Well worth a detour

Liver and bacon

THEY don’t care much for fashion and foodie fol de rols at the Omega at Abbeydale, I’m thinking as I glance down its two short menus. In fact I could have eaten most of this any time in the last 40 or so years.

The carte has roast beef and Yorkshire Pudding, fish and chips (dressed up as cod goujons) and, gloriously, calves liver and bacon. Sixties’ school dinners have failed to dampen my appetite for this. The TDH offers roast rump of lamb or fillet of plaice with a herb crust.

The monkfish with a cauliflower and gently curried lentil puree might not have been seen pre-Fanny Cradock (for it was she who made the fish popular) so this is perhaps the only nod to modernity.

There is a leek and potato soup, with no temptation here to fancy it up as Vichyoisse, but then up pops herrings Bismarck which in my book is rollmops.

Before our visit last month I’d been faffing about, unable to find a menu either on the restaurant’s website or Facebook page but it turns out it’s the same as the lunchtime one. What is different is that the Omega now does evening meals and we wanted to show foodie chums Craig and Marie Harris just what we’ve been raving about as they both work over lunch.

When I take restaurant manager and co-owner Jamie Christian gently to task over a lack of published menu he explains they did until hake was posted as a dish but decent supplies failed to come ashore so it was beached. A customer had made a special journey for it and blew up a gale when her hopes were sunk.

Jamie Christian

So chef and co-owner Steve Roebuck scrapped it to avoid the aggro. He may be wrong on this in my book but if you ask nicely they can send you one.

New diners should really start here. The Omega at Abbeydale is the son of the fantabulous Baldwin’s Omega banqueting suite off Psalter Lane run by David Baldwin, who sadly died earlier this year. So great was the esteem in which he was held that crowds of former customers lined the streets, with chefs in their whites, as the cortege passed.

Baldwin’s never opened for dinner – the evenings were devoted to private and public banquets, apart from the odd ‘pop up.’ While Jamie and Steve are continuing in the Baldwin’s tradition they can now do dinners as well as lunches.

The food was marvellous. I’ll not dwell on every course but let’s consider the calves liver. Ideally it should be of the highestest quality and cooked just briefly, barely kissing the pan to seal and stiffen but not by much. And there should be crispy smoked bacon to offset the liver’s sweet succulance. With it should be the silkiest, creamiest mashed potato you could wish for and caramelised onions, soft and sweet.


Reader, it was delivered. It was magnificent. It was memorable. It matched up to the Italian version of liver and onions I had a couple of years ago in a Venetian restaurant. I’d have given Craig a mouthful but he has spent a wasted lifetime hating liver. Instead, he was on the roast beef with Yorkshire pudding.


Just look at the picture. Wouldn’t you want to eat that? In the Good Old Days of Baldwin’s Omega it would have come theatrically on a trolley with the chef carving it from the joint at your table. But no trolley could manage the present kitchen steps.

In the pink – roast beef


We ate contentedly through three courses, remarking that it wasn’t always best to follow the latest food fashion and if the old ways worked, why change them?

I enjoyed the wispiest of tempura batter on my prawns, dunked in a gutsy tomato aioli (which you certainly wouldn’t have seen in the Eighties). And I finished with a lemony creme brulee with the crispiest of toffeed topping.

Now the Omega appeals to a certain kind of customer, monied and probably getting on in years who likes his or her food expertly cooked. The Omega might not even occur to the younger set (unless they attend Abbeydale Sports Club where it now resides).

But give it a try. It’s well worth the proverbial detour.

The Omega is at Abbeydale Sports Club on Abbeydale Road South, Sheffield. Web http://www.omegaatabbeydale.co.uk

Part of the menu

Not just your average Italian

VeroGusto3

Slow cooked Ox cheek

 

WE HAD gathered for pre-dinner bottles of Peroni, just to get us in the mood for our Italian evening, and scrolled a little apprehensively through VeroGusto’s menu. I don’t know what the Italian for big spondulicks is but you do need a lot of them to eat here.

Dry-aged fillet of beef £31.80 and that’s without the chips. Mmmm. Pan-fried Gressingham duck breast . . . tempting but £25.50 and no spuds mentioned.

Across the table there was a passable imitation of Mount Etna erupting. “Rocket leaves with Parmesan shavings £6.50 . . . I am not paying that.”

I nodded. “We shall have to pick our way very carefully through the menu,” I said. My companion added: “I don’t mind paying high prices but I want to be blown away for it.”

As it happens we dodged the salad and the duck and we were both gastronomically blown away by some long-cooked, slow-cooked, low-cooked ox cheek.

But we are getting ahead of ourselves. We haven’t even got through the door of this swish little family-run Italian on Norfolk Row. It looks classy from the outside and the sight of the black waistcoated waiters within confirms it.

Expensive bottles of wine line the back of a long narrow room which once housed the town’s tourist information office but which goes back to Georgian times. This is not your average Italian ristorante.

