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

 

 

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Two soups . . . and bare naked porcelain

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Main course lamb in my ‘lighter lunch’

THE soup sounded good, crab and fish. Possibly, I guessed, including coley, the cheapest fish as a special dish of the day in one of North Derbyshire’s priciest restaurants. One of my dining companions ordered the same.

“Two soups and please don’t spill it,” I joked. Our waitress at the Peacock Hotel, Rowsley, looked blank.

“It’s a very funny comedy sketch by Julie Walters as a doddery old  waitress.” She was English but we could see her asking herself : “Julie who?” Sometimes one feels very old. “Catch it on YouTube,” said my companion.

The soup, with no little fishy bits so more a bisque really, was superb, tasting overwhelmingly of crab and expertly seasoned. If you licked a freshly boiled crab shell this would be it – briny, tangy, crabby. The waitress didn’t spill a drop.

And it came with stuff to play with – tiny crisp croutons, a bowl of grated Patmesan and another of rouille. Lovely.

But then it ought to be. The head chef Dan Smith has been here since 2007, the kitchen has three AA rosettes and a three course ‘lighter lunch’ is heavy on the wallet at £24.25. If you want coffee it’s a hefty £5.15 more (with tiny chocolate) so it’s wiser to go for filter rather than espresso.

We are no strangers to the Peacock. When I reviewed for the Sheffield Star, mindful it would be out of most of my readers’ price bracket, I reserved it as an extra-special Sunday lunch: cheaper, not French or Modern British but bigger portions (the then hotel manager used to give the head chef a day off and do it himself).

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Crab and fish soup

I used the Peacock as a place to cheer myself up, choosing a wintry Sunday for a slap-up lunch and afternoon with the papers by a roaring fire, basking in the contentment that I would be fully refunded. I could manage that every four years or so. I last wrote about it here in 2015.

The Peacock, owned by Lord and Lady Manners, is part of the Haddon Hall estate, where they live. It’s a lovely old building, originally an 17th century manor house and a hotel since 1830.

In the dining room it is always fun to hunt the mice, tiny little creatures carved into table legs and chairs from the studio of ‘Mousey’ Thompson.

It’s a lighter lunch at a discount on a la carte prices because main course portions (but not starters or desserts) are half-sized. This does leave a lot of bare naked porcelain on view and lonely looking food. I know chefs these days like big half empty plates but as a diner I can never see the attraction. It’s rubbing it in: “Hey, ho, you’re not getting a lot!”

I had the slow-cooked lamb shoulder and if there was not muchof it, it was exceedingly good.  The roundel of meat, no more than two or three mouthfuls and dwarfed by the potato,  was soft and melting, the flavour deep and lustrous.

It occurred to me that one does not eat with relish in places like this because that implies eating heartily. I don’t think the Peacock does gutsy. Instead, one takes tiny mouthfuls and eats slowly, savouring the moment even more than usual.

The lamb came with a quenelle of olive oil mash, not seasoned enough for my liking, two skinned and roasted cherry tomatoes, a knob of goats curd inside a sheath of courgette and a lively slick of basil puree, acting as the sauce. Hoping no one was looking, I wiped my plate clean with some good bread. At least you get generous supplies of that.

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My fellow diner added a flower from his sweet so mine wouldn’t look so lost!

Two of us had Manchester tart. An old classic, it has somehow passed me by down the years and I don’t recall having it before. Think Bakewell Tart (not the Pudding) with coconut on top. I loved it.

Normally I would recount what my wife ate and give my opinion because I would have had a forkful or two (unlike some reviewers who merely ask for a verdict). Given the size of the mains it seemed invidious to do so. But she thoroughly enjoyed her chicken liver parfait and summer vegetable risotto. Like me, she had the tart. One of our guests ducked that “because it’s from the wrong side of the Pennines.”

This is fine, considered cooking with some well-judged flavours and a delight to eat.

They don’t rush you here. In fact, I was almost at the kitchen door before I found someone to give me the bill.

Those winter Sunday lunches always used to put me in a good mood and so did this summer Tuesday lunch. And, I wonder, did our waitress ever look up Two Soups on YouTube?

