells itself to me because I am a sucker for pig’s cheek ( if I decipher the restaurantspeak correctly ) and want to compare the sauce to my own homemade concoction.
It’s good, the meat shredded and studded with tiny diced carrot in the trademark soft filling, the exterior a satisfying crunch.
And the brown sauce gets my approval. Ten years ago every chef around was making it and it’s good to see at least one kitchen giving it a reprise. This is made with prunes, apples but no onions to give people who can’t eat alliums a shout out, according to the chef.
Tonco, run by Joe Shrewsbury and Florence Russell ( Jo and Flo) and named after a long-forgotten Barnsley soft drink, also does a nifty line in ravioli. I have fond memories of a summery one filled with goats cheese last summer.
Today’s has a roast beetroot filling, pleasant enough, but there are wedges of beetroot garnishing the dish and, even more, pallid yellow beetroot which barely makes a contribution, so this is rather overdoing things.
Wisps of cavolo nero just irritate but roast hazelnuts provide crunch against good firm pasta. This time the goats cheese is outside, as a sauce.
Tonco still has its lunchtime special offer of three dishes for £22 and the house wines are fairly priced. There always seems to be something to intrigue on this menu even if this diner is not necessarily entirely bowled over.
I always associate Tonco as having a bit of a thing for turnips. Perhaps beetroot is the new turnip here.
BACK IN the Sixties as a young reporter for the Beccles & Bungay Journal I would be sent to cover village shows.
There would invariably be a tent or at least a table full of homemade jams and jellies, pickles and preserves, usually made by stout matrons from the Women’s Institute.
All very motherly and middle class but never for one moment did I guess this might one day be hip.
Then it was raspberry jam and pickled onions, these days it’s more likely to be a kombucha or kefir (fermented drink) bubbling up for prizes.
I am at Hideaway, a dishevelled former factory, the White Rose Works, in Eyre Lane, Sheffield for the city’s second Pickle Fest.
I can give 30 or 40 years on the next oldest person there, and rather less hair, as people gather for workshops, talks, browse a few stalls, buy food or enter one of the several categories to have their prized jam, chutney, sauce, pickles or ferments to be judged in a mass taste test later that day.
I bring along three entries, two for the non- hot sauce category: Pontack, made with elderberries, and a brown fruit sauce from prunes and apples, plus a chutney from foraged windfall apples in my neighbourhood.
I’m delighted to find these are the first entries if you don’t count the jar entered last year which no one could open and has been resubmitted this year. Tough competition.
The festival is organised by a loose group of people called Social Pickle, explains Lisa Marriott, one of the organisers who, like other young women, is wearing a fetching sash with the organisation’s name.
It gives the event, for an old-timer like me, the slightly disconcerting air of a Sixties beauty contest with Miss Pickles on display although of course the real beauties are the jars of Green Bean Chunky Ketchup and evil- looking Carrotchanga for sale at the pay-as-you-feel stall.
“We started during Lockdown preparing surplus ingredients for meals for our Food Hall Project ( on Brown Street) and realised there was a lot of energy around,” she says.
What couldn’t be used immediately was pickled and preserved.
“Cider vinegar was our first project, sold in local shops, and we’ve expanded into weekly Glut Clubs.”
I’m impressed. They are not just sitting back and waiting for surplus food to come in. Some are going out and foraging for it.
With things like sauerkraut, kimchis and kombuchas the Fermentation Generation is a lot more adventurous and sophisticated than its grannies. In fact, they’re making a bit of a fizz.
I couldn’t stay for the judging and I’ve been waiting at home for the telephone to ring and tell me if I’d won a category ( not that they were overwhelmed with entries ).
To pass the time I took home one of the jars of Carrotchanga. ” We fermented the carrot to make a Ketchup then added other stuff,” someone said. It tastes how it looks, wicked.
And did they have a serving suggestion? ” Put it on your chips.”
WE’VE BEEN eating out quite a bit lately: on a roll you might say plenty of good food to enjoy.But rather than bore you with a bite by bite rundown here are selected mouthfuls.