VeroGusto2

Delicious octopus

I’ve known this restaurant across two locations and three changes of name ever since Esterina Celva and partner Bruno Saverio opened on Church Street as Gusto-Italiano.

“You should be charging more,” I told Ester back then after a lunch eating her cheerful, happy food. She and Saverio, everyone seems to call him by his surname, did just that when they moved across town, first as Gusto, then as VeroGusto, and went spectacularly upmarket.

The food is exactly like that you would hope to discover away from the tourist traps down one of the smarter streets of an Italian city. You’d come back bursting to tell your friends of your little find. Somehow finding it a few yards from a Sheffield bus stop doesn’t have quite the same glamour but it will save you the price of a plane ticket.

VeroGusto is for most people without big wallets a special occasions type of place which is why, for us, we haven’t been there for a couple of years. But tonight is my wife’s birthday and we are celebrating with friends Craig and Marie Harris, fellow foodies, Italophiles and bloggers.

I fancy portion sizes have crept up a little since our last visit. You longed for more on the plate and deep down all Sheffielders, even the swankiest, treasure Value For Money. We got it here.

Enjoying food comes on so many levels: presentation, smell, texture, flavour and afterthought – reflecting with satisfaction on what you have experienced.

My starter of polipo (£11.95), octopus, would have been the price of a main in many cases. It looked good. The firm meaty flesh was cooked to perfection with a tang of the sea and, as Craig remarked, with just a touch of the grill.

It came with chicory, the biggest pine nuts I have seen, olives and sultanas and a sort of pretzel, a tarollo Napoletano, which I had not previously encountered, rather like a hard biscuit.

Birthday Girl’s fritto misto (£13.85) was squid, prawns and courgette flowers in the wispiest of batter, more negligee than Winceyette pyjamas.

Saverio, now sporting a lockdown beard, had read out some specials including one I liked the sound of, ox cheek with creamed potatoes. Now that’s what caught my attention because at that point I was going for the duck but was mentally grumbling I’d have to pay extra for spuds.

I asked the price. Why don’t restaurants give it automatically when they’re reading out specials? People don’t like to ask but what else do you buy without knowing the cost? I don’t have the bill now but it was cheaper than the duck so I ordered it. Craig must have had the same thought processes and did, too.

VeroGusto4

Plenty of monkfish here

It was wonderful. The meat had held together but the texture was so soft and tender you could have sucked it up through a straw. And the sauce, a reduction of wine and the bed of vegetables the meat had sat upon, finished with just a hint of sweetness.

It’s a dish you’ll find on many a Modern British menu but you’ll have to look hard to find better. And the mash? Silky, smooth, luxurious. It came with a Parmesan tuille which always scores an extra point with me.

P1000997Marie was clucking happily over her house lasagne (£15.95) “So many layers,” while my wife enjoyed her taglierini pasta with monkfish (£17.50). I hoped neither of them noticed we men had the more expensive dishes.

As you might expect, wines are pricy here but we managed to find a bouncy bottle of Primitivo for about the price of the ox cheek.

We left happy if lighter of wallet. Ester, who has managed to bring up two delightful children while cooking so brilliantly in the kitchen, and front of house Saverio give the city centre restaurant scene a much needed touch of class.

And to think, when at Church Street they were thinking of packing it in until a rave restaurant review turned their fortunes around.

Web: http://www.verogusto.com

VeroGusto1

Fritto Misto

Raising a glass to Mr B

wp-15924918318184803185275218621697.jpg

The hearse on Abbeydale Road South

THERE won’t be another Sheffield funeral like it. The rain was teeming down but people lined the pavements, regardless of the spray from passing cars.

A big cheer went up as the hearse drove slowly past my vantage point. People clapped and hollered. Some, clutching bottles of wines or cans, raised a glass. Cars in the funeral cortege following the hearse hooted in reply. Through steamy windows I could see glasses waved in salute.

If there was a lack of the usual reverence normally seen at funerals it was exactly what David Baldwin, much-loved boss of the Omega Banqueting Suite, would have wanted.

Covid-19 had restricted the number of mourners to 10 at Hutcliffe Wood Crematorium. In normal times the chapel would have been packed like sardines. But these are not normal times.

So his widow Pauline and family had asked his friends and customers to line the route as the hearse set off from his family home in Dore and bring a bottle in lieu of a wake.

But what to wear at a roadside funeral? Half a dozen chefs, all of whom had been helped in their careers one way another by the man they called the Big ‘Un or Mr B, had no doubts. Despite the rain they took off their coats and stood in their whites. Some of the male mourners wore black ties.

wp-15924920633764033053704061217717.jpg

Mourners had been asked to bring a drink

We all cheered: former staff – Mr B inspired loyalty – customers and people from across the hospitality industry.

After the hearse passed we broke away, sheltering under the arch at Abbeydale Sports Club, which houses the successor to Baldwin’s Omega, the Omega at Abbeydale. People swapped stories, remembering his acts of generosity, always willing to give a word of advice or lend a helping hand.

