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!

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All down to a doughnut!

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Peking Duck with a smoked duck and cherry salad

FOR once we got it right. After three years judging a heat in Whirlow Hall Farm Trust’s annual Sheff’s Kitchen contest, the city’s answer to MasterChef, top chef Cary Brown and I voted the same way as the diners who packed into the farm’s little cafe on a hot and sultry night. And, just like them, by a single point.

For us it all came down to a doughnut. But we’ll get to that later.

It’s always fun judging this contest. As someone who used to scoff food for a living it’s nice to be able to do it for charity, in this case for the city’s disadvantaged children who get a taste of country life down on the farm.

Two chefs battle it out to provide a three course meal on a chosen theme to 40 or so diners, knowing that one of them has got to lose. They’re giving up their time running busy kitchens so in my book they deserve a round of applause before they start.

So does Cary. Still in his chef’s whites, he whizzed in from cooking at a local grandee’s wedding. Where? Cary was a little unsure. He got there by satnav. It turned out it was Bawtry.

As for me, I strolled in after scrumping the farm’s solitary medlar tree in the car park.

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Coronation crab cocktail

The chefs on the menu were Leslie Buddington, the man in charge at the award-winning Brocco boutique hotel since it opened, up against social enterprise Blend Kitchen’s head honcho Chis Hanson on Pinstone Street.

The theme for the night was East Meets West Fusion Food which gave the chefs carte blanche to do anything they wanted. And they pretty much did. Although it’s for fun, as judges we take it seriously. After all, we’re the chaps who last year were both blown away by a course we rated dish of the night but still gave the prize to the other chef!

Very seriously for Cary. He can get very technical on a single mouthful, analysing it ingredient by ingredient. This is a man who would give a round of beans on toast the third degree. As for me, I ask deep questions such as “Do I like it?”

We kicked off with Leslie’s miso glazed cod in a ‘pea and ham’ soup, where the pea was replaced by the very oriental edamame, versus Chris’s Coronation crab, a sort of crustacean arancini or bon bon. We had different scores but not by much.

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Miso-glazed cod

For the main course it was Chris’s impressive rump of lamb, with a touch of tandoori, up against Leslie’s beautifully judged orientally flavoured duck breast partnered with a refreshing duck and cherry salad. Chris had married his dish with ‘pommes Anna’ and mustard seed, really a sort of hot pot as the spuds topped more lamb, this time shank. Difficult to separate the two.

So it all came down to dessert. Would it be Chris’s very rich cardamom-spiked mousse (and Cary is a chocoholic) or Leslie’s Sichuan pepper parfait with a mandarin doughnut and salted caramel popcorn?

That chocolate was good and the cardamom came through but was it more ganache than mousse? We expected spiciness from the pepper but what we got was a delicate perfumed flavour. Very nice. Too bad about the over salty popcorn but, hey, that little doughnut is a goer.

And so, by a single point, not more than a mouthful, it was the doughnut wot won it! Well, sort of . .

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Judges and chefs: From the left, me, Cary, Chris and Leslie

Peaky’s Vito plays a blinder!

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Long service: Boss Vito Ciaraolo

SOME restaurants are like people you’ve lost touch with. You know where they are, you like them but, somehow, you never get round to saying hello again. And so it was with us  and Vito’s on South Road, Walkey.

“We’re off there tonight,” says my wife in the greengrocers as she pays the bill. “Used to be Pepe’s, run by Pepe Scime,” I add, picking up the bags.

“And before that Roy’s Bistro,” says a woman behind us. “It had a chandelier in the hall.” Gosh, she’s got a good culinary memory. It was one of Sheffield’s earliest restaurants of note. In fact between them Roy, Pepe and Vito have forged some gastro history at this little restaurant at the corner with Industry Street.

Roy’s I never went to (although I did its successor, the Four Lanes at Hillsborough). Pepe’s was my introduction to Italian food, lively, boisterous, exciting, and, well, 100pc Pepe, until he sold up in 1993 to his chef and business partner, Vito Ciaraolo. He’s been there 26 years, longer than both his predecessors put together. And it has gone decidedly upmarket.

