It tastes great on the radio

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Sheffield fishcake – as seen on BBC radio!

WOULD I, asked the BBC chappie down the phone, like to come on air to talk about the Sheffield fishcake? It is a local speciality I have long championed although I have never made one myself. Eaten them, yes.

 There was just one catch. Could I be in the studio by 7.10am? They’d have a fishcake ready. It was one they’d had made earlier.

 Bleary-eyed I was ushered into the studio to greet bequiffed and fresh-as-a-daisy presenter Owain Wyn Evans, usually Look North’s weatherman but standing in for Radio Sheffield’s regular on the morning show, Toby Foster.

 He had the fishcake in his hand. “It’s big,” he said. “No, that’s the breadcake (bun, roll, bap, buttie or stottie to people not from Sheffield), the fishcake is inside,” I said gently.

 Owain is Welsh. You can tell that from his name. I am a quarter Welsh on my mother’s side but we didn’t get time for any yaki da’s. He nibbled it, cold, and liked it. I couldn’t do that on the radio.

 I’d also brought along some oatcakes, my homemade Sheffield Relish and a snappy soundbite. Owain chewed on an oatcake. He liked that, too. Then he sprinkled a little Relish on his palm, licked it and said “That’s lovely!” Really? ”Yes.” I very nearly gave him the bottle but didn’t. But he’d had a free breakfast and he could keep the oatcakes.

 “That was great,” said a BBC chappie as I was ushered out of the studio. They always say you were wonderful but I never got to use my soundbite.

 The next day I got a call from Ailsa, producer of Georgey Spanswick’s evening radio show, broadcast across all the BBC’s local  stations.  She’d heard the bit about fishcakes and of course it sounded wonderful. So could I talk to Georgey over the phone? I realise I am suddenly the go-to man for Sheffield fishcakes. I suppose there are worse things to be known for.

 It goes well. I rabbit on about fishcakes, then Derbyshire oatcakes, tomato dip and polony sausage, slip in a joke or two and a few free plugs and namechecks. Georgey lets me talk and it must be slowly dawning on the nation, or at least that part of it which listens to local radio, that there is more to Sheffield than steel and an insane council cutting down the city’s trees.

That’s right, an insane bloke going “batter, tatter, fish, tatter, batter.”

 “That was great,” said a BBC chappie ringing off. And I forgot the soundbite.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Poppabombs and the curry philanthropist

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Long gone but not forgotten – the Kashmir

The first in an occasional series on former Sheffield restaurants and personalities.

THERE was lino on the floor, the three dining rooms were filled with mismatching Formica-topped tables and, so popular legend had it, a notice on the wall had declared ‘Today’s special: chicken curry’ for the last 20 years.

Apart from the twinkling fairy lights in the window looking onto Spital Hill, Sheffield, this could be the Asian equivalent of Butlers Dining Rooms, the ethnic Sheffield workman’s café par excellence across the city on Brook Hill.

The Kashmir Curry Centre, one of Sheffield’s oldest curry houses – restaurant is too strong a term for what was essentially a caff with great food – closed in November 2010 after 36 years. Such was its reputation that some people thought they’d been there when all they’d done was read about it, as one writer ruefully admitted.

Behind a counter sat the owner Bsharath Hussain, who’d worked there from the start, as a boy of 14, in the business started by his Mirpuri-born father. Bsharath was affectionately known as Paul by his customers and by me when reviewing until the time he told me apologetically that the elders in his mosque had asked him to use his proper name.

The clientele was mostly white, very often wimmin from Walkley, at least on our visits. “If you can get past the Guardian reading clientele and the woefully outdated decor, there’s an excellent curry waiting for you,” said one contributor to a local website. The Harden’s Guide echoed that: “Great cooking if you don’t mind the bare tables.”

I remember the breads, wonderfully light. “The plain naan is unlike any other – in colour and texture somewhere between leavened bread and Yorkshire Pudding,” said one currylovers’ blog. Others praised the Kashmiri lamb, the “near sublime samosas,” the vegetable thalis and the fact that the food was not overladen with ghee.