Over at Hutcliffe the funeral service was beginning. “Thank you for the days, those endless days, those sacred days you gave me,” sang the Kinks. There were plenty of days – and nights – to remember at the Omega: works Christmas parties, salmon and strawberry evenings, Sixties and Seventies nights, society shindigs, limbo dancing at Caribbean Nights and midday lunches.

The music faded. Elder son David and daughter Polly gave their tributes. Son Ben read the words of My Way. Things were always done Mr B’s way at the Omega because it was the right way.

wp-15924919919733989175921632113382.jpg

Passing the Omega at Abbeydale

There was a psalm, The Lord is My Shepherd. Prayers. A Blessing. And then music from Les Miserables, Master of the House. The lyrics could have been written with David Baldwin in mind.

“Wecome, Monsieur, sit yourself down

And meet the best innkeeper in town . . .

Master of the house, doling out the charm

Ready with a handshake and an open palm

Tells a saucy tale, makes a little stir

Customers appreciate a bon-viveur . . .”

That’s exactly what he was, a bon-viveur. And he made sure his customers were that, too, while they were in his company. Although the lyrics forget the swearing . . .

“Everybody raise a glass to the Master of the House.”

RIP David Baldwin 1939-2010.

wp-1592495385691466191582057879972.jpg

Order of Service

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s goodbye to the Big ‘Un

 

AboutUs_Baldwins_Lrg_020[1]

David Baldwin and wife Pauline

DAVID Baldwin, founder of Baldwin’s Omega banqueting rooms and the Grand Old Man of Sheffield’s hospitality industry, has died in his sleep at home in Dore. He was 80.

“He passed away peacefully at 3am, about the last kicking out time that would have been at the Omega,” said his son David Junior.

While he had retired through ill health after selling off the Omega on Psalter Lane two years ago, his passing marks the end of an era for the city’s restaurant trade. He put his stamp on it in more ways than one.

“He was most proud of the number of chefs he had trained who had gone on to bigger and better things,” added David. They include Ray Booker, now head chef at the Chester Grosvenor, chef turned fishmonger Christian Szurko, and Sam Lindsay, head chef at Owlerton.

Yet, at the same time, he inspired a terrific loyalty and many staff (as well as customers) stayed with him for years.

Among them were head chef Steve Roebuck, who worked for him for 30 years,  and operations manager Jamie Christian, for 25, who have continued his legacy at the Omega at Abbeydale Sports Club.

He was committed to high standards of food and service, was known for providing value for money, and half the city must at one time have attended an office party or a works dinner, or perhaps been to a salmon and strawberries evening, at the Omega.

Bluff, gruff and wickedly funny, with a personality the size of Yorkshire, he was a great raconteur. A former chairman of the Restaurants Association of Great Britain,  he actively promoted young talent through Young Chef and Young Waiters competitions, and had an unrivalled network of contacts throughout the industry, from Brian Turner to Rick Stein, using them to send his own brightest staff on placements.

He was known for very colourful language. Jamie Christian remembers calling his boss from the kitchen one Christmas after a woman diner found lead shot in her pheasant. He roared back: “What do you think it died of? A f*cking heart attack?”

Known affectionately as Mr B or The Big ‘Un, he and his wife Pauline took over the white-painted hacienda-style building in 1980, after it had been dark for two years.

With a catering background that included running the Angler’s Rest at Bamford and the Hillsborough Suite at Sheffield Wednesday, they acted on a hunch that Sheffield needed at top class banqueting venue. They were right and in its heyday the Omega was constantly busy but times change and they were hit by the decline in office parties as businesses tightened their belts.

P1050938 Rib Room at the Omega 21-02-2017 16-25-51 (2)

The Rib Room at Baldwin’s

It was offset to some degree by the popularity of lunches in the Rib Room for an elder clientele and people who wanted to give customers and friends a taste of Sheffield. When present and not on holiday abroad, he was a legend in many people’s lunchtimes.

David was born into the hospitality industry as a publican’s son. He was a former communist and a ship’s steward, no doubt accounting for his expletive-laden language. Customers often liked it gently directed at them.

Very much a family man, he had three children, David, in construction; Benny, a TV producer and presenter; and Polly, a photographer. He had four grandchildren.

Many spoke of his generosity. John Janiszewski, a former lecturer in hospitality at Sheffield College, said he had held a fund-raising dinner in aid of its restaurant equipment.

“On a personal note he was a mentor, almost a father figure and a hell of a laugh. We need to think about a proper memorial after Corvid-19.”

The Omega had a certain style, from its massive car park, big enough to house a squadron of tanks, through its entrance hallway with ‘flaming torches’ to the ballroom, scene of so many dinner-dances, with its sprung floor.

The menu might not have kept up with trendier places – roast beef sliced from the trolly by the chef at your table was a highlight – but it was always exceptionally well done. If you couldn’t manage that there was always the Yorkshire Pudding and gravy starter on the plat du jour menu.

Whatever the occasion, lunch or dinner dance, it was always enhanced by the appearance of Mr B himself.

David Baldwin was something of a rarity in the catering trade, equally at home in the kitchen as front of house, a born Maitre D. He will be very sadly missed.

