Is it worth meddling with a medlar?

What do they look like to you?

I’M STILL not sure whether it was worth it. I’ve gone halfway across Sheffield to pick medlars – hard little brown fruit no one seems to have heard of – from trees and taken them home to rot in my cellar.

 Then I’ve boiled them up, strained the juices, added sugar and all I’ve got to show for it is two small measly jars. As for the taste, well, it’s fugitive. Perhaps I should have taken the hint for the common name for medlar is dog’s arse, as the French say, cul de chien.

You can’t eat a medlar until it rots, or blets, when it turns sweet. In ancient times, before oranges and grapefruit and fruit like that was available to the common man they were supposedly highly prized for their sugar hit in winter.

To eat them, peel back the outer casing, suck everything in then discreetly spit. For inside is a little ball of sweetish flesh encasing  large seeds you wouldn’t want to swallow. The taste and texture is midway between a fig and date. I picked some last year but lost interest after the first few moutfuls and they bletted to kingdom come.

The ones on the left have bletted

So this year I was going to make a jelly. My recipe, from Marguerite Patten’s ‘James, Preserves and Chutneys,’ said two pounds of medlars to a pint of water and I had just over that weight. I cut them up small and boiled them up. I was unsure if they would contain enough pectin and dislike adding the commercial variety so also chopped up a couple of Bramley apples.

They mushed up pretty quickly so they soon went into the straining bag for the afternoon. The liquid was dirty brown, like tea. Perhaps if I had left it overnight I might have got more juice – just a pint – which tasted pretty insipid.  I boiled it down a bit further to increase the flavour and added the juice of half a lemon – more to perk it up than for pectin.

Medlars with apples in the pan

It set on the second test but there wasn’t a lot of it, just enough for those two small jars. That brown brew cleared to a lovely whisky-type hue but medlar jelly doesn’t taste anything like eating one raw. The date-cum-fig effect has gone; instead it’s more like honey. I have just had some on a slice of bread and butter to confirm my impression.

It’s not been a complete waste of time but if I do it again next year I will need to pick many more pounds to make it worth the effort. Or I might combine it with other fruit. Dates or figs!

Medlar jelly – lovely colour and tastes like honey
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Konrad’s last day

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Konrad Kempka and his bacon slicer

IT’S Konrad Kempka’s last day in his Abbeydale Road, Sheffield, butchers shop, and he might be forgiven for looking a little bit sad. But he isn’t.

There has been a steady stream of customers all morning collecting their orders, already bagged up, which have been phoned and texted in that week.

Less than two years ago this blog and local media were celebrating the shop’s 60th anniversary, a business founded by his Polish father Frank who fled the Nazis in World War Two and found sausages and love in Sheffield.

Earlier this year Konrad and his wife Pat reckoned they’d had enough of spending their days in a cold shop and planned semi-retirement. Konrad put himself out to hire as relief butcher and the shop was opened up on Saturday mornings only to regulars and anyone else who walked by and fancied the best bacon you’ll get in Sheffield, sausages, a few chops or a pound of mince.

Now Konrad has an operation looming on his shoulder. “Surgeons also get it,” he says cheerfully, putting it down to all those years swinging his cleaver and sawing through bones.

So I, like lots of other customers, are stocking up. I’m buying several pounds of rind-on bacon, smoked and unsmoked, for the freezer before the shop closes for the last time.

It will be sad not seeing those home smoked hams hanging in the window at Christmas or the dark red kabanos sausages on the counter.

But Konrad is not quite leaving the world of pork loins and tomato sausages, a Sheffield speciality. After the op he will be working for the butchery at Whirlow Hall Farm, there for a couple of days a week, and is thinking of taking the antique bacon slicer with him. After all, it’s older than he is and older than the shop. It couldn’t be scrapped. It’s a museum piece.

Things are a bit hazy at the moment but hopefully he will still be curing his bacon at Whirlow. And making those celebrated pork pies.

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Christmas hams in the window at Kempka’s

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thanks for the calamari, Kam

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Calamari reminded me of Malta

PROUST got it right with that Madeleine, didn’t he? Food is not only the stuff on your plate. A chef can devise layers of texture and flavour with a dish but sometimes, just sometimes, there is another layer of which he has no inkling: the diner’s memory.