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It was also inexpensive. Well, you weren’t paying for the surroundings or the waiters. With two cooks in the kitchen Bsharath, who avoured traditional dress, did most of the front of house himself. A carafe of water went on the table when you arrived and if you wanted something stronger you could bring it yourself from Morrissey’s East House pub across the way. Incidentally, the upper room of this pub once housed the city’s first Japanese-style restaurant.

Bsharath, who whiled away the quieter restaurant moments reading a copy of Vikram Seth‘s almost 600,000 word novel A Suitable Boy which a customer had recommended, had a good sense of humour. He styled himself the Curry Philanthropist because prices were so low. In 2008 starters seldom topped £2 and mains a fiver. But that didn’t help profits.

Around 2006 the place got a makeover. There were pictures on the walls and each Formica table was covered with identical plastic gingham tablecloths. “After 30 years I realised that if you buy some plastic it all looks the same,” he said dryly.

The menu was also jazzed up. South Indian dishes such as idli and dhoka made an appearance as did his famous ‘poppabombs,’ golgappa or pani puri, crisp little spheres of semolina flour stuffed with chutney and tamarind. It was quite possibly the first appearance of this Indian street food in the Sheffield.

Sadly, it wasn’t enough and he and his wife made the decision to close in 2010. It all happened rather suddenly. Bshareth, then 49, could no longer afford to, in effect, subsidise his customers’ dining.

The Kashmir was the nearest thing Sheffield had to the stripped-down curry houses that Bradford is famous for. Almost ten years later it is still missed.

A gherkin in my gusset

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Tall story: The Cricket Inn’s posh burger

BURGERS, bloody burgers, was my attitude when restaurant reviewing for a living so I seldom ordered them. There were three good reasons: They were boring, ubiquitous and it was extremely unlikely the chef had ‘lovingly hand crafted’ them as I once saw written on a menu.

Instead he got them ready-made from the butcher and it would have been a miracle if he gave the man a recipe and another miracle if the butcher kept to it. The buns, of course, would have come from the baker, the tomato sauce from Heinz and the pickles from the cash & carry so what on earth was there to review? The pictures on the walls and the overhead model railway, that’s what.

Now those days are over and I can relax a bit. We are lunching at Richard Smith’s Cricket Inn at Totley and while the set menu looks tempting my wife wants fish and chips. I once wrote that for a top chef Smithy probably sells more of this dish than anything and anyone else. But my eye was caught by the burger, what must be the second most popular pub order.

I didn’t feel too guilty as it looked as if someone had sat down and thought about this dish and the Cricket wasn’t going to bowl me a googly. The pattie comprised three cuts of beef, short rib, brisket and chuck, all of which carry a lot of flavour. “Home minced,” it said on the menu just to let you know they had made it themselves. It was sandwiched between a bought-in bun, but a superior one, a brioche from the Welbeck Bakery.

It had all the trimmings, melted Swiss cheese, a gherkin, Thornbridge Beer BBQ sauce, tomato salsa and what was described as purple sauerkraut but tasted no more than sliced purple cabbage. The brioche was good. The dish, with skin-on skinny fries, was £12.

I liked it. I particularly enjoyed the pattie, about 6oz, which tasted really beefy and was coarsely minced so there was plenty to get your teeth into and a lovely burst of mouthfeel. It was well seasoned and I fancied there was a hint of cumin, although that could have been from the curried lentils which unaccountably came with my wife’s fish and chips.

For another £2 I had an extra trimming: pickled onion rings. Not pickled onions cut into rings and battered but lightly pickled rings of onion battered. Nice but they needed to be a tad stronger pickled for me.

While my wife had her food on a plate I got mine on one of those trendy slates, set in a board. It could have been worse: a shovel or a flat cap. Burgers are not the easiest thing to eat. They disintegrate like a bomb full of shrapnel and a board is not big enough to catch the fall-out. This burger towered up higher than it was wide. And the inevitable happened. I got bits in my lap.