The private funera is on Thursday at Hutcliffe Wood crematorium at 3pm. Friends and colleagues will line the streets as the cottage passes. Donations for the Alzheimer’s Society can be made online at http://www.johnheath.co.uk

TRIBUTES

Some comments from those who knew David

Jamie Bosworth, chef: “He was a true gentleman and very generous. He lent us plenty of catering equipment when we started Rafters (with his brother Wayne) and always provided an ear to listen. Jayne and I  got married at Baldwin’s and we had Wayne’s wake there.”

Cary Brown, chef: “He was the Godfather of so many chefs.”

John Mitchell, wine merchant: “It’s a sad day the Big Un leaving us. There was nobody like him.”

P1050950 Pauline and David Baldwin 21-02-2017 17-41-32

Taken on the announcing of their retirement

 

Back to 1990 – how we ate then

20200505_1007194469284571368489922.jpg

Reviews from 1990

WHENEVER, however restaurants finally re-open things will never be the quite the same again. But are they ever? Prices change, inevitably upwards. And so do menus and fashions.

But would we notice, I wonder, if we were blindfolded and whisked back in time to, say, 30 years ago in Sheffield and the surrounding area and given a menu?

Take it from me, we would.

With time on my hands I have been leafing back through my restaurant reviews for The Star in 1990, and it is surprising how interesting a year that was. The hospitality business is constantly changing but there was an awful lot happening in those 12 months.

It was the time when the city’s tastebuds were sharpening up and being alerted to new ideas and flavours, often by a bevy of young Made-in-Sheffield chefs. The city’s diners were beginning to realise there was more to life than fish and chips or a curry (although some never caught on).

Let’s start at the top.  Max and Susan Fischer had not long transferred their business from Bakewell to Baslow Hall, with some heartaches along the way,  and were proclaimed the Good Food Guide’s Derbyshire restaurant of the year.

Four months after they opened I tootled over to Baslow to sample the £25 a head TDH – squid ink salmon ravioli on a green herb sauce, venison with chocolate and raspberries, and Grand Marnier and orange mousse, and broke out in purple prose to comment: “Max’s food has a moody, demanding magnificence.”

The bill for two was £64.70, more than twice that at the week’s other review (I more often than not wrote two) at the Admiral Rodney pub.

Things were more light-hearted but no less skilled at Greenhead House, Chapeltown, the guide’s South Yorkshire restaurant of the year (and only entry). Neil Allen’s Anglo-French cooking crossed with English country house offered chicken stuffed with ham, salami and olives, based on a recipe from the Tarn, or fillets of beef with a truffle sauce. And there was the Beano annual and pocket bagatelle in the loo.

Making up the area’s top trio was Tessa Bramley’s Old Vicarage at Ridgeway, really Sheffield but technically just over the border in Derbyshire.

There was soon to be some serious competition.  At the Charnwood Hotel (now apartments), a new head chef had not long moved in to take charge of its two restaurants. “I have yet to sample the new Henfrey’s, now under the wing of style merchant Wayne Bosworth, but his food at the adjacent Brasserie Leo shows considerable panache,” I wrote.

In a faux-Parisienne setting you could eat baked marrow bones, salmon and crab terrine with a lobster sauce for £3.95, cod medallions steamed with ginger and, wait for it, pancake baked inside a soft meringue. There was to be much more to come from Wayne.

North of the city the Charnwood’s former head chef was opening at Hudson’s at The Rock, Crane Moor. For a shilling under £20 Cary Brown offered chargrilled smoked salmon or stuffed quail in puff pastry, then a soup or sorbet (those old country house hotel choices), best end of lamb with a kidney sauce, ending with an almond basket of  fruits with honey ice cream.

Then, as now, there was a financial squeeze and there were casualties. The excellent Arcadia, at Hillsborough, run by Rex Barker and Paul Betts, by far the best place ever in this suburb, closed, as did the equally upmarket Armstrongs in the city centre. Boss Roy Fellows blasted the city’s diners as “£8 bellyful merchants,” not without cause.

Yet Barnsley could sustain Armstrongs’ twin, of the same name, under the charge of Nick Pound, last seen running restaurants in London. And there was more gastronomic excellence when Max Fischer’s sous chef Michael Peano opened in town, to say nothing of Jim Gratton’s shrine to the Barnsley Chop at Brooklands. 

1990 Sheffield even had an oyster bar – briefly. Long before Loch Fyne  opened (and closed) a seafood restaurant in the city you could sample their wares at an oyster bar which opened at the Lyceum Theatre that year. Sadly, it didn’t catch on.

Sheffield’s hospitality scene always served up big portions and some didn’t stint on quirkiness, not least at Mr B B’s( now Otto’s)  on Sharrowvale Road, almost the city’s sole veggie restaurant, run by owner-cook Peter Wigley. He had revamped it from Singin’ Hinnies, the year before.