Let’s start with dinner at newly opened Rosmarino on Abbeydale Road, Sheffield, an Italian in what had been the premises of a Portuguese eatery and before that a Polish one which had a dozen soups on the starters).
It’s their first restaurant together for newly-married Abdellatif, from Casablanca, and his Anglo-Italian wife Lidia. Abdel opened Olive with his brother on Ecclesall Road a couple of years back while Lidia’s family had La Terrazza (now Bella Donna) on Sharrowvale Road.
Unlike many Italian restaurants the place does not feel overcrowded with plenty of space and elbow room between the tables. “We took quite a few out,” Lidia told me.
We ate with foodie friends Craig and Marie Harris, who know a thing about Italian food. My starter of calamari was a wee bit chewy but had a lovely jalapeno and lime jam to go with it (£8.50).
A main of ravioli with a gentle hit of black truffle (£15.95) impressed with its good, firm pasta and lively mushroom and parmesan sauce. We topped things off with a home made tiramusi made, surprisingly, with lemon drizzle cake. It worked!
On to Tonco in Dyson Place, which always makes me think of turnips because they once featured heavily on its very esoteric menu. It always seem to faintly annoy me: must be the irritating Pud-Pud to signal the dessert section!
But a family lunch here was terrific, in particular some courgette and Spenwood cheese croquettes (£6), crispy shells enclosing melting interiors, hogget meatballs wrapped a littlepointlessly in vine leaves (£8) and quite lovely summery goats cheese ravioli in a very simple but effective lemon butter and little gem sauce. Oh and the fig leaf custard tart (they were making those fig leaves work!) with bergamot puree was a great hit, too.
Next stop was a lunch at Trippetts in Trippet Lane, run by one-woman gin Wikipedia (and dispenser) Debbie Shaw and her husband Carl, who can always produce something special with his small plates menu.
Stupidly, I forgot to record the gins but did appreciate a trio of samosas and a duo of sliders (minii hamburgers) made from venison and beef in dinky little buns. I enjoyed the contrast in textures between the two meats.
Finally to The Broadfield on Abbeydale Road where it is always advisable to book, even on a Tuesday night, because the restaurant area gets rammed.
The Broadfield has a better-than-pub-food menu with classics such as home made pies and a Mittel-European-style roast ham hock of the kind you’d find in Prague.
That’s got a lot of calories (the amounts are listed on the menus) so I thought again and had the bangers and mash. Well banger because there was just one but homemade and what a plonker! It was very tasty, the pork helped along with ginger, a very old traditional spice, particularly with bacon. I was glad I chose it. And here’s the picture.
YOU have to duck under a washing line of pink cycling vests to enter a small back room. One wall is plastered with pages from Italian sporting papers, the ceiling looks as if it is going to fall down any minute and old coffee sacks are curtains at the window.
There are three long benches, seating six at a friendly pinch, and some high stools. On the back wall, on the way to the toilet, is a cartoon of a cardinal wth a speech bubble saying “Holy cannoli,” a slogan copied on waiting staff shirts. This place looks like fun.
Food arrives on white tin camping plates with blue rims placed on brown paper serving mats, bread is deliivered in brown paper bags and hot coffee in glasses without a handle.
There’s music playing, happy chatter and a waiter in a flat cap is bringing round a tray of cakes to tempt you with that coffee. One thing North Town has got in bucketfuls is atmosphere.
We’ve all heard or dreamed about such places, maybe even been to one, tucked away down some unassuming back street in a hot Italian town or city, and come back with travellers tales of great nights out.
But you don’t have to go as far as Naples or Milan. There’s one on Abbeydale Road, Sheffield.
The oddly named North Town (don’t ask, it’s a long story, about taking over a previous business, even odder because the last thing it sounds is Italian and it’s on the south side of town), opened up pre-pandemic but I’ve only just got round to visiting. Silly me.
It’s the concept of Gian Bohan, one half of the gastro duo with Maurizio Mori who brought us Nonna’s on Ecclesall Road, who wanted to recreate that experience. “You can find them down little out of the way streets,” he says.
This time his partner is Pasquale Pollio,the chap in the hat, and we meet him twice, once at lunchtime and then again when we return for a more substantial tea.