For Proust it was a cake. For me the other night at Richard Smith’s Cricket Inn at Totley, it was two perfect rings of calamari. With one bite I was back in a seafront bar in Malta the year the Icelandic volcano blew its top.

In that bar, not far from where the famous Maltese Falcon yacht was anchored, I ate a dish of lightly battered squid, the coating so crisp, the flesh so tender, almost ethereal, that it blotted out years of chewing rubber. It was heaven on a plate. If only all calamari could be half as good!

I’ve not experienced it again until those two rings cooked up by sous chef Kam Bajorek, which he had partnered with a crouton of mashed avocado and baby octopus. They had, my wife enthused, the texture of silk.

We’d been invited as guests to a chef head to head night where each of the pub’s chefs draws a course out of a hat and cooks something up to a theme, tonight Round the World. Each diner marks his own menu card and the winner was the chef with the highest score.

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Apple strudel

It’s a chance for the kitchen to show it can do more than fish and chips or burgers, the more usual orders in the dining room next door. We were in the room once used as a morgue for fatalities when digging the Totley Tunnel.

Despite my raptures for Kam’s calamari it didn’t get my highest marks. That went to executive chef Oli Parnell’s stonebass en papilotte, the eventual winner. This was an exceeding clever dish in which a portion of fish was tightly bound by ultra-thin layers of potato and pan fried. The flavour of the fish penetrated the spud and completely hid its origins, the outer layers at least.

It turns out Richard had suggested this one to Oli as it was a dish he had cooked himself 20 years before at his previous restaurant Smith’s of Sheffield, one he had taken from New York based French chef Daniel Boulud.

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Winning dish – Stonebass en papilotte

Richard, who was also competing, scuppered his own chances of winning with that tip for he produced a slate of intricate cheese-based goodies, a medley of custards, candied walnuts, fruit crisps, poached pear – and cheese.

There was much to like here. I had my first taste of Brazilian fejoda cooked up by head chef Sam Parnell (he and Oli are twin brothers), a gutsy pork, sausage and beans stew, and enjoyed the light, crisp pastry of an apple strudel from another sous chef Pav.

“Just a nice, fun night,” Richard said later. Certainly – and for me a taste of the unexpected. Thanks for the invite and thanks for the calamari, Kam.

The Cricket Inn, Penny Lane, Totley, Sheffield. Tel 0114 236 5256. Web: http://www.cricketinn.co.uk

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Cheesey delights at the Cricket

 

 

Some like it hot

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Lamb balti at Mirpuri Tawa

THERE’S a familiar face waiting to greet me at Mirpuri Tawa on London Road, Sheffield. The last time I saw Afaz Mohammed he was tootling around the car park of his Estikutum buffet restaurant in a tuk-tuk taxi he’d just bought.

He tuk-tukked all over Darnall and Sheffield with the name of the restaurant emblazoned on the side, a one-man mobile sandwich board.

I have a memory of him in the vast former pub, clad in flowing robes of white and gold, ushering in burkha-clad women to the enclosed family booths which lined one wall.

The Mirpuri Tawa, named after the Pakistan Punjab town from which many of Sheffield’s Asians originate, and the flat metal cooking pan traditional to the area, is much smaller than the Estikutum. And Afaz is in a suit.

There’s an old adage which says if you want to see if a Chinese restaurant is authentic then check out the customers. If a lot of them are Chinese, you’ve struck lucky. The same goes for South Asian restaurants. Most of the customers at Mirpuri Tawa on our night (or most nights) are Pakistani.

They’re mostly men but here and there is a woman diner and headscarves seem to be optional.

If you want authenticity, then you can get it in spades here. I can’t recall a single ‘Indian’ restaurant aiming at a European clientele which has curried camel, deer, tripe, brains or sheep’s trotters on the menu.

 

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Chicken liver starter

The food makes no concessions as far as I can see to Western tastes and palates, although it does include chips in a starter selection of dishes for groups of dinners. There are no dinky little images of chillis to designate the heat of various dishes. You are expected to know. And like it.

