No pizzas but you can have a Margherita

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Terrific pasta at Grazie

ALMOST alone among Sheffield’s Italian restaurants you can’t get a pizza at the latest to open, Grazie on Leopold Street. Not even a pizza Margherita.

But there is a Margherita. She makes the pasta.

Traditionally back home the best pasta is made by ageing Nonnas with bulging biceps who have been kneading and folding and rolling all their lives. The Margherita who makes the three types of pasta here is all of 21 and, not having seen her, I can’t speak for her biceps. But she has brought her mum with her! It’s glorious.

This is the lightest, springiest, toothsome pasta I’ve eaten for some time. I’m having main course orecchiette, ear-shaped pasta made with fine semolina (as is the shell-shaped cavatelli) in my Amore Pugliese (£9.25). It’s tossed with the stems of cimi di rapa, wild broccoli, anchovies, chilli, garlic and breadcrumbs for extra texture.

You could almost imagine being, if you ignore the double-deckers rolling by the restaurant’s picture windows, hundreds of miles away in a ristorante fanned by Mediterranean breezes.

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Sausage and mash, Italian style

Grazie, with a mostly Puglian regional menu, is owned and run by Vito Vernia, from that province via Piccolino in ,where he was general manager. Margherita is also from Puglia so she knows exactly the sort of pasta needed.

Grazie has already been widely praised, not least by my pal Craig Harris, whose review you can read here . I’d just like to add a few comments.

I don’t just like to leave a restaurant with, hopefully, a happy tummy full of good food, but an idea or two I can try at home when I’m feeling particularly cheffy. And, my word, there were quite a few at Grazie.

Craig and his wife Marie have already made one visit and he’s back, this time with us. And I’m eyeing up his main course sausage and mash. But it’s not as we know it.

There are two butterflied Italian sausages, as juicy and spicy as you could want, which have been griddled so there are perfect parallel lines. Instead of mash there’s a pool of broad bean puree and a garnish of caramelised red onions.

Fave e salsicca (sounds better already, doesn’t it?) is very tasty and I think I’ll give it a go, although I want to replace the broad beans with mashed potatoes. And I can’t help thinking that £14 is a bit steep for a couple of bangers, no matter how good.

There are lots of interesting things here. The semolina-rich Altamuran bread is excellent, particularly as a bruschetta tipica (£6.50). It’s smeared with some of that broad bean puree and topped with more cimi di rapa, the leaves this time, crispy onions, chilli and extra virgin olive oil. I love the Italian way of using two different parts of the broccoli. You won’t find it over here but try tenderstem or purple sprouting.

Graizie is in the premises of what used to be the Prosecco Lounge and reminds me a little of the early days of Gusto, then round the corner in Church Street, with its burst of new (to Sheffield) ideas and lively cooking.

Vito is married to Elena and you might see her and their new young baby Joseph popping into the restaurant during the day.

Grazie does coffee and cakes until 12 then the full menu operates through the afternoon and evening. There’s plenty more on the menu for us to explore – and we will.

1-3 Leopold Street, SheffieldS1 2GY. Web: http://www.graziesheffield.co.uk

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Vito Severa (wife and bambino in background)

 

Putting the shine back on Silversmiths

 

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Pork belly with apple

LAST time I was at Silversmiths restaurant on Arundel Street with a camera I was lurking on the corner trying to snap TV superchef Gordon Ramsay for The Star.

I found him in the street making a phone call during a break from filming his Kitchen Nightmares restaurant rescue show and got my front page picture – it was a bit blurry – but he caught me. “Did you write that piece in the paper?” he quizzed. I had to admit I had indeed wrote that he was a “foul-mouthed chef.”

He paused and walked silently back into the building. Interview over! When the series  was screened in 2009 there were 310 F-words in one episode alone and Silversmiths has become known all over the world.

Ten years later I’m back, this time legitimately, to see whether it will be third time lucky for this Sheffield restaurant since then owner Justin Rowntree, who had called in Ramsay to save his struggling enterprise, sold a transformed business on in 2017.