“Minty,” says one of my friends, studying the menu before we go. With antipasti such as fried ravioli with with rocket and stracchino for £10.90 or main course lamb with prunes for fivepence shy of 20 quid it is easy to push the barca out here.

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Lobster ravioli

If you want to create an impression order the beef, usually Fassone from Piedmont or Chianina from Tuscany. Fillet with gorgonzola is £25.95. A bigger splash? The specials board offers Chianina fillet at £90 for two.

You can tread more carefully. Cheaper dishes are available. They even do pizzas although these are classier than most, perhaps topped with ndjua (Calabrian salami paste) or black truffle – Vito makes regular appearances in The Star with his latest fungal acquisition.

He’s even appeared on the telly, as the menu reminds you. He was an extra in the first episode of Peaky Blinders. There’s a picture of him. Very mafiosi.

We’re on the town with food blogger and Italophile Craig Harris and his wife Marie and it’s their first visit.

So Vito’s is going-on posh yet its owner hasn’t completely shaken off the old Sheffield-Italian image: ceiling and walls are still partly Artex and a whopper of a pepper mill is still produced at the table.

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The specials board

There’s nothing Sheffield-Italian about the food. It’s authentic. One mouthful of Marie’s spaghetti carbonara (£7.20), done the proper way with guanciale, eggs and pecorino and absolutely no cream thank you very much took her back on holiday in Minori – springy pasta, creamy sauce.

Even something as simple as my Sicilian starter, grilled aubergine with marinated anchovies and olives (£9.95), shone brightly. The aubergine took on a meaty texture, the white anchovies were first class and so were the olives.

Just a few highlights: Craig’s agnello alle prugne, lamb with prunes, sounded as if the spicing had been recently unloaded off an Arab dhow,  ginger, saffron, cinnamon, garlic, almond, olive oil and honey.  The meat was ultra-tender, the flavour exquisite.

My main course lobster ravioli (£14.95) was heavenly, an eggy pasta surrounding a very generous filling with prawns which tasted really luxorious. Vito freely admits he buys these in directly from Italy. This prompted a round table discussion on the merits of doing so.

My wife’s merluzzo Fiorentina (£18.95), firm, tasty cod in a spinach, cream and almond sauce, also bore the hallmarks of this restaurant’s kitchen: accurate, precise, unfussy cooking, letting first class ingredients take centre stage. That’s always the intention but it’s not always the case, is it?

Vito, who reminds me it was 17 years since I was last there, writing a review, at the same time as his wife was giving birth to his daughter, operates the kitchen midweek and is front of house at weekends.

Originally the arrangement was to buy half the business and the rest over four years. The deal went belly up and he needed to find the money quickly. “Somehow we managed.”

He hadn’t intended to stay more than a couple of years. Now, aged 56 and originally from Potenza, he’s been there almost half his life. Business is good but “it’s gone down with Brexit. People don’t want to spend.”

But some obviously do otherwise that chianina wouldn’t have been on the specials board.

To sum up, the atmosphere was warm, the service expertly pleasant and the food was great. The kitchen didn’t put a foot wrong. The bill? Well, we splashed out that Saturday evening. You’ll have gathered we liked it.

And I bet you saw the headline coming halfway through this piece . . . Peaky’s Vito plays a blinder!

Vito’s is at 284 South Road, Walkley, Sheffield. Tel: 0114 233 3574. Web: http://www.vitos.org.uk
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How Marco boxed clever and founded a restaurant dynasty

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Marco Giove at 79: among the last of his generation

MARCO Giove, one of the last surviving members of Sheffield’s founding generation of Italian restaurateurs, has died, aged 89. The funeral will be on what would have been his 90th birthday.

HE was a slim, slightly built, man from Brindisi, Puglia – he certainly did not look tough enough to be a handy flyweight boxer – who emigrated in the early Fifties to find work in the steelworks at Staveley.

The work was hard and he soon realised that using his fists was easier and could make him money.