The £8 a head three course menu featured bulky veggie food but the most memorable part of the evening was when the waiter put his hand on my wife’s knee. Peter Willamett offered spiritual healing along with the chilli con coconut.

This was an era when hotel dining rooms held sway. The Hallam Tower Hotel might have had a reputation for posh food at big prices but £9.95 Sunday lunches were pretty standard fare. The main attraction was that for an extra quid diners could use the pool.

Its rival, The Grosvenor (now demolished) had Gary France as its head chef, who was to make more of a name for himself when he moved to the Harley Hotel with its sprung mini dance floor. While if you wanted to be seen spending money there was the Beauchief  Hotel with tournedos Rossini on the menu.

There were dinky bistros like Parkes and Four Lanes, Hillsborough, lovely little country places like the Millthorpe, in the village of that name, and the Lazy Landlord at Foolow. While Baldwin’s Omega on Psalter Lane was in its champagne and strawberries heyday.

For me, feeling my way as a reviewer, it was all exciting stuff. There would be more, much more, to come.

20200505_1015366165704935540734598.jpg

And more!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s lockdown – but is it showdown for city’s chefs?

wp-15869599059081782146528545599534.jpg

Cooking along to Jamie Bosworth’s Facebook show

EVEN before the government turned the key on the nation’s restaurants Marco Giove had acted. Rather than take out tables to preserve social distancing he closed the fine dining business he has run for the last 20 years from a former police station in Archer Lane, Sheffield.

And he turned into a one-man-and-his-family ‘Deliveroo’ service, cooking up pizza, pasta and parmigiani for customers who were dining in rather than dining out.

“When Boris came on the television we shut almost immediately because I knew people were going to stop visiting  restaurants,” says Marco.

All across Sheffield restaurants are having to rethink their business models. Some, like the Summer House, on Abbeydale Road South, offered a takeaway service and were “overwhelmed by demand.” But they had to abandon it as the sheer logistics of working and finding staff became too difficult.

So did Michelin-listed Rafters, on Oakbrook Road. Tables were taken out and takeaways sold but the moment social distancing came in they knew it it was time to stop, says front-of-house Alistair Myers, co-owner with talented chef Tom Lawson.

The pair have kept their core team of 12 on furlough – the government money came within three weeks – and are using the time wisely, devising new menus and drinks (Alistair has one made from pineapple skins) and cultivating the restaurant allotment.

They realise keeping the talent in the restaurant is as important as keeping a loyal following in this high-end sector of the business. Alistair  thinks the accent is going to be even more on local produce when things return – but that will be the crunch time. “There will be casualties, more when we are eventually allowed to re-open when there is no government support. The ones which will survive will be those with a loyal following.”

Others, like the guide book listed No Name Bistro, abandoned fancy meals and offered bangers and mash (although with some style) to NHS and other key workers on the Coronavirus front line.

Others tried to keep a presence on social media so they would not be forgotten if and when their doors reopen. At the George Hotel, Hathersage, where new head chef Carl Riley had hardly time to warm up the ovens after arriving, cocktail recipes such as the racy Porn Star Martini have been posted online.

wp-15870367674873127681140162886414.jpg

A customer enjoys a meal at home from Marco@Milano

Over at Thyme in Broomhill, Sheffield, there are plans to put dishes from its 15 year old recipe book online.

But few can have made a bigger splash than Jamie Bosworth. No stranger to the cookery demo – he’s a regular fixture on BBC Radio Sheffield – he streamed a live show on Facebook which has had well over 7,000 views.

“I try and cook simple, easy dishes for three course meals using store cupboard ingredients with plugs for local producers,” says Jamie, who was joined for the second by vocalist daughter Katie for the second,  60 minute cook-a-long. “I could catch up at the stove while Katie sang.”

It was a family affair with wife Jayne holding the camera for a Floyd-esque show, with guest appearances from son, cat and dog.

Jamie has owned and run a clutch of top restaurants and is now a development chef who “keeps his hand in” with regular pop-up bistro evenings at the Rendezvous coffee shop, Totley.

“I had to cancel the last two because of Coronavirus so there’s going to be one hell of a night when we re-open.”

Meanwhile, back at Marco@Milano  Marco Giove, with a helper, is busy prepping orders for deliveries. His partner and her son help take the food to the right doorsteps. To emphasise the new informality customers are encouraged to send in photos of themselves enjoying a Marco meal.

But the current crisis has prompted him to take a different direction, one he has been contemplating for a while. “This restaurant will be one of the last to go back. I am going to change it completely, away from fine dining to something more relaxed with a deli and coffee shop for all the family,” he says.

There is no doubt the crisis has been a big jolt for the city’s restaurants. Some will fall by the wayside. The survivors may take other directions. But it has given restaurateurs and chefs the time to talk to each other and perhaps help each other out.

As the government keeps saying, we really are all  in this together – restaurants and customers alike.