The last two reincarnations of the place have failed and doubtless there were a few more F-words when it suddenly closed in August, leaving diners in the lurch. So Silversmiths has a reputation to rebuild.

And Justin is back but in a different role. He’s been called in by new owners Rick Bailey and Matt Ray as consultant to publicise and advise on the relaunch. In a sense he’s doing a bit of a Ramsay “but without the swearing,” he laughed, inviting me to do a review as a guest diner.

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Silversmiths’ interior

They’ve pinned their hopes on tousle-haired head chef Ashley Bagshaw, just 24, who has already made a name for himself at the two AA rosette Chequers pub at Froggat Edge, to put the shine back on. I’ve already enjoyed his cooking at the much acclaimed Airoma pop-up venue with best mate Luke Hanson.

He’s opened with two menus: Simply British, with old favourites like fish and chips, a nod to Ramsay who instituted a pie night (here fish pie and a home-smoked brisket), burger, lamb rump and a steak; and a shorter, more expensive and adventurous a la carte featuring a mustard panna cotta starter, main course grouse with hazelnuts and a trio of desserts separate to the British menu.

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Blue cheese cigar

The restaurant, which seats around 60, seems wider than I recall (there is a separate dining room upstairs). That’s all to do with clever lighting, I’m told, and a row of mirrors helps. The familiar banquette which runs the length of the wall has been retained and so has the stage, a relic of its days as the One Eleven Club and Justin’s Runaway Girl (Ramsay changed the name).

Ashley cooks brightly. A blue cheese ‘cigar’, encased in a crisp pastry sheath (£7) which had absorbed the cheesy flavours, along  with melon balls and pine nuts, was an elegant starter. I had hoped for the panna cotta, which proved unavailable, so went for a very precisely steamed piece of cod enlivened by a hot but not blistering harissa sauce (£8)

My main course was pork belly, perhaps because I’d read that day it had been declared one of the world’s top ten nutritious foods, in at number eight between Swiss chard and beet greens.

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Sticky toffee pudding

Belly pork can be a dream of tenderness and succulence and this didn’t let me down, although my initial disappointment at the absence of a crisp piece of crackling was tempered by seeing Ashley had shattered the skin into crumbs and scattered them on top. The porkiness was continued through a quenelle of black pudding mash (£16). There was a nice piece of roast apple on top.

Chicken is so ubiquitous today that it often makes for a very dull meal. Here a supreme (£16) was full of cluck with plenty of flavour, alongside a rosti made up of a medley of root vegetables rather than just potato, and creamed leeks.

The long bar dominates the room and tables now occupy the stage which makes this a warm, friendly feeling place. Good music on the sound system, too.

We were greeted by general manager Paul Handley but most of the time we were served ably and enthusiastically by waiter and trainee sommelier Nathan.

We finished up with a chocolate suet pudding and a pretty nifty sticky toffee pudding.

The new Silversmiths is a bright, friendly place with a more than decent menu which should please those whose tastes are conservative along with others who want something a little bit different. Let’s wish it well.

Martin Dawes was a guest of the restaurant in writing this review.

*Silversmiths is at 111 Arundel Street, Sheffield S1 2NT. Web: http://www.silversmithsrestaurant.co.uk

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Head chef Ashley Bagshaw

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Au revoir to Café Ceres?

 

Café Ceres has closed and, right, the view through the windows of the roundabout

THERE’S a poignant little message on the website of Café Ceres, that comfy little café cum French bistro on the Hunters Bar roundabout at Ecclesall Road, Sheffield. It says “Au Revoir.”

After 19 years of croque monsieurs, French onion tarts, crepes Suzette and chicken chasseur owners Jean-Paul and Caroline Strappazzon closed on Saturday, September 21. But the decision was not theirs.

As it says on the website: “Our landlord has been unwilling to discuss a new lease and we therefore have no choice but to close down.”

The average life of a restaurant in Britain is about three years: The first full of hope, the second bedding down and the third deciding whether it’s sink or swim. Many don’t make it that far so almost two decades is some achievement.

