Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam!

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Spam on the menu at Ladybower

ON the last leg (and my last legs) of a five and a half mile hike I was dying for refreshment. It was getting too late for a pub lunch but there ahead in the Birchin Clough layby was the Ladybower Café.

And when I read the menu it reminded me of Monty Python. For sandwiches I could have Spam; Spam and Egg; Spam Egg  and Cheese Slice; Spam Bacon and Sausage; Spam and Sausage; and Spam and Bacon.

But I had bacon and egg instead!

I hadn’t really noticed the cafe, more a mobile catering van but with tables and chairs in good weather, before although I must have driven past many times on the A57 in the last 15 years it has been there, according to Julie, who served me.

To be honest, I was a little exhausted or would have asked a little more about this splendid throwback overlooking the Ladybower Reservoir. Judging by its Facebook page it has a host of admirers and regulars.

And I got talking to a whisky salesman whom, he said, had been made homeless and was living out of his car. I saw later that he had posted grateful thanks to Julie, who runs it with a bloke called Geoff, for giving him a free lunch.

The Ladybower Cafe (not to be confused with the Ladybower Inn up the road) is apparently very popular with bikers. Among them are Si and Dave, aka the Hairy Bikers, who dropped in for Spam and egg while filming for their TV series.

Sandwiches come in a breadcake, only white, because there is no call for brown or wholemeal, according to Julie.

My sandwich was great and she didn’t demur when I didn’t want tea because I had some left in my flask.

Next time, though, I’ll have Spam.

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Tonco: so trendy but tasty

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Quincewell tart – lovely pastry

IF TONCO, a bijou little eaterie tucked away shyly behind the stone lions in embryonic Dyson Place, Sheffield, sounds vaguely Mediterranean (Greek or Italian, perhaps?) you might be surprised to find that it takes its name from a long-forgotten sarsaparilla drink brewed in Barnsley.

Once you have managed to open the stiff front door, which obviously spent a previous life as muscle improving gym equipment, you find an industrial looking restaurant. Bare concrete walls, old school chairs, tables made from bicycle frames and a bar-cum-open kitchen give a deliberately unfinished look.

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Celeriac, confit yolk, pangritata

Tonco is the first tenant of Martin Flowers’ retail and apartments redevelopment of an old garage, chapel and wasteland behind Sharrowvale Road.

The exact location has fooled some but just tootle up the alleyway between the wet fish shop and the Mediterranean restaurant. This makes it off-off Ecclesall Road.

The place is run by rhyming couple Joe and Flo (Shrewsbury and Russell) who specialise in the currently fashionable small plates (think Anglo tapas) with a very eclectic menu. Someone asked me what the theme was and I said Very Modern Modern British. Quirky might be a better description. Which started by pinching the name from an old pop bottle.

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Tonco – Hidden away in the corner

Quirkiness has its charms but can irritate if it doesn’t work. Flo’s cooking, which juxtaposes unexpected flavours and ingredients, makes sure it does.

Slivers of celeriac are topped with a confit egg and run through with crispy pangritata, the Italian ‘poor man’s parmesan’ of fried garlicky breadcrumbs flavoured with thyme (£7). It doesn’t look much but the runny yolk binds vegetable and crumbs together for comfort food appeal.

The fashion for fermenting is seen in the fermented kohlrabi, another root, combined with wild sea bass, lightly cured, or ceviched, in the fermenting liquid (£7). It leaves a satisfying tang in the mouth and quite a bit of heat from a fiery paprika sauce.

We could have had oh-so-trendy cavolo nero salad with hemp seed and sesame or bigger plates of braised beef shoulder with homemade orecchiette pasta but, instead, settled for a delicious and generous plate of Italian meats: coppa, lomo and finocchiona (£7).

On my next visit I will get my teeth into bigger dishes such as the beef or stone bass with burnt leek, mussels and elderflower emulsion but instead shared a dessert from the list unforgivably headed Pud-Pud. There was nothing twee, though, about the tart, a quince take on Bakewell with spectacular pastrywork.

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Sea bass ceviche, fermented kohlrabi

The baking is first class here: try the soft, moist, spongy bread which almost converted me to sourdough with a vividly grassy Greek oil – just pressed by a friend of Joe’s, naturally.

They don’t have an espresso machine so you have to settle for cafetiere, which comes in a homely mug.

Tonco may be achingly trendy but, with the dishes we had at least, it works. What I liked was the excellence of the ingredients and the care with which they are used. So be like Joe: go with Flo.

Website: http://www.tonco.co.uk

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Joe and Flo at Tonco. Picture by @zoegenders

That Was The Year That Was!

AS I write the blog, now in its fifth year, has had almost 80,000 views in 2019, well more than double the previous year. The total (check the front page for the latest figure) is over 183,000 since Another Helping first appeared in 2015.

It’s gratifying that so many people like this mix of restaurant reviews, recipes, food history and current news, particularly when the abject failure of the local newspapers to cover the scene properly leaves so many people wanting more.

Is it poor reporting, laziness or being too timid to pick up the phone that leaves them simply rewriting what appears on hotel and restaurant websites?

So when Hassop Hall Hotel suddenly closed, to be bought as a private house, only this blog told the full story of who had bought it. You can join the 11,000 readers who read it here

It was the same story with the closure of another hotel, The Maynard closed at Grindleford. Local papers hardly touched it but you can read about it here and here, at Peter and Rob save the day for Maynard

There were plenty of other scoops, such as the latest exploits of chef Cary Brown, revamping the Hathersage Social Club with businessman Ian Earnshaw.

There was much else. Other top reads (as in previous years) were Derbyshire oatcakes and Sheffield  Fishcake

The biggest volume of traffic, though, had nothing to do with food but everything to do with abject reporting. The big story of the year was how a local pensioner, Tony Foulds, had spent a lifetime tending a memorial to crashed WW2 American airmen in Endcliffe Park.

But did he? And why did nobody see him? And why did his eye witness account contradict the official record of the time? But all it takes is a credulous BBC presenter and local papers such as the Sheffield Star and Yorkshire Post to keep silent on what they knew to be a fantasy to become fake news.

If the BBC and other couldn’t tell the truth this blog had to here and  here

Thanks to this blog, some 22,000 readers know the real story.

So what will 2020 bring? Who knows? But Another Helping will bring it to you first.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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