The decor looks spot on – minimum money spent for the maximum effect, including the ceiling. “that’s how we found it when redecorating. This is used to be a guitar shop,” adds Gian.
The heart of North Town is its bakery, which powers much of the menu. mainly ciabattas for a range of sandwiches, to eat in or take away, as well as a Puglian rosemary and rock salt bread. “We bake three, sometimes four times a day,” says Pasquale.
There are pizzas, of course, but the ovens are so busy baking the breads they are available only at certain times.
At lunch we have a meatball panino (£7.50) and a classico – prosciutto, tomato and mozzarella (£6), both excellent, generous and tasty. The meat is lamb with preserved lemon, mint, chilli and ground almond for extra flavour, and it comes with melted taleggio.
We come back on St Patrick’s Day, wondering whether Gian will be sporting a shamrock (he is half-Irish, once running an Irish cafe further up the road nearer town) but he’s away in New York.
This time we’re here for the pasta: a gutsy lasagne (£9.50) with a ragu of pork, beef and sausage, and paccheri scoglio (£12), pasta with seafood, the mere mention of which makes our waitress screw up her face with delight. I expect she does this with all the dishes but she’s right.
The pasta, thick, slightly rubbery rings, are partnered with mussels and clams and finished with pangrattato, basically fried herby garlic breadcrumbs as an Italian ‘poverty kitchen’ subsitute for pesto because the parmesan was too expensive. It’s so convincing I have to tell myself it’s not the real thing.
It’s this and the broth, which I soaked up with a saved slice of bread (although they provide a spoon) which helps makes this dish for while the clams are good the mussels are nothing to write home about.
The cannoli certainly are. Even if you didn’t know you could tell they weren’t made in a factory: crisper, irregular and generously filled. Coupled with a glass of hot coffee you can’t go wrong. This place is right up my street.
North Town re-opens on Wednesday after a short holiday. Normal opening, Wed-Sun.
THERE were tears, there were hugs and there were last orders of king prawns and fried rice – then a much loved Chinese takeaway was calling it a day.
The New Hing Lung on Abbeydale Road, Sheffield, was full of customers and Thank You cards last Sunday (February 27) as the family, headed by matriarch Xue, decided to finish for good on her retirement, aged 66. It’s been sold on.
Customer Howard Greaves, who with his wife Elsa has been a customer for over 20 years, was one of those saying goodbye. “The standard has always been very high and the prices incredible low,” he enthused.
Although he recommended it to friends they shuddered because the appearance outside belied the food inside.
The humble little takeaway is the latest in a line of well-known Chinese eateries to disappear recently. So has the red fronted Dim Sum on London Road, run by brother and sister Sang and Tina Wan. This was a place noted for its dim sum dishes as well as a conventional menu.
They opened the place, previously Mr Yun’s tiny sandwich shop, in 2003 and later expanded into neighbouring premises.
Sang arrived from Hong Kong aged 14 and was sent to High Storrs School, where, he says, the teachers simply ignored him. He left a year later and gained his education in a leading Manchester Chinese restaurant.
I was sorry to have missed a last meal there although knew the Wans were looking for a buyer. Sang, seeing the rise of New Era Square, had long predicted the demise of Chinese restaurants on the London Road axis.
Also gone, and I can’t tell you when, is the famous Zing Vaa restaurant on The Moor. The tiny entrance, now boarded up, led down some stairs to a large basement restaurant. We went a couple of years ago but the cavernous restaurant was cold, bare and empty so we left before ordering.
It was quite the place in its heyday. Founded by Sheffield-born Harry Yun in 1958, whose family ran the Yun Bun Laundry in Heeley, the restaurant had a long-standing rivalry with the Golden Dragon (now the Wong Ting) round the corner in Matilda Street.
Harry, who had a pronounced Sheffield accent, liked to stand at the foot of the stairs and surprise guests by saying, seemingly incongruously, “Oreyt owd lad?”
Times change. People move on. But all three of these premises were held in affection by local people. Most of the time they just disappear from local history without a fanfare. So this, in its way, is a last goodbye.
