That Was The Year That Was!

AS I write the blog, now in its fifth year, has had almost 80,000 views in 2019, well more than double the previous year. The total (check the front page for the latest figure) is over 183,000 since Another Helping first appeared in 2015.

It’s gratifying that so many people like this mix of restaurant reviews, recipes, food history and current news, particularly when the abject failure of the local newspapers to cover the scene properly leaves so many people wanting more.

Is it poor reporting, laziness or being too timid to pick up the phone that leaves them simply rewriting what appears on hotel and restaurant websites?

So when Hassop Hall Hotel suddenly closed, to be bought as a private house, only this blog told the full story of who had bought it. You can join the 11,000 readers who read it here

It was the same story with the closure of another hotel, The Maynard closed at Grindleford. Local papers hardly touched it but you can read about it here and here, at Peter and Rob save the day for Maynard

There were plenty of other scoops, such as the latest exploits of chef Cary Brown, revamping the Hathersage Social Club with businessman Ian Earnshaw.

There was much else. Other top reads (as in previous years) were Derbyshire oatcakes and Sheffield  Fishcake

The biggest volume of traffic, though, had nothing to do with food but everything to do with abject reporting. The big story of the year was how a local pensioner, Tony Foulds, had spent a lifetime tending a memorial to crashed WW2 American airmen in Endcliffe Park.

But did he? And why did nobody see him? And why did his eye witness account contradict the official record of the time? But all it takes is a credulous BBC presenter and local papers such as the Sheffield Star and Yorkshire Post to keep silent on what they knew to be a fantasy to become fake news.

If the BBC and other couldn’t tell the truth this blog had to here and  here

Thanks to this blog, some 22,000 readers know the real story.

So what will 2020 bring? Who knows? But Another Helping will bring it to you first.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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.”

*Due to open Friday, 18 October.

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

 

Charlie’s secret weapon: Ready Brek!

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

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

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

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

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

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Charlie’s Curran’s assiette made us smile

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

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

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

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Charlie’s duck

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Parade des Chefs: Stephen, Amy, Charlie and Jamie

*Earlier versions misspelt Stephen’s surname. Apologies.

How bread and butter pud went classy

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How it was. Wayne Bosworth (l) and Cary Brown: Puddings and pals

BREAD and butter pudding might just be a humble British dessert in many parts of the country but in Sheffield it takes on a bit of class. At one time you couldn’t go into any half-decent city restaurant and not find it on the menu.

It is still a firm favourite although perhaps not seen quite as much. Fashions change. But as far as this neck of the woods is concerned there’s a good story behind how a simple pudding was elevated into a fine dining dish.

This post has come together through a series of coincidences. Firstly, I reported late last year on the death of Chris King, founder of the former Charnwood Hotel, which was the high-end home of bread and butter pud. Around the same time chef Jamie Bosworth posted on social media that it was the 25th anniversary of the famous Bosworth Brothers baked apple bread and butter pudding recipe, originally created by his late brother Wayne.

Then I came across an old copy of Profile magazine, for which I used to write, from November, 1999. The main food feature was a bread and butter ‘cook-off’ between Cary Brown and Wayne, both in their time head chefs at the Charnwood. With two such highly talented chefs I knew better than to rate one dish above the other!

When Cary was head chef at the Charnwood in the late 1980s the menu was full of dishes with a French flavour but owner Chris wanted to offer guests something simple and comforting – and British – to end the meal. Cary came up with bread and butter pudding. Talking to him the other day, he recollects being influenced by his time at the Savoy Hotel and by Gary Rhodes in his Greenhouse days.

He turned in a super-eggy, creamy, luxurious dish which became quite a hit at the Charnwood. Cary moved on but when Wayne followed him into the hot seat a year or two later he was big enough and talented enough to dislike copying another chef’s recipe. So his was much that Cary’s was not.

“For a start I don’t like dried fruit like sultanas and raisins so they weren’t going in,” Wayne told me back then. “So I thought let’s use apricot jam and insert apple slices between the bread.” It turned out Cary didn’t like dried fruit either but used it because his customers wanted it.

The photoshoot was at Wayne’s then restaurant, Rafters, on Oakbrook Road, while Cary came up from Carriages (now Peppercorn) on Abbeydale Road South.

Both chefs, who had started out being slightly wary of each other, were by then great friends and were complimentary about each other’s version. “Cary’s is slightly sweeter and richer than mine,” said Wayne. His friend countered: “Wayne’ is more up to date. Mine is more classical.”

Both chefs took the recipe with them wherever they went and while Wayne dropped his for a time customer pressure got it back on the menu. Other restaurants copied one or the other or came up with their own versions. Cary’s dish is often served with a butterscotch sauce, the Bosworth version with sticky toffee sauce.