*The Peacock is in the middle of the village. Tel 01629 733 518. Web: http://www.thepeacockatrowsley.com

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What’s for lunch? The Peacock’s front door

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Everything but the quack!

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Pappardelle with duck ragu

SOMETIMES you wonder about supermarkets. Waitrose are currently selling two duck breasts for £9 but whole roast in the bag 1.25kg ducks at £8.35. So that means any sharp-eyed cook with a sharp knife can get the breasts, plus two legs and the carcase for free and still finish 65p up on the deal.

Or even more. “I’ve got a £1.50 voucher for any duck product,” said my wife as she disappeared down the aisle. I did the maths. That meant I – or she – was only going to pay £6.85 for that quacker.

Which made up, in part, for the laughably high prices she insists on paying when she could go to more inexpensive supermarkets.

I’ve done it before (without the voucher) and the legs normally finish up as a confit. Sadly, this is where things go wrong – I sometimes roast them too dry or to a crisp when I dredge them out of their fat some months later. There had to be another use apart from a stir-fry.

There is: duck ragu.

What follows is an amalgam of several Venetian recipes, which concentrate on flavourings such as bay, thyme and sage and, in one case, cinnamon. So I used all four and added rosemary for luck.

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My cut price duck, ready for butchering

All the recipes I consulted stipulated using one leg per person or a whole duck (in which case you roast it) but I found two legs gave quite enough ragu for four. And I prefer cooking on the stove top rather than in the oven because it is less wasteful of energy. And cheaper.

You need:

2 duck legs, oiled and seasoned

1 small onion, 1 stick of celery, 1 large carrot, all chopped small for a soffrito

125ml red wine

125ml chicken stock

1 tin chopped tomato

tomato puree

herbs as above

2 cloves garlic, crushed

1 tbsp plain flour

1 dessert spoon ground cinnamon

salt and pepper to taste

Butchering was relatively easy. Dislocate the leg and wing joints first before cutting and work your knife carefully along the breastbone.

Brown the duck legs in a heavy casserole for about 10 minutes. I added the tops of the wings – not much meat but they will add flavour.

Remove the meat with tongs and pour off all but 1 tbsp of duck fat. I poured the excess into my duck fat jar.

Gently cook the vegetables, herbs and garlic gently for as long as you can be bothered (but at least 10 mins) then add the cinnamon and flour and stir in for a minute or two.

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All chopped and ready to go

Now add the wine, chicken stock, tomatoes and puree and return the meat to the pan. It should be just submerged. Bring to boil then turn down to a simmer and leave, stirring occasionally to stop things sticking. You want the meat to be really tender.

Then remove it to a plate and allow to cool. Then, with two forks, carefully remove the skin (don’t both if you miss bits, it will be very soft) shred the meat from the bones and return to the pan.

A cook’s treat is to suck, guzzle and gnaw the bones clean before discarding.

It tasted wonderful although I might go a bit easier on the cinnamon next time. It’s going in the freezer until I need it (as a sauce with pasta) because we are having those duck breasts, pan-fried, first.

I also boiled up the carcase as a stock, also destined for the freezer, and while all this was going on I gently fried little two inch squares of snipped skin from the carcase in a heavy-based frying pan. Sprinkled with salt and pepper, they made another little treat.

And, of course, they yielded even more fat for the jar. And I even finished up with a little duck ‘dripping’ which went well with my breakfast toast.

I’m feeling pretty pleased with it all. That duck gave us eight main meals in total: breasts, four plates of ragu and two bowls of soup, plus all those little extras. We ate everything but the quack.

When you’re married to a Waitrose Wife you have to stretch those pennies, don’t you?

Sheffield fishcake sighted in Lincs!

IT MAY come as a shock but to some people the very thought of Yorkshire is exotic. That’s if you come from Lincolnshire.

We are at Mantle’s weirdly named Underground fish and chip restaurant, in truth a cellar, in Horncastle where I notice Yorkshire fishcake is on the menu. I wonder if it could be anything like a Sheffield one, a layer of fish sandwiched between two slices of potato , battered and fried?

