Rafters’ team dip more than a toe in the Riverside

Alistair (L) and Tom: new boys at Ashford

ALISTAIR Myers was mixing negroni cocktails at Rafters when he got a call from a free-spending customer. It wasn’t to book a table but a new chapter in his career.

How would he like to upsticks and run another restaurant? asked care home boss John Hill of Hassop Hall.

“I said there was no way we could do it,” recalls Alistair, who runs the high class guidebook-listed Sheffield restaurant with chef Tom Lawson.

Flash foward some time later and he and Tom are being shown around the Grade II listed Riverside hotel and restaurant on the banks of the River Wye at picturesque Ashford-in-the-Water.

“By then it was no way we could NOT do it,” enthuses Alistair, aged 36.

And so on from November, Covid-permitting, the pait will reopen the building as Rafters at the Riverside, a restaurant with rooms. There are 14 bedrooms, a restaurant seating around 30-36, a smaller Range Room for 14 (featuring an old cooking range) and a private dining room for a dozen guests.

The old Riverside, owned by Penelope Thornton and once a feature of the food guides, had closed in March and was on the market for £1.6 million.

Ironically neither John Hill nor his wife Alex had visted Riverside before deciding to buy it, unlike Hassop Hall, which they have converted back from a hotel to a swanky private residence. “We celebrated our wedding anniversary there,” says Alex.

The Riverside: On the market at £1.6 million

She will be heading up the renovation and I caught her knee deep in paint charts. With a background in design, she’s already done a similar job at Hassop. The paint was Farrow and Ball, of course.

With her youngest child now at school, she was looking around for a project. “I like to keep myself busy,” she says.

The couple are regular diners at Rafters in Oakbrook Road. “We have been a few times and it is a little gem. We absolutely love the food,” adds Alex, who recommends the place to their friends.

Now she and John will have another recommendation up their sleeves, Rafters at Riverside. But expect the menu to be a little different. Rafters has long run a set tasting menu. Alistair and Tom, aged 29, think their North Derbyshire customers will prefer a three course menu.

“Tom’s putting together the new menu and there will be a bloody good Sunday lunch,” says Alistair. Fingers are being crossed about Covid-19 but bookings are already being taken.

Oernight guests can expect to pay £350-£390 for dinner, bed and breakfast.

The biggest pitfall in catering is when a successful restaurant expands: how to keep those elements which have made it a hit in the first place. So will Alistair and Tom be stretching themselves too far?

They think they’ve left a strong team in charge in Sheffield. “Ben Ward will be front of house at Rafters. He’s spent five years with us, rising from pot washer to manager. And sous chef Dan Conlon, who came from Sheffield College, has been promoted to head chef,” adds Alistair.

Riverside looks romantic at night

For the Hills this is another big venture. And just as when they bought Hassop, there were also rumours locally that Riverside was to be another care home. The gossips were wrong again.

Meanwhile, back at Hassop, the family are not shy of showing the world how they are getting on, as can be seen on the Instagram site Hassop Interiors. “Our kitchen is now finished” (the couple had been using the Butler’s Pantry, as you do)” but everything else has come to a standstill, says Alex.

However they do wish people would stop driving through the gates to have a gawp as their children play on the driveway. There’s a plea to this effect on Instagram.

Meanwhile Tom and Alistair have a big task on their hands. And Alistair may well be reflecting what might have happened if he had taken the advice of that teacher who, hearing of his interest in hospitality, advised him to get a proper job!

John and Alex Hill


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


Cooking along to Jamie Bosworth’s Facebook show

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


A customer enjoys a meal at home from Marco@Milano

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Tom Lawson ( left) and Alistair Myers in lighter mood

Still shouting to the Rafters



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.


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.

20180303_155317 A youthful Jamie and Wayne 03-03-2018 15-47-11

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.


Tom Lawson and Alistair Myers





Still not a proper job?


Alistair Myers – wants to put a glitz on service (picture from Staff Canteen)

My post on National Waiters Day struck a chord with one leading member of the restaurant trade who would love to get more recognition for those who serve in front of the kitchen door. Here’s how he made it and what he wants to do next.