*If you have a coronavirus story or views on the situation do get in touch.

wp-15870370504996335093718881941751.jpg

Tom Lawson ( left) and Alistair Myers in lighter mood

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mashed potato adds to flour power!

wp-15850806350386992324519017238407.jpg

Russian potato bread: one-third mash but you’d never know

WELL. who would have guessed we have so many secret home bakers in Sheffield, judging by the way all the flour has disappeared off the shelves in the Coronavirus panic buying sprees?

Those of us who bake bread regularly and who obeyed the government’s pleas not to raid the supermarkets are now having to rethink. It’s not staying on the shelves  that long.

You can’t do without flour but there are ways to eke out your supplies of strong white.

For a start, plain or self-raising can help but you wouldn’t want to use more than, say, four ounces to every pound of bread flour. Portuguese breads get their distinctive yellow colour from maize, polenta or semolina which you can use in a 2:1 ratio in favour of bread flour.

If you have rye, add a little of that, or whiz your porridge oats in a blender to make flour.

And then there are spuds.

Russian potato bread uses mashed potato and I have just baked a very successful loaaf, weighing just under two pounds, using eight ounces of mashed to one pound of bread flours (12oz white, 4oz wholemeal), a ratio of 2:1 which is a significant saving.

You couldn’t tell the difference unless you knew. This makes a very pleasant moist bread which toasts well and has good keeping qualities.

You can find plenty of recipes on the web but mine came, adapted, from the book Bread by Christine Ingram and Jennie Shapter {Hermes House).

It assumes you start from scratch, cooking your potatoes then reserving some of the water to knead. I already had the cooked potatoes so simply warmed them in milk (the equivalent of the reserved water), mashed them and carried on from there.

A couple of points. I needed more liquid than suggested but do be careful not to add too much. It felt heavier to handle and did not rise much while proving but came out fine. I made it on a baking tray rather than in a tin.

This is what you do. Peel and dice 8oz (225g) of spuds in unsalted water until soft. Drain and reserve a quarter pint (150ml) of the cooking water and mash the potatoes.

Put 12oz (350g) of strong white and 4oz (115g) of wholemeal in a bowl, adding 7g (quarter ounce) easy bake yeast and two tsps of salt.

It called for an ounce (25g) f butter to be rubbed in but I used olive oil. You can also add caraway seeds if you like.

Now add mash and potato water (probably best reunited beforehand) and work to a soft dough. This is the bit you adjust as you go but keep kneading before you add any more liquid.

As I said, it is not so light a dough to handle and less responsive in rising.

It was baked for just over 30 mins in a fan oven at 200C and is pretty good.

It doesn’t have to be potato. In Madeira they have the a griddle bread made with flour and sweet potato, baked as a flatbread on a hotplate. When the taters run out I’ll give that a spin.

wp-15850807980403376953469021855827.jpg

It’s got a lovely, moist crumb

 

 

Ready to order your ethnic authentic? It’ll take 30 years

IMG_3050

Lamb on the bone

FOREIGN restaurants go through a period of evolution when they arrive in this country. The first Indians, Chinese or Greeks might want to give their English customers a taste of what they eat back home but they soon realise it doesn’t pay to be that authentic.

Indian restaurants, in reality Pakistani or Bangladeshi, for long had dishes that wouldn’t be recognised in their own countries. Many still do. Chicken tikka masala? Pull the other poppadom!

I still remember Sompranee Low, who opened the city’s first Thai restaurant, the Bahn Nah, back in the Nineties (Sheffield has always been late for dinner compared to the rest of the country) telling me that she ” dialled down the chilli heat” for customers.

It wasn’t good business for a pallid Englishman, more used to the tranquil flavours of cottage pie or bangers and mash, to be left reeling by an authentic but fiery chilli.

So what we got was a pale shadow of a native cuisine, filtered through several layers of difficulty. The first restaurateurs may not have been natural cooks (many, particularly, Italian and Indian, were redundant steelworkers), the ingredients, herbs and spices were often not available, and Mr and Mrs English knew no better.

If they thought spaghetti carbonara came with cream and complained when it didn’t, unaware that the creaminess came from the emulsion of egg, water and cheese, they got cream.

Then things happened. The first was foreign travel. Holidaymakers in Italy realised that pasta didn’t grow on trees or come out of a tin. The sharper ones, who didn’t high tail it down to the English pubs on the Costa Brava, realised there was a difference.

Secondly came the wider availability of exotic ingredients. Avocados and aubergines started appearing on menus, and much else.

And, thirdly, there are now other customers to please besides Mr and Mrs English: Their own countrymen and women.

Earlier on, immigrants were too poor, too busy or just not in the habit of going out to eat so there was then no need to cater for them. And they would probably have something sharp to say if they did.

When, say, the Pakistani, Chinese or Italian diasporas in Sheffield got to a certain size and had the habit of eating out and money to spend, they could support their own authentic restaurants. This is not true yet of all communities. A Thai woman told me recently: “Why should I eat out when I can cook it myself?”

So we have seen little Pakistani and Kashmiri restaurants spring up in the city, unconcerned about Anglo trade, and just think what has happened to the Chinese restaurant business with the influx of students from Mainland China. Suddenly restaurants other than Cantonese have appeared, along with noodle bars and hot pot eateries. Some have not even bothered to have menus in English.