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Cary’s tray version for a Sunday lunch at Barlow Woodseats Hall

Since Wayne’s death it has been left to Jamie to carry the flame. And he’s updated it. “For about the last ten years I have been using brioche – it saves buttering bread – and is now richer from using a brulee-style egg yolk and cream using yolks instead of whole eggs,” he says.

And he adds Wayne nicked the idea of using jam and apples from his mother Gwen because the whole family disliked dried fruit. Judging from the then and now pictures he still garnishes it with three raspberries.

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Jamie Bosworth’s pudding today

He dates the Bosworth version from the time he and Wayne took over Rafters in 1992, although they had obviously been cooking it much earlier at the Charnwood and the Chantry hotel, Dronfield. Like Cary, he still gets asked for it when running pop-up restaurants and catering for private parties. “If it’s not on the menu nine times out of ten they’ll ask for it.”

For old times sake, here are the original recipes from 1999.

Cary’s version:

1 medium sliced loaf, crusts removed
6 eggs
1 pt double cream
6oz caster sugar
6oz butter
5oz mixed fruit
4oz brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla essence

Butter oven dish, butter bread, put one layer of bread on bottom and sprinkle with half the fruit and some of the sugar. Repeat. The top layer has no fruit or sugar. Cream eggs with remaining caster sugar and essence, pour over the bread and spinkle on brown sugar. Cover with tinfoil and bake in bain marie for 30 mins at 180C, removing the foil for a further 15 mins.

Wayne’s version

6 whole eggs
1 sliced loaf, crusts removed
3.5oz caster sugar
1 pt milk
½ pt double cream
1 vanilla pod, split
2 large Bramley apples, peeled and sliced
apricot jam
8oz butter

Spread slices with butter and jam and layer, jam side upwards, with bread, apple then bread. Repeat twice, ending with bread jam side down. Beat eggs, sugar and vanilla seeds together. Bring milk and cream to boil, pour over egg mix and whisk. Strain through a sieve over bread. Bake at 150C for 45-60 mins.

It’s a tempting recipe to play around with. I’ve used elements from both versions but prefer to make mine with leftover croissants or surplus panettone.


Still in the pudding club: Jamie (l) and Cary

The King who came to dinner

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The Charnwood Hotel

 CHRIS King, the man who restored an historic building into Sheffield’s first boutique hotel and was a driving force behind the city’s culinary renaissance, has died. He had Parkinson’s Disease. He was 81.

FUNERAL DETAILS AT END OF STORY

WHENEVER Chris King passed the crumbling Georgian mansion at the corner of Sharrow Lane and London Road he knew the best way to bring it back to life was as a hotel. The Grade II listed building had been built around 1780 by Master Cutler and scissorsmith John Henfrey on a site then on the outskirts of the city.

Chris didn’t start out as a hotelier, he was a structural engineer. So he knew if a building could be saved. However, as with so much of what happens in Sheffield, he had to battle with a city council which lacked imagination. It took over two years for him and his wife Val to get planning permission for the Charnwood, Sheffield’s first boutique hotel. It lasted for almost 20 years as a popular wedding venue and the focus of much of the city’s good cooking.

The 22-bed Charnwood opened in 1985. Its guests included stars from the World Snooker Championship and comedians Victoria Wood and Mike Harding. It also became the home of two top restaurants, Brasserie Leo and the smaller more upmarket Henfrey’s. Chris was not a man to cut corners. He employed celebrity chef and local lad Kevin Woodford as catering consultant. The Woodford Suite was named after him.

“Chris told me he wanted to do things right,” says Cary Brown, whom he appointed the hotel’s (and the country’s) youngest head chef at 21. He had dropped by to do a two day shift after leaving Claridges and was on his way out when he was offered the head chef’s job, provided he passed a three month’s trial.

Chris sent Cary to Paris to see how things were done there before opening Brasserie Leo. When Cary left, Wayne Bosworth and his sous Marcus Lane made similar trips. The restaurant was designed with banquettes, alcoves, gleaming brass, big mirrors and a splendid bar. Even the coat stands were authentic. And in the kitchen were a dozen copper pans.

The hotel aimed high. A lobster, truffle and veal sweetbread starter was on the menu for £17.95, a fortune, then as now, for Sheffield in the Eighties. Even Cary was worried about the price. “Chris said if it’s worth that, charge it,” he recalls.

He enjoyed his new life. Always impeccably dressed, he and Val could often be seen dining quietly in a corner checking the quality of the food and the reactions of customers.

Other chefs who made a name in the kitchen included Wayne, Murray Chapman and Stephen Hall as head chefs while others including Marcus and Jamie Bosworth, who would both later run Rafters, and Richard Irving also cooked.

While the cooking got the Charnwood into the guides the hotel ran smoothly with Chris and Val at the helm and her sister Ann Sommerfield as duty manager. There were good years then bad as business was hit by a slowdown at the turn of the century. “The economics did not stack up, the economics of a small hotel against a big one,” he said then. Chris tried unsuccessfully to sell the hotel, on the market for £1.3 million.