The business had started out in the summer of 2000 on nearby Sharrowvale Road when the couple took over what was then La Ceres deli, keeping the name. It was a café and mini bakery during the day – the excellent quiches and onion tarts were big sellers – and as a little BYO bistro in the evenings later on in the week.

It was a little outpost of French cooking.Dishes were simple classics – salmon, a steak, chicken chasseur and, my favourite, crepes.

In its early days it was an atmospheric place. The toilet was at the end of the garden, a hangover from its days as a terraced house.

Jean-Paul, from the Haute-Savoie region of France, had been a ski instructor and he and Caroline had met on the slopes.

The café later moved up the road to the roundabout into much larger premises, previous a Thai restaurant and the Mini Bar fish eaterie. Life there was not without incident. In November 2016 a car crashed through the windows.

It was a community-minded place. The café hosted a book club and regularly welcomed local schools whose pupils came to order breakfast in French.

Au revoir also means ‘until the next time’ as well as goodbye.  They say: “We really hope we can carry on in some form. Fingers crossed.”

 

Good Cod! Bruce worries Brexit will hit the price of fish and chips

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Bruce Payne – free fish taste test

ACE chippie Bruce Payne will be offering customers on Sheffield’s Moor Market free fish if they agree to take part in a blind taste test of mystery fish.

He’s worried the price of the city’s favourite fish, cod, will hit the deep fat fryers after Brexit.

“I need a back-up plan if the price soars. It’s got to be white, it’s got to be flakey and it’s got to be bland,” he says.

Bruce, who runs the Market Chippy, doesn’t know what fish he will be using until the day before the taste test, from 10am on Saturday, October 26. It will depend on what is available – and sustainable.

While the price of haddock has more or less remained stable  that of cod has steadily risen. Normally it  drops after Christmas but this year they didn’t.

“Sixty pounds of frozen-at-sea Icelandic cod cost me £210 currently. At the moment it’s caught by the Spanish. It has been Russian or Chinese. As we don’t have much of a fishing industry left we will be buying another country’s fish and if they land here there will be a tariff,” he adds.

There is already to be a seasonal 20p price rise on his regular prices (fish and chips is currently £4.60) and Bruce needs a Plan B if prices hit the psychological £5 mark.

“I don’t want to be caught flat footed. Suppliers can be ruthless. They will use Brexit as an excuse anyway,” he adds.

Bruce will not stop selling cod (or haddock and plaice) but among cod substitutes are coley, hake, catfish, gurnard, pollock, New Zealand hoki and tilapia (which some chippies are rumoured to be already using). However not all fit his criteria.

When he ran a stall on Sheffield’s old Castle Market he tried using Scarborough woof (also known as catfish or wolf fish) which has a white firm flesh but customers rejected it. Traditional as always, they wanted cod. Perhaps it is time for Bruce to give woof another go.

The taste test is free. All people have to do is rate what they eat. “Even if it costs me £50 in fish I am going to have a better idea than if just cooking a couple of pieces. I have three fryers so it can b e A, B and C. It’s like fishing, the wider you cast your net, the better the result!”

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Flying high: Silver service at the Silver Plate

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Some rather good pork belly

I SHALL probably never fly first class and get served dinner at 50,000 feet with silver service but at least young Chloe is giving me a taste of it at zero feet.

We are lunching at Sheffield College’s admirable Silver Plate training restaurant on the main Granville Road campus and the vegetables – broccoli and green beans – are being served silver service: that is directly from a dish via fork and spoon on to your plate by the waitress.

I smile wryly. Didn’t this sort of thing go out with the ark, along with synchronised cloche lifting and serving gloves?

The reason, says instructor Shelley Kirk is that Chloe and co are on the Cabin Crew Course and need to know this sort of thing. Well, chocks away as waitresses unfold and place our (paper) napkins in our laps. At 50,000 feet it would be linen. But you might not get Sheffield cutlery as you do here!