And, as Afaz likes to say in a kind of mantra, you won’t find dishes marked Bombay, Madras or even that Made in Glasgow (or was it Birmingham) Anglo-Indian favourite, chicken tikka masala on his brief, compact menu.

There is, though, a chicken masala. My wife chooses that, apprehensive about things like brains and feet, and clings to things she knows. Except it isn’t.

Instead of breast meat in creamy tomatoey sauce with a gentle heat it is dark meat. No point in telling a Western woman that dark meat is tastier than white. She’s lucky it isn’t on the bone although that would have made it even tastier. But the sauce has an undeniable searing quality.

It is hotter than mine and I’ve taken the advice of our friend, fellow blogger and curry aficionado Craig Harris, in ordering the lamb balti. I wonder at this because baltis were invented in Birmingham, weren’t they?

That aside, it is on the bone which adds for succulence, richness and sweetness and the sauce is thick and clinging. I love it. But it is not as hot as my wife’s masala. And that’s not as hot as Craig’s wife Marie’s paneer and spinach dish. It defeats her.

Food here comes mostly in ethnic looking clay pots and jugs with wooden spoons. Cutlery, as at the old Kashmir on Spital Hill, is optional. Otherwise you can use the excellent naan bread to mop things up.

We had enjoyed good starters. My spicy chicken wings were certainly that but little different to those the world over. Craig’s grilled chicken livers tasted fine and gutsy with cumin, none of the Western ‘we cook them pink’ here.

There’s no booze and you can’t bring it in. And that, says Afaz, perhaps a little wistfully, stops some Westerners coming in. Now I’ve never  been one to scoff a curry with a pint because weird things happen to my digestion so I’m more than happy with water and a jug of mango lassi Afaz provides.

The ladies will not be back. Traditional Indian cooking does not agree with them. Craig, who has reviewed Mirpuri Tawa here most certainly will. And I’ll be happy to join him. Might skip the camel, though.

Mirpuri Tawa, 162 London Road, Sheffield S2 4LT. Tel: 0114 258 0805. Web: http://www.mirpuritawa.co.uk/

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The place to go for camel – or sheep’s hooves

 

Charlie’s secret weapon: Ready Brek!

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Stephen Wallis’s ‘last night’s curry’  @clearmediasheff

CHEF Cary Brown is waffling on . . . about waffles. “Right on trend,” he coos, looking at his plate. It’s a reworking of a reworking of a classic Southern USA dish, duck with waffles.

There’s a tasty duck confit, a shiny bronze coloured Belgian waffle, some slinky bok choi in a nod towards China because when you think of duck it’s either confit or crispy, and a plummy sauce. And it’s lovely.

He and I are judging a heat at Whirlow Hall Farm Trust’s annual Sheff’s Kitchen cookery competition, in which the area’s leading chefs cook off for the charity with a bit of a laugh.

Tonight Charlie Curran, chef-patron of the highly rated Peppercorn on Abbeydale Road South, and Stephen Wallis, Whirlow’s own head chef, are going head to head on the theme, Flavours of Breakfast for 50 paying guests. So we are looking for wit and imagination and some good cooking.

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Charlie’s Curran’s assiette made us smile

There is plenty of that but we get the result wrong! We hand the prize to Charlie but there’s barely the thickness of a spatula in it, it’s so close. The diners have other ideas and give it to Stephen. Cary and I also got it ‘wrong’ last year so Whirlow may not be asking us back!

Cary, who seemingly has had more restaurants than I’ve had hot dinners and is now wowing them at Barlow Woodseats Hall, is looking for technical skill and expertise, among other things. With some 1,400 meals under my belt while reviewing professionally for the Sheffield Star, I’ll be looking at it from the angle of a seasoned diner. The two approaches are not always the same but should come up with the same result.

With the theme of breakfast in mind, Charlie gets his duck main course on the menu by using the waffle as the hook. For best results eat a bit of saucy duck with the waffle so the flavours soak in.

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Charlie’s duck

Stephen, remembering the mornings after the nights before some beer-soaked curry evenings and reheating the left-overs for breakfast, does a clever riff on Ruby Murray. There’s a roundel of chicken stuffed with lentil dahl, a fish bhaji of tilapia and a ‘tandoori potato’ plus the usual accompaniments, chutney, coriander and a sliver of poppadom.