“He used to visit the local fairground boxing booths and win money. His cousin, also called Marco, would point to him and bet the promoter that he would beat his man. He’d win more often than not,” says his son Marco junior, who runs Marco @ Milano on Archer Road.

They went all over the country until the ruse was stopped after the message went out to beware of two Italians, one big and one small!

It didn’t pay to tangle with Marco. Before he came to England he’d joined the Italian Navy at 19, serving six months of his two years in the cooler. A Southern boy, he was picked on by  a senior officer from the North so the plucky little rating threw him overboard.

His good looks also belied his age. He appeared much younger, fooling an 17-year-old girl called Anne, from Rotherham, whom he met at Sheffield’s Locarno dance hall in 1961 and married later that year. She thought he was about 24 when he was, in fact, 32. He told her just before they were married!

She must have forgiven him because they went on to have six children: sons Vincenzo, Marco and Stefano and daughters Susanna, Louisa and Francesca. It is a big family but Marco himself is one of 11 children.

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Marco Giove Senior aged 18

The following year the couple went to live in Italy where their first three children were born. For Anne, the lure of home was strong and they returned to Sheffield and opened their first restaurant, Marco’s, on Abbeydale Road, in 1973.

There were few other Italian restaurants in the city and for many diners it was their first experience of pasta not from tins!

Then followed a succession of restaurants. The business moved to Worksop, Doncaster then Crookes  (below,l eft), also as Marco’s, then as La Dolce Vita on Abbeydale Road, Martini on Campo Lane, Delle Rose off West Street and back to La Dolce Vita, which again became Marco’s (below, right). He retired around 1992.

 

 

But the family hadn’t retired. Son Marco Jnr ran first Rossi’s, now Marco @ Milano, while Vincenzo (Vinnie) had Buon Deli at Broomhill.

Marco, known as il Capitano (the Captain)  kept himself busy, dealing in wine among other enterprises. Customers at Remo’s, Broomhill, before it developed its menu, would have seen him come in with a tray of, perhaps, home-cooked lasagne for owner Remo Simeone to sell for lunch.

Marco died peacefully in his sleep on Saturday, August 10, surrounded by his family at home in Crookes.

The funeral will be at St Vincent’s RC Church, Crookes, at 1pm on Tuesday, August 27, followed by a wake in the church hall. His ashes will be scattered in the sea off Brindisi.

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Marco Giove and his wife Anne

 

 

Ian and Cary get social in Hathersage

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Cary (left) and Ian at their new venture

WHEN LOCAL businessman Ian Earnshaw feels peckish in London he can always pop into the Ritz Hotel for one of his favourite dishes, braised oxtail cottage pie.

Now very soon he’ll be able to do the same much nearer home in the Hope Valley. He’s bought a restaurant, the popular Hathersage Social Club.

He’s teamed up with his old pal, top chef Cary Brown, to take over and run the quirky little eaterie, a favourite with locals and tourists alike,  in the middle of the village. It was put on the market earlier in the year by owners Simon Couth and Lucy Wurstlin who created it out of a garden centre in 2013. They are taking on a new venture in Whitby.

“We have known each other for 20 years and mused about doing something together over the last ten,” says Ian, aged 55, who runs a highly successful fabrications business making staircases, balustrades and architectural metalwork, including the biggest single-span staircase in the UK. He lives near Cutthorpe.

Cary, who is 53, has made his name with a succession of restaurants including Carriages and Slammers in Sheffield, the Devonshire Arms at Middle Handley, the Royal Oak at Millthorpe and until recently  at Barlow Woodseats Hall.

Ironically, neither had set foot in the place, best described as esoteric, until Ian decided to buy it and rang Cary up to see if he’d come on board. Both, though, had heard good things about it.

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The Hathersage Social Club will get a new look

They are calling the venue Earnshaw & Brown @ Hathersage Social Club. Earnshaw & Brown sounds like a gentleman’s outfitters in Pontefract. “Or a soap maker,” laughs Ian over coffee at the nearby George Hotel. Both men are full of enthusiasm for the new venture which should open towards the end of October.