Not too long ago my wife walked into a place full of Chinese. We were the only Europeans and the waiter confidently expected us to take one look at the menu, which contained not a word of English and leave, so he didn’t bother to come across and ask our order. We stood (or sat) our ground until he did.

I don’t suppose that would happen now as there is a band of ultra foodies who delight in finding the most obscure ethnic places and reporting their finds enthusiastically on social media and blogs. (I have followed up some rave reports with less than euphoric results.)

So where is this leading? These thoughts were triggered by a visit recently to one of those little ethic restaurants, Apna Lahore, on Abbeydale Road, Sheffield, with fellow foodie and blogger Craig Harris. Now Craig majors in Italian cuisine but is currently studying for a critical Dip Ed in Pakistani food and this is one of his regular haunts. He’s written about it here

Its sit down custom is almost exclusively Asian, although this place started life as a takeaway. I’m scanning the menu and see among the specials is maghaz, which means brains.

IMG_3047

Samosa and pakora starters

I have eaten brains and trotters, also on offer, before, although in very upmarket restaurants, so miss these and take Craig’s advice to order lamb on the bone. It is a robust, earthy, fiery curry with plenty of chopped bone but I am a natural gnawer so that no problem. And it’s the bone which gives it a deeper flavour.

He has ordered chicken daal, not on the menu, but basically chicken in a sauce of large, soft lentils still holding their shape.

Gutsy is the word I would use to describe both dishes, good nourishing stuff without any hairs and graces.

The decor is bright and basic and very blue. There is music but not too loud. It is of course, alcohol free. You get a bottle of water and glasses when you sit down. Most customers eat with rotis, just workaday bread in my opinion, although cutlery is available.

Pickles and fajitas are very good. Meat samosas come man-sized with proper crisp pastry not filo. The chicken pakoras aren’t bad either.

Two courses, with rice, comes to £26. It’s a bargain. Probably not a first date night place but one to put on your list.

We finish with unspiced Pakistani tea with condensed milk. And a plate of ginger biscuits. Dunking away, we are both impressed by these. Did they make them themselves?

“We get them from Lidl,” said Ali, our server.

IMG_3051 (2)

Chicken daal

Apna Lahore is 342 Abbeydale Road, S7 1FN Sheffield.
Tel: 0114 258 8821

Jarvo keeps his mojo with lomo

IMG_3033

Peruvian dish lomo saltado

HEAD chef Steve Jarvis has never been to Peru but he knows a bear who has.

And take it from Jarvo, as he is known to his mates, Peruvian food is the Next Big Thing.

If so, he’s ahead of the game because the Andean country’s national dish, Lomo Saltado, is already a big seller on the new menu at the Lone Star restaurant on Division Street, Sheffield.

Now you might think of Peru as all llamas and Machu Picchu but there’s a definite Northern twang to this dish which centres on chips and gravy. Of course, there’s more to it than that!

The Chinese brought this to Peru as a beef stir-fry but Steve, 42, who took over the kitchen just before Christmas, cooks beef shoulder until it pulls into strands in a sauce with onions, vinegar and cumin, which provides intriguing base notes. Then it’s served with chips and rice: double carbs but they’ve got to keep the cold of the Andes out of their bones, I suppose.

IMG_3041 (2)

Steve ‘Jarvo’ Jarvis

It was a new one on me and something I savoured. It’s also a hit with customers, although how they know about a Peruvian dish Steve himself found on Pinterest beats me. Perhaps it’s the friendly waiting staff who push this one, available in two sizes at £5.95 (enough to serve as a tapas along with others such as Baba Ghanoush or crispy, crunchy, fiery Korean popcorn chicken) and £11.95.

We’re here at Steve’s invitation. He’d just left Rotherham College of Art and Technology for a new life in catering after a career in building when he emailed me at The Star to recommend the college training canteen. We popped round to review and enjoyed it. So we reckoned Steve knew a good thing when he saw it, even if it was his own.

At 32 when he switched from building conservatories to catering, he was one of the oldest students there. It came about on the death of his gran, whom he enjoyed cooking with as a kid, so maybe there is a connection.

IMG_3026 (2)

Bao buns with pork

He’s cooked around the area since college and “eight years in I have still got my mojo,” he says. Well lomo has helped him keep it!

Lonestar, opened last year by Barnsley-based Brook Leisure which runs Sheffield’s Crystal Bar and other nightspots, is in premises previously  occupied by Costa Coffee.

It’s towards the town end, not that far from the City Hall, so somewhat off the student beat. In fact, the majority of customers are 35 or over.

To the casual observer the menu covers a lot of ground, from tapas to sourdough pizzas, Mexican to Moroccan, with a good line in cocktails offered on a two for £10 basis. Or as Steve puts it, “Here, there and everywhere.” Or as they say in the guides, eclectic.

It still is but he’s introduced a pie (in answer to Pieminster which has opened up across the road) and that safety-first dish fish and chips to cater for all tastes. Lonestar is running a Pie Week from March 2.