YEAH I know, it’s not a looker. But would you eat this turkey neck? I did.
You’ll find one in your Christmas turkey, that is if you buy a bird with giblets. We had beef not turkey last year but we knew someone who did.
Someone who shuddered with disgust at the plastic wrapped innards and was not going to make giblet gravy so I volunteered to take them. I am all in favour of ‘nose to tail’ eating and that must include the neck.
I bunged them in the freezer for a few weeks before getting round to cooking them.
I only had vague ideas, possibly a soup, but when I opened the two bags what a lot I got. One contained the neck, the other two hearts and two glossy, juicy livers but no gizzard.
Now turkey liver is much too good to throw away on soup and had been well cleaned so just needed slicing, frying off with onions, thyme and garlic, and finishing with sherry, mustard, creme fraiche and the odd grape – liver Veronique. Served on toast.
And very good it was too. The flavour is much more pronounced than chicken livers.
I wasn’t so sure about the neck. Googling recipes came up with a Jamaican mock ‘oxtail stew’ from which I took a cue, if not the spicing. It might have been better if I had.
Oxtail requires long, slow cooking so after whacking the neck into segments I did the same thing. After searing the meat I added onion, celery, carrots, bay and thyme. Then as an afterthought I threw in a few no-soak pinto beans. The cooking liquor was a chicken stock cube. I included the sliced hearts for good measure.
Three or four hours later it was ready, the meat falling off the bones. But this was no rich, thick, vibrant dish, more a muddy, earthy tasting gloop. I don’t think the beans helped here.
I tried to improve things slightly with soy sauce and my home made elderberry Pontack Sauce) but . . .
It wasn’t unpalatable but not, I think a wiñner. I ate slightly more than half of it, telling myself it was what the Italians call cusina poverta, poverty cooking. But you wouldn’t get an Italian eating this!
In future, I’ll leave turkey necks for giblet gravy but the livers are an extra special treat.
FISH restaurants in Sheffield are like buses: you wait for ages then two come along at once.
So now we have, at opposite sides of the city like boxers in a ring, Neon Fish at Millhouses and Native, on Gibraltar Street. And they couldn’t look more different.
Whereas Neon Fish is glitzy and twinkly, Native – next door to a tattoo parlour – is gutsy and gritty, with a wooden floor, weather-beaten tables, exposed brick walls and Sunday School chairs.
Native sits on the end of the street, overlooking the ring road and an empty lot, and while there’s a welcoming whiff of garlic and seafood as we open the door, the decor is not particularly maritime. It’s more funky than fishy.
There is a trio of surfboards on the wall, opposite the small open kitchen, and a statuette of a prawn on a stick.
It will, sadly, be the only one we will see this Friday lunchtime as the kitchen is right out of them, as it is mussels, so that rather depletes the starters we had hoped to graze from in the absence of a light midday menu.
Aside from the olives and bread, you won’t pay less than a tenner for a starter and around the mid twenties for a blackboard main but we like it and we like it a lot.
I was quite tempted by the oysters, after all the restaurant takes its name from the eponymous mollusc, but I can get them cheaper at owner Christian Szurko’s sit down and eat wet fish shop on Sharrowvale Road.
Incidentally I recommend eating there if you don’t mind perching on a stool under the glassy-eyed stare of a monkfish on ice.
So I have the hand dived roast scallops (£13.50) in their shell, three beautifully cooked and sweet under discs of garlic, herbs, parmesan and breadcrumbs.
But you need bread to soak up the fragrant juices and the only bread available is that with my wife’s smoky mackerel pate, two generous quenelles, two small pieces of toast.
We call for more of the toasted sodabread. Why not have it there there in the first place, I ask our friendly waiter? Waste, he shrugs. It’s easy to ask for more.
With only four people in during our stay it was easier to catch his eye than on a crowded evening. And you might want to note that Native charges extra (£3) for remedying shortchanging customers on bread.
But I don’t want to grumble too much because my wife’s seemingly routine smoked salmon crumpet was superb. And I’m talking about the superior, tasty spongy crumpet made in-house, like the excellent bread, by the resident pastrychef.