As last year, Stephen sportingly handed over his kitchen to Charlie and worked from the store across the courtyard. Both chefs were given a £150 budget and had a sous to help: Charlie’s was Jamie McGonigle while Stephen had Amy Lee.

Stephen opens his menu with that breakfast favourite, kippers. He did it all from scratch. He made his own kippers, cold smoking the herrings and turning them into little cylinders of delicate pate, accompanied by a slug of Bloody Mary and brioche. There was a lot of work in that dish.

Charlie went for a mini croissant and a coffee cup filled with a light, lustrous chicken liver parfait ‘coffee’ topped by a cream froth.

While we are not comparing scores it is obvious they are close so it all comes down to the last course. Stephen, riffing on croissants with marmalade, does a yumptious whole orange cake partnered with croissant ice cream covered in an almond crumb, the sort of dish which would be the highlight of a posh afternoon tea.

But Charlie’s makes me smile, then laugh. That’s got to be worth an extra point. His assiette, entitled cereal killer, includes a yoghurt panna cotta, treacle tart and a cheeky little porridge soufflé.

Both Cary and I agree, it’s the porridge wot won it for Charlie but it was as close as a rolled oat. We compliment him afterwards.

“You know what, it was Ready Brek in that soufflé!” he says.

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Parade des Chefs: Stephen, Amy, Charlie and Jamie

*Earlier versions misspelt Stephen’s surname. Apologies.

Veggie and vegan with added fish

DSC00058 Bohemian

For veggies, vegans and yummy mummies

Another in the series on former Sheffield restaurants and restaurateurs

THE legend on the café’s sunshine yellow fascia read “Food, Drink and Enlightenment.” And the best thing about the Bohemian at 53 Chesterfield Road, Sheffield, was that it didn’t cost you much.

It was something of a regular when I was reviewing for the Sheffield Star. There was that time when I did a Dine Out for a Tenner series (three courses, coffee not included) and we went then.  We got in under budget by sharing dessert. It helped you could BYO with no corkage.

This was a feature not without embarrassment. Our feverish calculations in one restaurant were overheard by nearby diners. The woman whispered loudly to her companion: “That poor couple have got hardly any money!”

The last time I ate there in 2009, a couple of years before it closed, main courses could still sail in for under £10.

As befits its name, a Bohemian kind of customer frequented it: those who preferred organic, vegetarian and vegan food but that didn’t mean you wouldn’t also find fish on the menu. It was popular in the mornings with mothers and children. The blackboard menu listed ‘stuff you can eat before lunch,’ as well as sandwiches and salads plus a heavier menu which ran all day. In the evenings they lit the candles.

It was a 30 seater with no more than five tables at the front and a couple more at the back, just in front of the kitchen. On the wall was a framed photo of a bearded man in a turban. He was Sufi Master Sheik Nazir, the ‘guardian angel’ of Camran Munir and his brother Imran, who advised them to open the Bohemian.

The brothers also had the Shaan takeaway a few doors along. They came from a catering family. Their granddad had run the Mama café in Attercliffe.

Despite their background there wasn’t a lot of asian food on offer. That came later when the premises were turned into the Bhaji Shop, run by the very English  Matthew Holdsworth,  whose own family had made their name in supplying bhajis to Eastern and Western customers.

The blackboard might include mussels in tomato and chill, grilled sardines, mezze, goats cheese risotto, or lentil and vegetable filo parcels. Local ladies supplied the cakes and desserts.

The chef was Jonathan Cummings although he always seemed to be off when we called.  One night it got busy with a couple of rookies in charge so Imran called his brother, who also cooked.  Midway through our main course he burst through the doors, clad in his motorcycle leathers, and hurried up the stairs before returning to the kitchen. It was like a scene out of Blackadder.

While I can’t remember when it opened it had closed by early 2011. There was to be no more food, drink and enlightenment  on Chesterfield Road.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A few buts but you’ll like Butta la Pasta

IMG_1438 Gnocchi with rocket 02-08-2018 19-47-01THE A-board outside new eaterie Butta la Pasta on London Road proudly lists a TripAdvisor review: “The Most Italian place in Sheffield – 5 stars.”