They are anxious to reassure customers that not everything they love about the place will be swept away. So while the old LP covers-as-menus may go in place of new ones featuring a cartoon of the pair of them, the famous waffles will stay.

“We don’t want to lose the fun part that has made Hathersage Social,” stresses Cary, adding that much of what they will be doing the previous owners might have intended if they had stayed.

For Ian, who says his passion is food and wine and cooking at home is his way of relaxing from a highly stressful job, it will be the chance to put into practice what he has learned from his years of eating out at all levels. He very much knows what he likes and can see things with a customer’s eye.

“Ian’s probably eaten at more Michelin-starred restaurants than you and me put together,” says Cary. Ian teases that he can beat his chef in The Battle of the Mashed Potato and can make a better salad. He keeps photos of some perfectly poached egg and impressive roast beef Chez Earnshaw on his smartphone.

Both men had decided on a ‘shop local’ policy for their restaurant but Cary was stunned when Ian came up with a deal for all the meat to be supplied by the Chatsworth Estate.

Earnshaw & Brown will be open for more of the week than previously, initially from Wednesday through to Sunday this year then throughout the week by next summer, offering, variously, breakfast, brunch, lunch and dinner, depending on the day.

That oxtail cottage pie will be on the menu, of course, as well as Cary’s signature crispy fried monkfish with chilli jam, plus classics such as calves liver, chicken Kiev, fish pie, lobster thermidor, Chatsworth Chateaubriand and steaks.

So traditional then? “You will read the menu but it’s not going to come out like you think,” winks Cary, no slouch at porcelain pyrotechnics. And there will be plates, not slates or boards. And no slicks or foams.

Admirers of Cary’s Sunday lunches previous at Millthorpe and Barlow Woodseats will be delighted to know they will continue at Hathersage.

The venue will also be aimed at families. “I’m astounded how even good quality places don’t give good quality food to kids,” says Ian, a father of four. “Our children’s menu, called ‘For The Next Generation of Foodies,’ will have the same ingredients as the adult menu.”

He calls himself “a details man.” And considering that it is very often the woman who decides where a couple will dine, one important detail will be to install separate toilets to replace the unisex loo at Hathersage Social. Cary will have a bigger, better kitchen, dining space will be converted out of the old cinema room upstairs and more covers will be provided outside in a series of phased redevelopments.

In the past Cary has had business partners who have left the lot to him but this time Ian will be pretty active in the restaurant, concentrating on keeping the cogs oiled, leaving his chef plenty of time to concentrate on the cooking.

Both seem to be relishing the project. Ian, not content with striking a good deal with Chatsworth, is still busy sourcing locally. Sourdough and duck eggs were mentioned. Cary, who has never needed much to light his blue touchpaper, says: “He is bringing the buzz out in me this time.”

Watch this space.

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Cartoon of the pair to appear on the menu, by Dave Howarth of Howarth McSwain Ltd

 

Phony Tony gets his star

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A Flying Fortress seen head on: Picture by Nick Collins

TO many of those who watched pensioner Tony Foulds being given his star in the pavement ‘Walk of Fame’ outside Sheffield Town Hall on Monday he is a hero. This is a man who has spent a lifetime honouring the stricken crew of an American bomber which crashed in wartime Sheffield.

And it is through him that thousands packed the park to watch a USAF and RAF flypast on the 75th anniversary on 22  February.

To others, though, he’s a fantasist – Phony Tony, the 83-year-old who has duped the BBC and the local and regional Press with his claims.

No one is denying he has spent time cleaning and tending the war memorial to the ten dead aircrew of the American bomber Mi Amigo which crashed there in February 1944. The question is, for how long?

Certainly not, as BBC television news reported on 21st February this year “for the last 75 years.” For a start, the memorial wasn’t erected until 1969. The truth is, as he explained on video in December 2018, is that he had done it only for the previous two years. In his telling and retelling of the story, it had gone further and further back.

Just as important is that his recollection of what he says he witnessed in the park as an eight-year-old boy back in 1944 bears no relation to the facts. His dramatic story is that is that the pilot waved to him and his friends playing there to get out of the way before crashing.