Our other main was a very pleasing curried cod (£12.95), nice, firm flesh, mildly spiced in a mango sauce on a bed of potatoes and cauliflower.

wp-15827553238122386385090841024792.jpg

Window onto Division Street

Not everything is made in-house. The popcorn chicken (£5.95) isn’t nor the bao buns (£6.95), but the filling certainly was, juicy pulled pork given a sweet edge with a little apple.

Lonestar is a friendly place with pleasant staff and prices which won’t scare the horses. And if you try the lomo saltado and like it, word is that Jarvo has another Peruvian favourite up his sleeve.

And just to keep the Peruvian theme going, the toilets are up a couple of flights of stairs so it can feel like climbing the Andes on a lomo-full stomach.

Web: http://www.lonestarsheffield.co.uk

*This blog ate at Lonestar as a guest

 

 

 

 

Lucked out with the duck, again

img_20200314_1559216076682906202756928.jpg

The duck looked nice but . . .

TIME was when I ordered duck breast in a restaurant the waiter would lean over his notepad and say in hushed tones, to prepare me for the bloody spectacle to follow, “We serve our duck pink here, sir.” Ah, those were the Eighties when customers expected all meats to be incinerated.

Of course, chances were it would appear anything but pink, perhaps pinkish but very often grey.

There were two possible reasons. First was inept over-cooking. Secondly, when a duck breast is thinly sliced and fanned – the juices running out to add resonance and depth to your sauce – oxidation quickly sets in and pinkness fades.

Now I have not been having a lot of luck in the duck department while eating out lately and I’m wondering if there’s been a cheffy twist in fashion I have not yet caught up with.

On two recent meals chefs have treated duck like steak, serving it up as thick, bloody, chewy, inelegant tranches of meat. Perhaps they are worried it will go grey. Worse, each time the breast retained a sliver of gristle or cartilage from where it was attached to the breastbone. Inexpert butchering: I wonder whether they have the same supplier?

This last was at the otherwise excellent Silver Plate training restaurant at Sheffield College (I go back far enough to remember it as Granville) which is well worth that proverbial detour if you want a more than decent luch or dinner.

The £25-a-head Wine and Dine evening had rattled through splendidly: excellent canapes which included a dinky little falafel; smoked eel, perhaps not Capstan Full Strength but with just a whiff to balance against delights such as a soft-boiled quail’s egg and a first class cabernet reduction; then hot mackerel fillet strips partnered not with the more usual gooseberry (not yet in season) but rhubarb puree, which is. It delivered just enough tartness on the palate.

Our table of four chortled happily, praising the precision of level three students under the guidance of chef-lecturer Neil Taylor.

Then we had the duck.

It was described as: “Caramelised duck breast (with) glazed pear, truffled gnocchi, celeriac, duck parfait emulsion.” Which sounded lovely.

img_20200314_1602115587159820869902700.jpg

Mackerel with rhubarb puree

Sadly, my duck was nowhere near caramelised and the skin was flabby. It was lukewarm at best and a bit of a chew. Oddly, the taste was fine but that strip of ligament prevented me cutting it up properly and I gave up wrestling with it. In Man versus Duck there was only one winner and it wasn’t me. By contrast my wife’s duck was cooked to grey.

A pity, because the other elements were fine: the pear delicate, the gnocchi generously truffled, the foam tasted good (Heaven knows what a duck parfait emulsion is) while the jus was excellent.

But if the central element is off kilter it doesn’t work. A double pity, because the wine pairing in our wine flight (£10 a head), was a little stunner. Look out for Poderi Parpinello ‘San Constantino’ from Sardinia.

The duck apart, the kitchen’s handling of ingredients was impressive. Our dessert, Opera Gateau, a French sponge classic looking like a little like a Tecnhnicolor liquorice allsort came with roast pineapple (makes a change from grilled) with a malty ice cream.

But I don’t want this to be one big grouse: beside, I am going back later in the year, virus permitting.

I want to add a word of praise for the breads, particularly the focaccia and light-as-a-feather rolls.

Just as important in a training restaurant are the front of house staff. They were a delight. I like the way my serviette, accidentally dropped on the floor when I went to inspect the facilities (sparklingly clean by the way), was replaced on my table shaped like a cardinal’s hat.

And our server fielded our grumps over the duck well. It appeared we weren’t the only table. We were promised extra petit fours (petit eights?) but it didn’t appear we did, looking at other tables. But coffees were deleted from our bill.

If you want  a different take on this meal check out Craig Harris’s review here as he was sitting at our table.

Not every meal out works 100 per cent but I do know one thing – next time I order duck I’ll get it in writing how the chef cooks it first!

*Because of the corona virus the Silver Plate has now closed until at least after Easter.**The restaurant lighting is a curious pink so my photographs came out in a bilious colour. These pictures of dishes have been taken from the restaurant’s Twitter feed.

es8zz3ywaaivgvg(2)8915664444711135087.jpg

Opera gateau with malt icecream