Or, as they say, batter, tatter, fish, tatter, batter.

It is. Mantle’s, run by the Koslow family, has been selling it since last year. It seems to have caught on with the locals. Mr K, pictured below, must sell three or four a day. I ask if they went to Sheffield and got the idea there or if city customers told them about it?

After all, I have heard there are several outposts in Lincolnshire where you can find this delicacy. I’d be grateful if readers can point me to more.

Neither. Mrs K said she came up with the idea by herself. I am not entirely sure I buy that! But why call it a Yorkshire fishcake and not a Lincoln one?

“Lincolnshire doesn’t sound very special. Yorkshire does.”

So she was telling me Yorkshire sounds exotic? “Yes.”

We like Mantle’s for its quirkiness. It has proper fishknives – not made in Sheffield but you can’t have everything – because that’s tradition, she said. And note the pair of scissors at each table to snip open the sachets of sauce, tomato and tartare, rather than wrestle with them.

There is haddock, cod, plaice and ‘rock’ on offer, the latter presumably being whatever is available, usually dogfish.

It’s haddock in my fishcake which has a very crispy batter. I enjoy it as we do our cod, chips and mushy peas. The food here is pleasant although perhaps not in the super league occupied by the likes of Whitby’s Magpie or Sheffield’s own Market Chippy.

But if you find yourself in Lincs pining for a Sheffield fishcake you’ll know where to come. Mantle’s just need to rename their version.

Mantle’s is at 19 St. Lawrence Street, Horncastle

Jossals – a Rasen to be cheerful

YOU can’t miss Jossals, with its two red, blue, green and yellow Lincolnshire county flags blowing in the damp May air, just across Queen Street from the Whoops A Daisies children’s clothing shop.

Some people know the little market town of Market Rasen for horse racing; we know it for steak and ale pies, properly topped and bottomed with firm, short pastry, haddock in a crisp beer batter and dreamy, creamy mashed potato with today’s special, homemade Cornish pasty, or three Lincolnshire sausages in an onion gravy.

Jossals has been feeding the good people of Market Rasen for 30 years, most of them from the present site, the town’s former post office. It has been feeding us for six as we make our once a year trip to holiday in Lincolnshire.

Jossals is not flash or modern but resolutely retro in a Best of British kind of way. Here are proper pies, home baked ham, fish and chips, sausage and mash (with Yorkshire puddings), a very Anglo chicken curry like my father used to make at the Tower transport cafe, Biggleswade (famed the length of the A1) and a mirrorful of puddings.

Yes, you read that right. A whole nursery of old school puds is listed in white on the cafe mirrors. Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin – and if this litany doesn’t take you back to childhood, nothing will.

Chocolate, syrup or ginger sponge, rhubarb and ginger crumble, sherry trifle, apple and pear pie, lemon and meringue pie and Cake of the Day, chocolate.

Every time I visit reinforces my belief that despite Britain’s cafes and restaurants’ seemingly relentless downward spiral with menus full of pizzas and burgers you can still find, if you look hard enough, classic British cooking.

For Sheffield readers old enough to remember this place recalls Tuckwoods – the waitresses are in black pinnies – with just a touch of Butler’s Dining Rooms.

On our lunchtime visit the clientele was elderly. “Fifty shades of grey. I bet there’s no one here without a pension,” murmured my wife.

Well, they know their food. It is simply done so well. My sausages, from a local butchet, are saged up to the hilt with peppery undertones, the mash is so good it would make a meal on its own, the puddings are decent and made in the kitchen, the onion gravy is silky with flour and if the peas are frozen I reckon a spoonful of sugar had made them sweeter than most.

I go for the rice pudding, really creamy with more than a hint of of vanilla and a dollop of strawberry jam in the middle.

In 2017 the owners, a quartet comprising Sally Graham, Jo Parson and Nick (the head chef) and Maxine Guymer, put the càfe on the market. But they weren’t rushing to sell: they want a buyer who will continue the Jossals tradition. Let’s hope they do but not just yet!

Jossals is at 7 Queen Street, Market Rasen.

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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