On frequent television appearances it has been compelling viewing as the tears well up, his handkerchief comes out and he speaks of the “guilt” he feels that the airmen died trying to save him and his friends. Yet none of the other children has come forward to back his story. Nor has he named them.

Hardly surprising, as this is an urban legend which first appeared in the Nineties. One has only to think for a minute of the absurdity of a Flying Fortress trying to land at great speed on a pocket handkerchief of a park to realise this could not have happened.

For a detailed analysis see my earlier post here

With so many holes in his story you would have thought the BBC and the local newspaper, the Sheffield Star, would have checked. They haven’t.

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Author David Harvey with his book

One way, apart from looking up their files to see the account did not tally or asking themselves how Phony Tony had managed to escape the attention of their reporters down the years, would be to ask historian David Harvey who spent four years researching the incident for his book Mi Amigo: Sheffield’s Flying Fortress.

To this day he has had no call from the Sheffield Star or the Yorkshire Post. It was only after this abject failure of journalism that I published on my blog.

For Harvey, the events of this year have been painful in that all the publicity has been about Foulds and his “devotion” rather than the bomber crew. “What gets my goat is that the story should be about the ten crewmen. Sheffield had a lucky escape that day. It’s one of the city’s greatest stories.”

He adds: “I despair of it. It is something which means a great deal to me and to see it distorted I think is quite sad.”

There is no denying that Foulds, whose chance encounter with BBC Breakfast presenter Dan Walker in the park early in tbe New Year propelled him to national attention, has done well out of the affair.

He has been feted, lauded, and laden with Man of the Year awards. The Americans from the ambassador downwards have made him a VIP. He has been given a free flight over the supposed route of the Mi Amigo before it crashed (all the evidence shows it came from the opposite direction) and at least £1,500 has been raised by online crowdfunding in his name to help the upkeep of the memorial.

It is unclear what has happened to this money. In any event the memorial belongs to the city council, whose staff tidied the monument every year in advance of the annual memorial ceremony held there.

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Wreckage from the Mi Amigo

Oddly, you might think, Foulds never attended the ceremony until the last two years.

And despite the money he still borrows a broom from Jon Pullin who runs the nearby children’s amusement park so he can be seen and photographed by visitors sweeping away the leaves. The monument, once dignified, has been turned into a gaudy shrine complete with flagpost.

Poor Jon lost money when his amusements were taken down for the day because they blocked camera angles. By contrast, Ashley Charlesworth, owner of the park café, would have been paid thousands for hiring it out as the BBC  ‘Green Room.’

It’s all good, heart-warming stuff and Foulds himself has been great telly. The BBC Breakfast coverage of the flypast of USAF and RAF planes over the park on the 75th anniversary in February, seen by millions, concentrated on him. Out came the handkerchief during a live link-up between him and the BBC’s Walker, climbing Mount Kilimanjaro for Children in Need. The religious ceremony being performed at the same time was given short shrift.

When a viewer wrote to the BBC to complain about its portrayal of the facts after seeing my story on Foulds (which has received over 10,000 hits and the link is now banned by Facebook as contravening community standards) a spokesman insisted: “Remembrance of the men who died . . . has always been the main focus of this story: our social media hashtag for the event was #remembertheten.”

The reply neglects to mention that almost immediately Walker instituted another hashtag, #GetTonyAFlypast which resulted in the ceremony. He tweeted without checking Foulds’ story. He has never spoken to historian Harvey. Local people who disagree have contacted him to no avail and adverse comments have been taken down from BBC websites.

The BBC response also claimed that Harvey had been consulted. He hadn’t. He was asked one question live on TV, about the fate of the plane’s mascot, a dog.

Interestingly the BBC’s reply also says “Tony has not claimed to have tended the memorial site for decades. He regularly visited but has only been looking at it daily for the last few years.” Yet its own Twitter feed continually repeats the false claim that he has “been looking after the memorial ever since” (1944).