It was competing with salmon, brown shrimps, a poached egg and a tarragon bearnaise and didn’t come second.
I had a blackboard main at £24 to see what the kitchen could do when spreading its wings.
Two good pieces of monkfish perched on a bed of soft giant couscous, flavoured with chunks of diced lamb breast, aubergine melting to a ‘caviar’ and, giving your tastebuds a zingy, crunchy send-off, bright red pomegranate seeds. In a word, funky.
We ate our meal with a couple of small glasses of decent Muscadet (£5 each) and finished with so-so coffee and wonderful madeleines – that pastrychef again.
It’s taken us a while to sample Native, which opened last year, but this blog doesn’t do a lot of ligging and has to pay its way. Boss Szurko has taken me to task for describing the prices as ‘minty’ but our lunchtime bill was £81.50 and we didn’t push the boat far out to sea.
There’s a lot to like here with an appealing atmosphere and precise cooking. Perhaps you can’t do much about the price of fish but Native could be more generous with the bread.
After all, haven’t bread and fish gone together since Biblical times? And as I remember there was enough to go round.
WELL THAT certainly beats a bag of winkles, Mr Brown!
We’re off for afternoon tea but not as you know it. No dainty cucumber sandwiches, sausage rolls and French fancies for us but cod in batter, some juicy mussels, scallops atop pork belly, prawns, halibut and salmon, and the very tip of a lobster’s tail.
And if that sounds fishy it is because we are in Cary Brown and Gracie Anderson’s new restaurant Neon Fish on Archer Road, Sheffield (Marco@Milano as was) to sample what is billed as ‘Afternoon Tea from the Sea.’
It’s a clever idea. For most of us ordering a fruit de mer is pushing the boat out and it costs a whacking £95 for two here.
An afternoon fish tea is in shallower waters, a scaled-down version (at £40), light on lobster, apart from that tip, minus oysters but with bits borrowed from all over the menu plus a few extra tasty morsels.
If you don’t count fish and chips the nearest I’ve come to this is a plate of whelks or take-home bag of winkles (pin not included).
It might be cut-price but they do it in style: It is served on tiered plates with Carr’s Sheffield-made silver fish cutlery. How’s that for swank?
It looked lovely and it was. This may well become the Saturday afternoon rival to Cary’s legendary Sunday lunchtime roast meat platter.
Let’s start from the top because we did, with some generous pieces of cod in wispy batter on the uppermost tier.
They shared the plate with sweet, briefly cooked scallops on warm, pressed slow-roasted pork belly, surf and turf heaven in miniature. This is something you savour slowly, relishing the contrast in textures.
We saved a smoky mackerel pate in a jar until later. We wanted the white anchovies with chilli jam, a riff on the chef’s much-copied monkfish dish. It works just as well.
Moving down, the next tier held whorls of smoked salmon and halibut, the latter softer in texture with plenty of smokiness, and those lobster tips, the only items which didn’t live up to their promise.
The lowest tier had two very tasty king prawns, a pot of Atlantic prawns, crab meat in mayonnaise with julienne of apple and a tiny pot of pickled mussels.
The flesh was tender not firm, as well it might be since they had been steamed not 30 minutes before, cooled and briefly pickled in a liquor so good that afterwards, checking no one was looking, I swigged it down.
I didn’t need to. There wasn’t anyone else apart from my wife until a man wearing a pink top hat with a ticket in the brim walked in at five o’clock.
No, I haven’t smoked something and fallen down a rabbit hole: it happened (sometimes it is better not to ask) but there was certainly something Alice in Wonderland about our booking.
We’d tried the weekend before, only to be told the website was wrong so booked the following Saturday for 3pm. A last minute check online told us Neon Fish didn’t open until 5pm (website wobbles again) so that explains why we had the place to ourselves.
We were, in fact, the first to order the afternoon tea and it won’t officially be available until October 16. Don’t go thinking we got a freebie as guineapigs because we paid full whack. Top picks: the mussels, anchovies and scallops.
Gracie, who you may remember from the Tickled Trout, Barlow, leads delightful front of house service and Cary still cooks like a dream. You might have to twist his arm to get the fish tea sooner, though.