WHEN Alistair Myers was hauled before his head of year at Tapton School and asked why he wasn’t staying on for Sixth Form and university he told her he wanted to work in hotels and restaurants. “That’s not a proper job,” she countered but he dug his heels in and left at 16.

Today the co-owner (with chef Tom Lawson) and Maitre D of award-winning Rafters restaurant, on Oakbrook Road, Sheffield, has twice seen that teacher as a dinner guest but she has failed to recognise him. Surely, I say, the temptation must be to gently remind her how wrong she was. He shakes his head. His job is all about “creating memories for people and having a red carpet experience.” That might put the damper on the evening.

The trouble is, Tapton and other schools are still saying the same thing 17 years on. With National Waiters Day approaching (May 16) he’d love to enthuse other young Alistairs with a passion for the hospitality industry and talk to their fifth formers. Instead, he is either ignored or told ‘We’d love you and Tom to talk to our Sixth Form.” But that’s too late. He’s got to grab ‘em younger.

If you wonder why British hotels, restaurants and cafes are staffed with young Europeans it’s because in this country the hospitality industry, unless you’re a star chef, is still not seen as a proper job, as it is on the Continent. People mistake service for servility.

The industry is too often seen as somewhere to go if you’re not good enough for anything else or something you just fall into. Few are as driven as Alistair – luckily he had supportive parents who backed him to the hilt – who quickly glided upwards in his career. Mind you, that teacher wasn’t the only one who knocked him back. When he inquired about the catering course at Castle College he was told the waiting side of the course only involved one day a week. “We’ll make you a chef,” they told him. “I didn’t want to be a chef,” he says.

But where had this unlikely passion for the hospitality business come from? At Tapton he had to do his work experience and was given a list. He noticed Trust House Forte’s then crumbling Hallam Tower Hotel was on it, not far from home. He was lazy. “I thought I could ride down on my BMX and be back home in time for tea.”

He found he loved it, particularly when one evening the restaurant was a waiter short and Alistair volunteered, even though it was against the terms of work experience. It was cash in hand and the industry had got him for life. He got a buzz out of making people happy. “If we have an unhappy customer here that can ruin my night.”

If Castle couldn’t or wouldn’t help – he stresses things are so much different now at the renamed Sheffield College – he found his own career path through a multi-skilled apprenticeship at the former Beauchief Hotel, then the Rutland and Aston Hall Hotels before striking gold at Rowley’s. There Michelin-starred Max Fischer of Baslow Hall, its big brother restaurant, recognised Alistair’s talent and he was made restaurant manager at 23. And it was there he met chef Tom, with whom he struck up a friendship and what was to prove a working partnership.

Between them they ran the Devonshire Arms at Middle Handley before taking over Rafters, one of the area’s top restaurants, from Marcus Lane in 2013. “I knew I was going to buy my own place, I just thought it would be a pub,” he grins.

It’s from here that he is anxious to find the next generation of service staff. It could be a battle. “People will say my compliments to the chef but seldom to the waiters. And when they come they all want to be sommeliers – the new rock stars of the restaurant business – but don’t know from which side to lay a plate or how to crumb a table.” They are at the right place if they want to know about wine: last year Alistair became the city’s first certified sommelier.

Alistair, who is 31, leaves nothing to chance. The system is still in its infancy but customers likes and dislikes are recorded and new bookings are researched. That’s how they spotted the Michelin inspector. The last time we went to Rafters Alistair recalled my wife’s love of hake. So had he logged that? “I don’t know how but I just know some things. I only wish I could remember some of the things my wife Toni tells me!” They have a son, Oscar.

The staff are encouraged to get involved in the running of the restaurant. Rafters has a ‘creative hub’ where they can brainstorm ideas. Half an hour before service the waiters and waitresses are briefed on who is coming and how to treat them. On a recent Friday he noticed he’d got a ‘Valentines Night’ ahead, almost all tables of two. Tom looked baffled as Alistair asked staff to just be a little louder to create more of a buzz that evening then retreated to his kitchen and let him get on with it.