The city council, when asked by the same viewer if it checked the facts before honouring Foulds, passed the buck to the BBC. Chief Executive John Mothersole wrote: “Given the role of the BBC in picking up on the story and initiating the event I think that any fact checking should fall to them.”

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Dan Walker was walking his dog when he met Tony Foulds

He makes clear that the star is in recognition “of the impact of the commemorative event had in drawing together so many people in such a passionate and reflective way.”

(Obviously the city council views Foulds’ achievements, in getting a few million viewers on breakfast telly,  as equal to other Sheffield Legends, such as astronaut Helen Sharman or film star Sean Bean.)

But not all those thousands watching in Endcliffe Park in February felt the same. “I cried when the flypast happened because this was the wrong history,” said one.

And others, the park users, the dog walkers, those who worked and lived nearby, wondered how it was they had never seen nor heard of Tony Foulds before Dan Walker came along and tweeted his story without checking.

There are few names in this account because vitriol has been directed at those who question this version of events. Foulds himself has colourfully described me on tape as “a piece of sh*t.” Twice comments on the Sheffield History Facebook page have been suspended because of abuse. It is above ironical that people interested in local history should refuse to accept the facts.

Many people ask why does this matter? It’s a good story, why spoil it? But doesn’t the truth matter? Why did no one, the city council, the Sheffield Star and, shamefully, the prestigious Yorkshire Post, feel big enough and brave enough to challenge the BBC?

As one contributor on the Sheffield History page, echoing the newspaper editor in John Ford’s Western The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, said: “When the fact becomes legend, print the legend.”

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Tony Foulds: Hero or villain?

*There is a video based on my earlier blog post at https://youtu.be/c5q8uMouXRg

AND IF YOU’RE STILL NOT SURE:

#In the 1990s local publisher Alistair Lofthouse, planning his own book on the Mi Amigo, put up posters at the memorial asking for information. That way he contacted David Harvey and agreed to publish his book. Despite allegedly keeping vigil there, Tony Foulds did not come forward.

#Dan Walker tweeted excitedly at 12.25pm on 2 January, within hours of meeting Foulds. He had no time to check and it was seriously inaccurate. “Just met an amazing man in Endcliffe Park, Sheffield. Tony Foulds was an 8-year-old playing in the park when a US plane crashed in Feb 1944. He has diligently maintained the memorial ever since. He was planting new flowers. Almost 75 years of service. What a man. I’m in bits.”

#Friends of Porter Valley, volunteers who help maintain and tidy the park, including the memorial, had never heard of Foulds until Dan Walker.

#Despite being contacted by local people who raised their doubts about the story the BBC ignored them.

Birdhouse trills a happy tune

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Bao Buns with pork belly

WE might eat first with our eyes but sometimes we taste what we think we see. So, hands up, this veteran foodie has just confused pickled onion for chilli.

Chef Kevin Buccieri has brought us his Thai green ice cream to try and first I get flavours of lemongrass followed by chilli coming through the cold. It’s a little unsettling but intriguing. I wonder how he does it. Is the chilli infused or is it these little flecks of red, I ask? No, that’s pickled red onion, he says. I taste again and now I know the pickle flavour comes through. Doh!

It works. Brilliantly. Kevin thinks this dish should be a starter or certainly a palate cleanser (palate confuser, more like!) but diners prefer it at the end, like we had.

We have been invited to eat as guests at the Birdhouse, the tea emporium run by mother and daughter Julie and Rebecca English in a former workshop in  the charmingly named Alsop Fields on Sidney Street, Sheffield. They recently hired Kevin, ex-Rutland Arms No 2, to up the food offer from pies.

The menu, his first, is a pot pourri of small plates or tapas, mostly with an oriental slant at around a fiver each. And they often come with a chilli riff.

The chilli sidles up almost as an afterthought with the slices of crunchy stir-fried lotus root. It comes at you full gallop with the Puy lentil curry, firm and toothsome. But it is instantly addictive, particularly since it is on a contrasting bed of crispy kale. My wife loves it and she is a woman who has shunned kale all her life.