THE COLOUR is a shimmering greeny-gold, the aroma is like that of a damp morning and the taste is nutty, warm and smooth.
I think I have just bottled Spring!
A couple of months ago, you may recall, I picked young, fresh leaves from a beech tree overhanging my garden to make noyau, the French liqueur. I posted then because there was only a short period when the leaves are at their best.
I promised to let you know how I got on. The answer is splendidly!
Some weeks later the leaves at the top had turned brown – not really a problem but it explains why recipes call for them to be ‘tightly packed – but those at the bottom were still bright.
The colour as I strained the gin off was brilliant green ( it looks darker in the picture as I photographed it after adding brandy ) but I wouldn’t want to drink it ‘neat’ as the taste was rather harsh.
This was solved by adding a strong sugar solution, 150g of caster sugar in 200mls of water. It was a lot better! But, of course, the alcohol has been diluted ( the gin was 37.5 ABV ) so 125ml of brandy brought it back up and added pep and smoothness.
It’s a really pleasing drink, ready to drink now but will, they say, improve over time.
I can see this being a regular nightcap, bringing back memories of spring. Now I wonder what other leaves I can turn into a tipple . . .
THERE REALLY wasn’t any doubt about what we were having for starters at Grazie, that buzzing Italian restaurant on the corner of Leopold Street, Sheffield. Owner Vito Vernia had it plastered across his chest.
“I’m having what he’s wearing” I said, pointing to the tempting looking picture of a fritto misto on his T-shirt.
Well, it’s one way to sell a dish. There used to be Pepe Scime, who billed himself the Talking Menu. Meet Vito, the Walking Menu.
Grazie has just been voted TripAdvisor’s top city eaterie and for once we can’t argue with a site that so often deserves the brickbat of TripeAdvisor from outraged chefs and foodies.
The local Press picked up the story but in today’s Poundland journalism simply rewrote from websites rather than pick up the phone and speak to someone for a brand new quote or a different angle.
It’s third time very lucky on our resume of eating out after the long lockdown: one decent meal, one overpriced disappointment and now Grazie which provides good atmosphere and authentic, honest, tasty regional food – from Puglia – at commendably decent prices.
That fritto, at £18.50, had some of the best king prawns I’ve tasted since the great days of Franco Tarusico’s Walnut Tree, Abergavenny, (but three on a sharing plate for two?), along with smaller prawns, chewy baby octopus, tempura squid and courgettes.
Another good reason to go is the pasta, all home made and freshly prepared every day – and you can’t say that about many Italian restaurants, can you?
I have to restrict my carbohydrate intake because of Type 2 diabetes – too many good dinners down the years – but this wasn’t going to stop me sampling Grazie’s once again.
I had the lasagna, a thoroughly satisfactory dish at an equally satisfactory tenner, and what impressed me, apart from the richness of the sugo, was the thickness of the pasta sheets. Normally they are wafer thin but these were quite thick and gave the dish an even meatier edge.
The overall effect is a solid, gutsy dish. I’ve had politer, more genteel lasagnes but this was just what I wanted.
I’ve already reviewed Grazie before lockdown so just let me say everything here is made from scratch with care . . . and boy does it show!
Elsewhere it’s quite clear that the local restaurant trade is not yet fully up to speed. It’s having difficulties in finding chefs and waiting staff. Inexperienced youngsters are being pressed into service without adequate training. For goodness sake, keep to your section so diners are not harrassed with the same questions from successive waiters.
And please, if you are going to serve water in jugs, put in some ice and don’t leave it to warm in the dining room.
Customers, too, need to smarten their game. There have been far too many no-shows where diners do not turn up. An already struggling trade can’t stand too many more blows, particularly those out of the way places which can’t rely on walk- ins.
Hope springs eternal in the catering trade and fishmonger Christian Szurcko has opened Native in the city centre, scooping up the lobster and caviar market for those who find Kelham Island too plebby!
Still on seafood, Cary Brown is having his umpteenth transmogrification with new restaurant Neon Fish. There’s plenty to get my teeth into.
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