The front of house sympathised but said the kitchen claimed it was all about presentation. I’ll remember that next time I retrieve a shard of flying gherkin from the gusset region.

Cricket Inn, Penny Lane, Totley, Sheffield S17 3AZ. Tel: 0114 236 5256. Web: www.cricketinn.co.uk

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The Cricket Inn on Penny Lane, Totley

Why they all like ‘Uncle’ Chris

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Chris Wong serves up a jian bing

THE Chinese students called him uncle, Da Shu, when they queued up for their egg tarts and jian bing – traditional Chinese filled pancakes – so Chris Wong reckoned that was a good enough name for his new café and bakery on Furnival Gate, Sheffield.

If you’ve missed your fix of pastéis de nata, those Portuguese egg tarts so loved by the Chinese on your visits to The Moor Market, you can find them at the new place. Chris closed his market stall a month ago to concentrate on the business.

DaShu has a bright, airy shop, 30-seater café upstairs and a bakery in the basement, making those those tarts and other pastries. “Not bad for a business which started out selling street food,” says Chris happily as he serves.

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Portuguese egg tart and coffee

 

His trade so far is mostly from Chinese students. He points out how near he is to blocks of student flats and Sheffield Hallam University. They’re the ones who love the jian bing, Chinese for fried pancake, a traditional breakfast back home. Here Chris doesn’t open until 11am so they eat it for lunch and tea.

It’s a large crepe made with mung bean flour. “Chinese people recognise the smell,” he says as he breaks and spreads an egg over it. Then he flips the crepe to form a lacy omelette exterior. Traditionally the crepe is filled with a hot dog, crispy wanton, onion, herbs and lettuce. Chris liberally squirts his special sweet chiili sauce over then folds and wraps the crepe. The interest is as much between the contrasts in textures as the taste. A traditional crepe costs £3.50.

“English people like it with chicken so I do a jiang bing UK (£4.50) for them,” says Chris. There is a wide variety of other crepes on offer.

He’s an engineer by training but credits the inspiration to his wife, a baker, whom he won’t name because he says she is a very private person. It was she who suggested he make the Portuguese egg tart. Chinese people first came across it in the former colony of Macau, from where it spread to Hong Kong and the Chinese mainland.

It is the reverse of an English egg custard. The pastry is flaky rather than short crust. Where an English custard is wobbly, rather like a crème caramel, the Portuguese version is stiffer, somewhat similar to a curd tart, flecked with characteristic caramelisation marks.

It’s his own special recipe which he and his wife spent three weeks getting right. Don’t expect it to be a dead ringer of the version eaten in Lisbon. “Chinese people don’t like things too sweet so there’s less sugar and the pastry is flakier,” he explains.

Chris is using the shop to sell other lines new to Sheffield but not to the students, such as Korean grilled noodles. I haven’t tried that yet – I was too full of egg tart and jian bing!

*DaShu, 30 Furnival Gate, Sheffield S1 4QP. Tel 07919 340 341.

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Taking wine with Signor Caruso

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Nino, Craig and me at Veeno’s wine tasting

THE next time someone plonks down a plate of gorgonzola in front of me I shall know what wine to drink it with. I shall casually reach for a bottle of juicy red Nero d’Avola and smirk knowingly.

Likewise, should I be confronted by some buffalo mozzarella, I can click my fingers, summon the waiter and say:” Marco, I think we need the sprightly Grillo grape with this.”

Now this never happens in Real Life, only in dreams about cheese and at bloggers’ wine tastings. In Real Life you’re in your favourite enoteca with a board of Italian meats and cheeses on the table and decide you’ll have one red and one white, the second cheapest on the list, because you’ve got to eke out those holiday euros.

As this is not a dream we’re at the estimable Veeno in Ecclesall Road, one of a chain of Italian enotecas co-founded by the splendid Nino Caruso, a name that sounds as if it has been made up by public relations but hasn’t.