I haven’t eaten at the college, one of the best for catering in the country, for years. Lunches are a steal: £11 for two courses, £13 for three, while you have to book the evening wine and dines months in advance. There is a waiting list.

It’s ideal for silver surfers wanting a taste of middle of the road dining they might not be able to afford regularly, or those who just want to support the next generation.

Things don’t start well: we are all squashed like sardines in a lobby with the size and atmosphere of a dentist’s waiting room before the doors open. Silver Plate’s predecessor, Sparks, had a decent lounge where students could practice their drinks ordering skills.

It’s a highly enjoyable meal, cooked for us by eight second year level 2 professional cookery students under the supervision of lecturer Andy Gabbitas, formerly chef-proprietor of the Wortley Arms.

The menu is short with just three choices at each stage but first some really good breads (focaccia, black pudding and herbs) and a sip of better than expected pinot grigio.

For starters there is mushroom soup, goats cheese parfait and red mullet on shaved fennel, which I have. My pan-fried fish has only just been cooked – it is on point, as they say – with the flesh a little too translucent but still acceptable. My wife approves her parfait as ‘not too goaty.’

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Instructor Andy Gabbitas

For mains there is roast belly pork with a parsnip mash, pan-fried salmon and a butternut squash and spinach tart.

My pork is a treat. The meat is soft and sweet, cutting almost like butter. The skin, detached, is crisp and crunchy. It’s on a bed of mash, possibly slightly over-nutmegged, with some partially dehydrated apple rings for garnish.

Here come the vegetables. Of course students must learn but silver service does muck up the kitchen’s presentation skills, which are good. I adjust my napkin on my lap. Experience has taught me stray vegetables served this way can end up there but Chloe’s trajectory is true.

That broccoli came with a hollandaise sauce, by the way, and like lecturer Andy, I agree it was very creditably done.

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Steamed pudding and custard

My dessert, a simple steamed, not messed about with syrup pudding with a thin custard, rounds off an  excellent meal. My wife’s chocolate torte is a belter. “Didn’t have to touch the sable pastry,” says Andy later.

A final accolade: the coffee is first class with a good crema.

You’d have easily been happy to pay £22 for this at a little side street bistro and it’s not hard to see why the college and the restaurant keeps earning plaudits. It only just missed out being in the AA’s top three training restaurants this year. Don’t miss out on a visit.

*Lunches run Tuesday-Friday in term time. To book call 0114 260 2060 or e-mail thesilverplate@sheffcol.ac.uk

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The Silver Plate

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now for something completely different

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Ashley (left) and Luke in cheffy mode at Airoma

LUKE Hanson flashes me a wide grin. “We’re just two big kids messing about. We enjoy having a laugh.”

By ‘we’ he means himself and best mate Ashley Bagshaw, soon to re-open Silversmiths as head chef, who run pop-up restaurant Airoma, named after a dish that has not yet been set before the public palate, in the Loft Bar at Kelham Island, Sheffield.

It’s their third outing and Luke, from the British Oak, Mosborough has e-mailed offering me a free ticket for favour of review, and a discount for whoever tags along. I bring a mate, ex-pub landlord, Masterchef contestant (floored by a fish) and food blogger Craig Harris, so the lads were getting two bloggers for the price of almost one.

When we get over the shock of being charged £8 for a pint and a half of Kelham Island’s Easy Rider (the brewery is bang next door so those beer miles which upped the price must have been via Newcastle) we settle at one of three tables. There are 30 guests.

Tickets are £45 so I joke that we could have done Joro for lunch at that price. What we are about to get turns out to be thoroughly entertaining.

It’s a sort of tasting menu in a series of small plates, some more serious than others, featuring world classics. We begin close to home with Bacon Butty, a teeny-weeny yeasty white loaf with a brown sauce butter and crunchy little bits of salty bacon, the sort of thing you might get as an amuse in a posh restaurant.

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Crocket or croquette – it tasted great

We move on (when the beer runs out we stick to water) to what is to my mind the night’s star dish. Instead of a menu there’s a screen and flashed up is “Bubble & Tweet: roast chicken dinner crocket, crispy cabbage.”