Did it work? “The tips jar was full,” he says.


Has the fish knife had its chips?

OTT perhaps but does fish cutlery still have a place on the table?

I thought I was being posh when I proudly acquired a set of six Sheffield-made fish knives and forks in an antiques centre but now I know I am just common. Or should that be vulgar? Or affected? Like most things, it all depends of timing.

When they first appeared in the late 1700s they would have been made of silver, to stop the fish and vinegar reacting with the metal. By the mid-Nineteenth Century they were in every middle class home – and that was their downfall. Come the 1920s and with the invention of stainless steel almost everyone could afford a set. It was soon noticed.

The poet John Betjeman sneered at the nouveau riche in his poem, How To Get On in Society, which begins: “Phone for the fish knives Norman,”* in which he pokes fun at them and the lower middle classes for aping their betters.

At one time if you were ordering fish in a restaurant you would be given fish cutlery as a matter of course. “Are you having the fish, sir?” the waiter would purr, removing your ordinary cutlery and replacing it with a fish knife and fork. But it doesn’t seem to happen so much now – or perhaps I am not going to enough posh restaurants.

I had these thoughts on a visit to the top-rated Rafters restaurant on Oakbrook Road, Sheffield, and noticed the locally made Carrs Silver fish knives and forks set out for my wife’s loin of cod with a crab beignet and tarragon-spiked gnocchi. I’m sure it tasted better for the right eating implements!

Rafters co-owner Alistair Myers reckons his is one of the few restaurants still with fish knives. “We do it because it is the correct and proper way. It’s important from the service point of view. Some of the younger staff ask ‘what is this?’ but we believe in keeping the art of service alive. After all, you wouldn’t eat soup with a dessert spoon, would you?”

No one is quite sure why the fish knife with the curly-wurly blade is as it is. There is no sharp edge but then you don’t need one to cut through fish which is why they can be made in solid silver). The point could remove small bones and the wide flat blade is an aid in filleting fish off the bone but if you have ever watched an old-fashioned waiter doing the same job he will use two forks.

I love the fish knife (the fork is little different if slightly more ornamental than its cutlery cousin) because it is a leftover from its Victorian heyday. Manufacturers listed increasingly obscure items in their catalogues to drum up business, aimed at those who wanted ’cutlery bling,’ as it we might call it today. A Victorian place setting could be a bewilderingly complicated-looking arrangement, guaranteed to catch out those lower down the social strata.


Carrs’ fish cutlery at Rafters

One cutlery manufacturer listed around 150 different items of flatware, as it is called in the trade, but that is nothing compared to Carrs, based on the Holbrook Industrial Estate near Crystal Peaks, with187 pieces, according to managing director Richard Carr, who supplies to the trade and retail. Not that he expects a customer to buy them all. “We have a bespoke place setting of 38 different eating pieces and let chefs decide their own setting based upon what food they serve,” he says.

He has seen a decline in fish knives and forks, certainly on the retail side. “It’s becoming less fashionable with the more casual dining style. If I go to eat at friends’ houses and have fish, invariably they will use normal cutlery.” (According to a survey for Debenhams in 2009 28 per cent of people didn’t have fish knives and could not see the point.)

Richard’s not yet been tempted to carry a spare set in his back pocket but he does use them at home. I confess I get them out for fish and chips from the chippie!

He still supplies fish cutlery to restaurants but this tends to be for places at the top end of the market, such as Rafters. And wealthy Arabs, who buy the whole range.

Sales of fish knives may have declined but Richard is sanguine, like an angler who knows he will one day catch his trout. “If we look five years into the future things (may) come full circle.” Take, for example, pastry forks. Sales have taken off with the boom in afternoon teas and tearooms.

I ask which items of his cutlery are the most obscure and he offers the asparagus tongs (popular in the Middle East) and the snail fork. Of course, if you really want to be super blingy, there’s the silver chip fork. And Americans like the spork, a cross between spoon and fork.

There can be no doubt what Betjeman would have said about that!