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Chef Kevin Buccieri

We’ve been here before to buy tea but not lingered. There’s a sunny courtyard we now look down on from our upstairs table in one of two first floor rooms, all beams and brick, seating around 50. From the windows across the room you can see the Porter Brook filter its way through the city’s industrial backside.

Sidney Street is a little out of the way and apart from an A-board and a slightly outdated menu pinned to the front wall – there’s not even a menu or picture of a dish on the website as I write – so Kevin’s food is being hidden under the proverbial bushel.

Seek it out, if only for the pork belly filled steamed bao buns. I’d half expected a chopped filling  but the pork is in whole strips of tender hoisin-flavoured meat, a lovely contrast to the spongy, airy bun. There are two for £8.50 but the dish could easily be reduced to one to keep the fiver price point.

I first encountered Kevin, or his food, at the Rutland pub, just a stone’s throw away on Brown Street, where I had praised head chef Richard Storer (aka Chef Rico) for a stunning fennel ice cream with cucumber jelly. He sportingly gave all the credit to Kevin.

Kevin, in return, acknowledges his culinary debt to Rico. He’d left college after training as a joiner but found that without experience he wasn’t wanted so took to pot washing. After the usual round of pubs and restaurants, without much ambition, he found himself beached up at the Rutland “where I truly found my passion.” A light bulb had been switched on. He stayed for over four years before striking out on his own.

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Curried lentils, crispy kale

Now the Rutland is an odd place, a scruffy, some may say eccentric-looking boozer, with an inventive, experimental kitchen which daily faces the heartbreak of sending out the pub’s best-seller, the Slutty Rutty, a massive chip breadcake, to those who should eat better.

For this reason you will not find chips on Kevin’s evening menu (it is available from 6pm). “The nearest I come to chips is the patatas bravas,” he says. Ah, we didn’t try those. But we did seem to have everything else. Dishes kept arriving (remember, we were being treated) and we were in danger of becoming Monty Python’s explosive Mister Creosote.

We loved the delicate goats cheese arancini balls winking like eyes with little ‘pupils’ of yellow pepper puree and the crunchy cubes of tofu (served with silky avocado) in a sauce of teriyaki, wasabi and golden syrup (rather than honey, to please the vegans). Since tofu is all texture and no taste it needs these companions.

There were big, generous slices of home cured salmon with paper-thin beetroot as well as seasonal asparagus served the classic way, with poached egg, hollandaise and truffle oil.

Despite his surname – great grandparents came over from Naples and he grew up in Darnall and Birley – Kevin cannot speak Italian nor cares that much for Italian food. But he does do a celeriac ‘tagliatelle’ with pesto. See if you can guess what the sauce is. A clue: apart from the pesto the dish only has one ingredient.

Writing all this I realise just how much we ate so my tastebuds can be excused over the Thai ice cream (I ought to mention we also tried an Earl Grey ice with gin and vanilla sauce but don’t ask me for a considered opinion – I was flavoured out)!

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Delicate goats cheese arancini

My tastebuds were very much in action at the start of the meal with the arrival of home made bread with tzatziki. Sourdough, I silently groaned, for local bakeries all seem to make the same rubbery, damp bread. This was none of that and it was close crumbed instead of holey. Kevin was disappointed with the lack of air pockets but not us. If we want holes we’ll eat focaccia.

This menu is very much an opening salvo. Kevin, a one man kitchen, has high hopes of doing more fish, probably pickled, possibly a ceviche. And a duck dish with a chocolate nod to Sat Bains’ Nottingham restaurant may appear when he’s happy with it.

Sheffield’s food scene is currently the liveliest I’ve seen it. Strip away the seemingly endless burgers and pizzas and there are plenty of fresh ideas and talent.  The Birdhouse adds to the mix. Just don’t ask for chips or Italy’s most famous export. Kevin might sound Italian but “I hate making pizzas,” he says.

You would be in the dog house at the Birdhouse!

Birdhouse is at Alsop Fields, Sidney Street, Sheffield S1 4RG. Tel: 0114 327 3695. Web: http://www.birdhouseteacompany.com

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The Birdhouse. Our table is in the top window

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