Whoa, hold on there! You can’t blame the owner for chalking it up but, even by the usual hyperventilating of that website, this is quite some claim. Particularly as it is situated halfway between the best two Italians in Sheffield, VeroGusto and Marco@Milano.

Besides, the chef-patron comes from Penistone not Palermo.

Now normally, as my wife reminds me, I get a little sniffy at Italian restaurants run by non-Italians even though Modern British Cooking acknowledges a debt to the Italian repertoire.

But owner Stephen Ogden is a man after my own heart. He’s fallen in love with Italian cooking, digested it and, declining to go down the pizza, steaks and Artex route, opted for a short menu exploring some of the remoter shores of Italian food.

Take my glorious Tuscan-style papa al pomodoro (£4.50), simply quality tinned tomatoes with sweet local cherry toms soaking good bread with lashings of olive oil and basil. Now where else in Sheffield would sell you that? It was seasoned brilliantly. I’d show you a picture but my camera was playing tricks.

IMG_1445 Chef-patron Stephen Ogden 02-08-2018 20-39-40.JPGStephen, aged 38, a former children’s nurse (“I was the one who woke them up after an operation”) is taking this seriously. In another life he’d have been christened Stefano. He brings over a doorstopper of a book, La Cucina, a bible of Italian cookery, to show us the recipe. I notice Elizabeth David’s Italian Food is on a shelf. My Italian bible is The Silver Spoon, I remark. “I’ve got that but it’s pressing a flower,” he says.

Butta is a long thin eating space, a little austere with white walls, a minimum of pictures, bare table tops and, yes, an Artex ceiling left over from previous owners. The only music comes from the kitchen. The name means “throw in the pasta” so it is a little odd that none of the pasta is, as yet, home made. I was so disappointed I went home and made myself some ravioli at the weekend.

My potato and flour gnocchi (£9) is, though, and it’s all I can want, firm but yielding, in a rocket ‘pesto’ and ricotta sauce with toasted pine nuts on top: my ultimate Italian comfort food.

It wasn’t quite perfect. It needed more pepper. There are no condiments on the tables so the waitress had to borrow the kitchen’s solitary grinder and they soon wanted it back.

All of the other mains feature pasta: spaghetti, rigatoni, linguine, lasagne, tagliatelle and orrecheti. Be advised, this is cooked Italian al dente not British al dente, which means it might be slightly more toothsome than you expect.

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Spaghetti Lucia

It didn’t bother my wife who downed her spaghetti Lucia (£10), prawns in vibrant tomato, anchovy and lemon, with enthusiasm. Personally I like it done a minute or so more. Luckily this kitchen does not adopt another Italian custom – serving food tepid.

Stephen is obviously thoroughly enjoying his new life, coming out of the kitchen to chat, taking orders, bringing dishes so the waitress has time on her hands.

He couldn’t do all this socialising if it was just him in the kitchen and Stephen has help, an Italian chef called Sam, and he is from Palermo. So I am not entirely sure who does what.

Stephen makes the focaccia, studded with redcurrants, which is pleasant if dry at the edges. It is served with barely a tablespoon of olive oil and the Gaeta olives we order are a little shrivelled. After that, they’ve run out when the next table orders them and it’s hardly 8pm.

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Antipasti at Butta la Pasta

My wife had ordered the antipasto (£4.50), which looked, and was, unexciting: some Parma ham,  slices of fontina and  griddled yellow courgette presented poorly but redeemed by a very nifty, pliable piadina (flatbread).

We finished with some acceptable cakes, a lemon tart and pistachio loaf, although next time we’ll try the home made ice creams and granitas, and coffees.

It’s BYO and there is no corkage, which takes the sting off paying £3 for fizzy water. Stephen makes his own lemonade.

Butta la Pasta still has some rough edges. I’d get some condiments (Aldi has bargains), stock up on olives and start making some pasta. But we liked it. We paid our own bill, £48.50, but we did push the boat out with three courses.

280 London Road, Sheffield S2 4NA. Tel: 07834 561 808. Web: http://www.buttalapasta.godaddysites.com  Twitter: @buttalapasta

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Not quite but tempting