I have used those complimentary adjectives not just because Signor Caruso is footing the bill. I genuinely like the place, having been here three times before and spent my own money on each occasion, once investing in a third share of a £26 bottle of superb Greco di Tufo. And I have a loyalty card.

Now I hope you don’t think I am not taking the event seriously. I am. All around me people are Tweeting and Instagramming and photographing while sloshing and slurping their vino so it hits all the taste receptors. I am wondering if I can go for another slice of speck.

I like wine but very often I don’t detect what others do in the glass. Here’s a Veeno chappie telling us that the Sicani Grillo hints at apples on the palate. The vinophile next to me says Granny Smith’s but I get pear, although I couldn’t swear if it was Comice or Williams.

However, it was my favourite wine of the night because I like its dryness and acidity. I could also comment on the delicate notes of oak and acacia only I’d be reading from the crib sheet.

What I like about Veeno, which you can read in my earlier review here, is that it has plenty of atmosphere and a slate of good wines from Nino Caruso’s family vineyard. The wines are interesting, although the house white is a bit too thin for my liking, and the food is tip top quality.

There Is a little booklet they give you so you can road test any or all of a selection of six bottles or glasses so I won’t add much more. That Nero d’Avola, by the way, is, according to my own notes, rich, velvety, tannic and smoky: in other words, very full on. I also loved the gorgonzola with it.

If you’re the sort who dodges that end-of-meal limoncello offered at your local trat, the one served here has none of the oily, oleaginous, cloying qualities you expect but is light and elegant.

For a much better review of the wines check out the post on fellow blogger Craig Harris’s blog. He’s the one who shouted Granny Smith’s and can gurgle in Italian.

They gave us a bottle of that house white to take home.

http://www.theveenocompany.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hospital food which doesn’t give you the glums

IMG_0790 lasagne at the Claremont 06-03-2018 14-26-01I’VE just been to hospital for my lunch. And very good it was, too. In fact, if you’re passing, I thoroughly recommend the Claremont on Sandygate Road, Sheffield. You don’t have to be a patient!

The last time I ‘reviewed’ hospital food I was in a bed at the Royal Hallamshire posting glum messages on Twitter and Facebbok about breakfasts limited to cereal or soggy toast, and mince and potato pie with two more kinds of potato. When I discharged myself early my notes read: “Reason for discharge – does not like the food.”

A family member has been receiving NHS treatment at the private Claremont and I took myself off to its restaurant, like the rest of the place, bright and clean. That day I had fish and chips and thought it was lovely – excellent fish with a crispy batter.

The next time it was lasagne and I was halfway through eating it when the realisation hit me (one can get distracted in hospital) that this was really, really good, baked with a light touch. Sadly, it was half-eaten by the time this happened so a picture was out of the question.

Now I’ve just been again and as luck would have it lasagne was on the specials menu at £5.95. It wasn’t as elegantly presented as the first time round but it tasted just as it had before. The pasta was so melting I would have sworn it was home made but, as a chef explained, it wasn’t. But the meat filling is and it’s as fine as anything I could eat on the shores of Lake Como. I liked the way it was not overwhelmed by tomato but the cheesy béchamel took precedence.

According to the chefs – the kitchen staff often serve at the table – it was tray baked and when reheated to order a little tomato juice is sprinkled on the bottom to stop it burning. I like the cheffy tip! But I did enjoy the way it was beginning to crisp – just – at the edges.

Apparently they get lots of compliments about the food and I can see why. Enjoying your meal is one way to get better, as the Claremont recognises. Polish head chef Bart Komuniecki was at Sheffield’s Kenwood Hotel when he cooked feijoada, Brazil’s national dish, for that country’s Olympic 2012 judo squad, staying in the city.

And he headed the team at Nottingham’s four star Belfry Hotel before coming here.

We have another appointment at the Claremont in a couple of weeks. I can’t wait to see what’s on the menu! I just hope they improve the machine tea – strong and stewed!