For crocket read croquette, chefs never could spell. I love it. Encased within the breadcrumbed exterior is a complete mini meal: roast chicken, vegetables and stuffing, all precisely flavoured. It sits on the now fashionable crispy cabbage and, carefully balanced on the croquette, is a wafer-thin crispy shard of chicken skin, which everybody knows is the best thing about a Sunday roast.

Not sure how they did the skin (was it dehydrated first?) but it was impressive.

Next we go all oriental with hot and sour flavours from a langoustine gyoza (Japanese dumpling) coupled with a Thai marshmallow, except that something’s missing. I stop a passing waitress and report I am a gyoza-free zone. It turns out that several other diners are in the same boat.

It’s quickly remedied and yes, there was langoustine, but the dish was hot, hot, hot, the marshmallow only providing light relief. Craig detected Szechuan pepper, and then some more.

“It tasted well when we made it but the flavours kept on giving,” said Luke later.

My tastebuds soon got some comfort from what looked like a Fab ice lolly from the Sixties, complete with sprinkles. This was the girly rival to the boys’ Zoom, linked to the Fireball XL5 and Thunderbirds series. I never knew Lady Penelope put gin in her lollies. Great fun.

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Beef shin, corned beef, crisps

During a break I ask why they are doing this. Do they have their own place in mind? Not if Ashley’s going curtain-up on Silversmiths Mark 3 (or is it 4?).

Turns out they feel mildly constrained by working to order, worrying about meeting profit margins and getting the knock-back from owners on ideas they like.  There are times all chefs will feel like gastronomic Pythons and say ‘Now for something completely different.’

“With this, we can do whatever we want and, hopefully, build up a bit of a reputation,” Luke says.

The lads have spent time working together, chiefly at the Rising Sun, Fulwood, and Chequers at Froggatt Edge, and developing the pop-up took about two years. Hardest part was finding the venue and Airoma was the first ‘do’ at this new function room.

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Did Lady Penelope have gin in hers?

Next up was the dish which came closest to the croquette for me, a roundel of oh-so-soft and melting beef contrasting with some home made corned beef.  “We used beef cheek for the corned beef and the shin was braised for nine hours in black treacle,” said Ashley, a chef who is all curls and tattoos.

The dish had what I thought was a second outing for the brown sauce seen in the opening dish, in the form of a jel, but it turned out to be greatly reduced Henderson’s Relish. That brown sauce was actually good old HP!

There were a couple of home made potato crisps as garnish, so good they can always go into business making them if restaurants pall.

There was more, notably a very well-judged piece of parkin and some fun bourbon biscuits with a parmesan shortbread.

So if I had paid the full whack, was it worth it? Certainly. Not everything worked completely but enough for me. I reckon you can always tell when a kitchen is having fun. Some dishes may never be seen again, others will be ideas still in the making.

Just like that airoma which, I gather, was to be a take on Aero. Hasn’t made it yet but it did spawn a pop-up.

*Luke and Ashley will next be messing about and having a laugh with Airoma at the Loft Bar on November 28. Book on https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/airomaonce-upon-a-time-tickets-75578576557?aff=ebdssbdestsearch

*You can read what Craig thought of it  here

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Luke (left) and Ashley

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Heaven is a baked banana

WHENEVER we have a barbecue I always check that we have at least one banana in the fruit bowl. Because it’s going to end up on the grill as the coals die down for a very special dessert.

No one else seems to like it but I can’t understand why. If you could eat silk this would be it.

Wait until the banana peel has uniformly blackened, take it off the grill and let it cool slightly. Then, with the tip of your spoon gently ‘unzip’ it from end to end. It should hardly need any pressure.

Inside the flesh has cooked ultra-soft and has caramelised to an almost perfect sweetness, neither too much or too little.

Now scoop it out and eat it slowly and carefully, relishing the texture and marvelling how anything so simple can be that good.

But it is!