*Betjeman uses words then thought common: phone, for telephone; Norman, as a name; fish knives, as a product.


Richard Carr, go-to man for a silver chip fork



My When Harry Met Sally moment

Rafters' belly pork gave me a When Harry Met Sally moment

Rafters’ belly pork with oriental flavours

I’m thinking 50 Shades of Grey as I sit down in the new-look Rafters restaurant in Nether Green, Sheffield. It’s had a makeover and there are greys on the walls, chairs and tablecloths.

The owners have cracked the whip when it comes to décor and given the place a new look from top to bottom. Sheffield-made Carrs Silver Sterling cutlery with Rafters engraved on the blades gleams under the brand new lights.

A splash of colour wouldn’t go amiss I say then I realise it’s on my plate. My starter of belly pork arrives, a colourful assembly of glazed brown meat, green purple sprouting broccoli and an orange blob of sweet potato. But the real colour is in the kaleidoscope of flavours on my tongue.

Forget 50 Shades, I’m having a When Harry Met Sally Moment although I’m not making any noise except Mmmmm. The Moss Valley pork has been cooked very, very slowly (72 hours) so the soy-infused meat is so soft under its sensuous fat you could cut it with a glance.

Flavours are given an extra oriental twist from the crushed cashews pressed on top. It’s very close to what foodies used to call an orgasm on a plate.

I was going to have the smoked trout when I overheard a woman at the next table order it with passion in her voice. I’m having what she’s having! Madam, you were right.

We’re here for an anniversary Sunday lunch at a place where, if restaurants were in the habit of giving long service awards to diners then we’d get one as we’ve eaten here through all the changes of ownership over more than 20 years.

It started by a couple who re-upholstered all the chairs themselves to save cash and had a chef who hated cooking with onions, was taken over by brothers Wayne and Jamie Bosworth, then Marcus Lane joined Jamie until Marcus ran it himself before selling up to a duo from the Devonshire Arms, Middle Handley, front of house man Alistair Myers and wunderkind chef Tom Lawson. He’s 23.

We arrive at the restaurant with its newly painted exterior to be asked “Is it any good?” by a chap studying the menu outside while his wife chose new windows at the shop next door. “If you have any money left over, go,” I joked.

Rafters has long had two USPs: good quality food and consistency. You may well pay the price (£42 before coffee in the evening, £34 for three courses on Sundays) and portions can seem small but you do get the full whack when it comes to taste and flavour, plus all those little extra bits: a trio of amuse bouches came one after the other and there is a pre-dessert.P1020222 Rafters  sirloin

Breads are engaging: a sticky black treacle granary, black pudding bread in the shape of a banger and a classy sourdough white with an eggshell crisp crust. Full marks to pastry chef Jodie Wilson. And while we’re giving accolades my wife says the sticky toffee pudding is the best she’s had.

Traditionally I’m a roast meat man on Sunday and the sirloin here is soft, tender and if it could moo, it would. All the trimmings matched up – sweet glazed carrots, a sophisticated cauliflower cheese, sprightly spring greens and turned roast potatoes, all crisp exteriors and creamy insides. And here’s my only complaint: three spuds is not enough.

My wife had a fishy lunch. Her starter was buttery-tasting scallops on the sweetest of roast fennel. Loin of cod sparkled brighter and had more flavour punch than you’ll get in a chippie. It came poshed up with a crab beignet (fritter), crabby sauce and tarragon-spiked gnocchi.

They do some decent wines by the glass: my Old Vines Garnacha from Spain (£6 for 175mls) was a pleasing, juicy, soft red wine.

If I’m sounding enthusiastic it’s because I was. This is highly expert, ultra confident, sparkling cooking backed up by smooth, professional service. When the bill came (this was not a freebie) it was almost a joy to pay. It was certainly a joy to eat.

Rafters is at 220 Oakbrook Road, Sheffield S11 7ED. Tel: 0114 230 4819. Web: http://www.raftersrestaurant.co.uk

Rafters' new exterior - in grey!

Rafters’ new exterior – in grey!