Bart Komuniecki

Claremont Hospital head chef Bart Komuniecki

 

Still shouting to the Rafters

 

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My review soon after Rafters opened in 1989

THE chef didn’t cook with onions and garlic, the waiter started a discussion about Adolf Hitler within minutes of us sitting down and we had no idea this odd little restaurant would become such a shining star in Sheffield’s culinary story.

 But by the end of the evening we knew we’d had a damn good meal at Rafters even though we had the whole place to ourselves.

 The other day Alistair Myers, the current owner (along with head chef Tom Lawson) posted on Facebook that the Good Food Guide-listed place was celebrating its 25th anniversary. Great news in an industry where even the best places can be short-lived but it is not the whole story. It may be 25 years since the Bosworth brothers, Wayne and Jamie, put the restaurant on the map but the roots go back even further, to 1989.

 The establishment of the restaurant, the naming and its ambition was the work of three enthusiastic amateurs in the hospitality business although they were not new to another branch of catering.

 They were June Hall , a former bakery worker and mother of six, George Taylor, her partner, financier and, on our night, the rookie waiter, and baker Steve Sanderson, with June, the chef at Rafters.

 Between them they had a burning ambition to run a posh restaurant. So do a lot of other people but it was the way they went about it that impressed. The two chefs honed up their cooking skills at evening classes at Earl Marshall, where June even found the time to learn upholstery to recover antique dining chairs they’d bought on Abbeydale Road.

The upstairs restaurant had previously been the Carriageway café and before that it was known as the Lord Mayor’s Parlour.

 She was determined to get the look of the place right. There was white linen, cut glass, Wedgwood plates and Sheffield cutlery underneath the black rafters which spidered across the ceiling and which gave the place its name.

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Wayne Bosworth in the Rafters van in the Nineties

 We paid £51.50 for our meal, big money back then, which is why, perhaps, we were the only customers that night. They had opened in February and we went in April. But the food was good.

 We began with prawn gratinee (£3.25) and smoked salmon and egg roll (£4), followed by soup and sorbet, the country house fashion at the time. There were 14 main courses, half of them steaks, but we had duck with Cumberland sauce (£12) and veal with a watercress and almond sauce (£12.75). Steve was responsible for the mains. “I cook without onions and garlic and I keep asking myself if I’m doing wrong,” he said afterwards.

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A youthful Jamie and Wayne Bosworth

 It’s fascinating looking back on menus from 30 years ago. There was crab and avocado among the starters and a main called chicken mango, rubbed with sesame seeds and cooked with a mango and cream sauce.

 “I’ll shout it to the rafters . . . that we know something Sheffield doesn’t. They serve a memorable meal” I wrote after we finished off with petit pot of chocolate and a frozen Grand Marnier orange, a sweet from the era of Abigail’s Party, if ever there was.

 Despite my praise it did not thrive. By the time the Bosworths took over Rafters was closed more times than it was open. “They were just opening Saturdays and using the restaurant as a base for outside catering,” recalls Jamie.

He and Wayne, who had come from working at the Chantry, Dronfield, were innocents abroad in those days and set about running it without the restaurant licence they required. To cover themselves either June or Steve sat in the kitchen with them until the licence came through. It was then they saw the quick cheffy techniques which had taken them ages!

Meanwhile the brothers were agonising whether to change the name but they couldn’t come up with anything both agreed on. “It’s not easy. Eventually we settled on Bosworth Brothers @ Rafters for a while,” says Jamie, who is glad they didn’t change it.

The Bosworths put Rafters into the guides and made it one of the city’s leading restaurants. After Wayne’s death in 2000 Marcus Layne joined the partnership, eventually buying the business and running it until, beset by ill-health, he sold it on in 2013 to Alistair and Tom. At 14 years, his has been the longest tenure at Oakbrook Road.

.So while Rafters is right to celebrate those 25 years we shouldn’t forget those brave pioneers who laid the groundwork.

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Tom Lawson and Alistair Myers