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Chris King presents an award at a hospitality event

It closed on Christmas Eve, 2004. The 16 staff were all found jobs, according to Anne. If Chris couldn’t sell the place as a hotel he would turn it into apartments. He supervised the work himself. “I do not want to pay people for what I already know,” he said. The project opened the following year renamed Wisteria Gardens, after the striking mauve and blue flowers which covered the walls. He had planted them a quarter century before.

Val, who predeceased him, died from cancer. Chris also had it but recovered and went to run a smallholding near Lincoln where he planted 2,000 walnut trees. However he returned to Sheffield later and died at Beauchief.

Cary Brown said: “He was a legend and pioneer in the hotel and catering industry. What he brought to Sheffield wasn’t realised until later. If it wasn’t for that hotel Sheffield would not have got on the culinary map until years later.”

#Chris King died on Thursday, 16 November, 2017. Details of the funeral will be announced here shortly.

Picture of Chris King sourced courtesy of Craig Harris.

*The funeral will be held at Hutcliffe Wood Crematorium at 1.15pm on Thursday,7 December, followed by a wake at the Double Tree Hilton, Meadowhead.

A Sunday lunch, in which I am overfaced by Mr Brown

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Cary Brown explains a concept at Barlow Woodseats Hall

YOU know that old cliché about tables groaning with food? Well ours was. There were slices of very decent beef the size of rosy red doorsteps, wedges of tender pork so big they could almost have been a pig, wings and breasts of chicken, ribs of lamb, sausages wrapped in bacon and stuffing like golf balls.

 And then they brought the Yorkshire Puddings, the size and shape of cumulus clouds, with crispy crunchy roast potatoes posing as cannon balls. A big dish of cauliflower cheese followed, with another of vegetables. And a half pint jug of proper gravy. Talk about trencherman food: this could have filled a WW1 trench.

 “Right,” I said to my wife.”We’re going to tackle this the Victorian way, eating slowly.” But it beat us in the end and we were the ones groaning – with pleasure. If we had carried on we would have been like Monty Python’s Mr Creosote and exploded.

 “This is like going to an all you can eat buffet, only in this case they bring it to your table and it tastes of something,” I added.
 

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Just part of the main course

We haven’t had a Sunday lunch like this since that time at the Royal Oak, Millthorpe, and it was the same chef. So if I couldn’t tackle all that food I went to tackle the man responsible, Cary Brown. “Sunday lunch should be a time for indulgence. If people say I’ve overfaced them I don’t get offended,” he said.

 Cary has had almost as many venues as I’ve had hot dinners and that’s saying something. A month or two ago he and his partner Shelley spectacularly left the Devonshire Arms at Middle Handley after a dispute with the owners, draining the place dry with free beer for friends and regulars. Since legal matters loom we’ll say no more.

 He has popped up at historic 16th century Barlow Woodseats Hall, down a lane called Johnnygate that leads to nowhere except this former home of the famous Bess of Hardwick, the Elizabethan lass who had four husbands and ended up as the Countess of Shrewsbury. She and Robert Barlow were only 14 at the time and he died within a year.

 IMG_0226 Long Barn at Barlow Woodseats 13-08-2017 13-54-38.JPGTo be more precise Mr Brown has popped up in the Long Barn next door, a magnificent Grade II listed medieval cruck barn which, the last time I looked when reporting for the Sheffield Star was a cowshed knee deep in manure. That was in 2006 when the Milward family put the hall on the market for a million quid and right next door was a working farm, all smells and moos.

 I never checked to see if it had sold but if I had I could have reported it was bought by Nick Todd and his family, a partner in the long established Sheffield auctioneers and valuers, Ellis Willis & Beckett. He did up the hall, bought the barn and it is now a weddings and functions venue and, with Cary at the stove, a pop-up for Sunday luncheons and afternoon teas. The next will be in September and, at £25 a head, you get a doggy bag to take home.

 Nick and Cary, who met over the bar at the Royal Oak just down the road, have big plans for the barn, which comes with several cottages built from the old stables, still with some of the original features plus up to the minute wet rooms, kitchens and four poster beds.

 My wife Sue and I take a break for air after that main course (but before Shelley’s lovely passionfruit cheesecake and chocolate profiteroles) and Nick walks us around the garden with a brace or two of peacocks who have just been in the family way, orchard, pond, tropical garden and lawns. He may have a posh house but he’s not sniffy about letting guests enjoy the surroundings. He seems to enjoy sharing them.

 We join Cary later for coffee and he’s busy tossing culinary concepts up in the air like a juggler with plates. Here’s one. “It can be sweet and it can be savoury but you’ll have to wait and see,” he grinned. Here’s a clue: it’s on wheels. Oh and did I mention the Sunday lunch was absolutely first class?

 *Check Cary’s Facebook and Twitter pages for details of the next Sunday lunch in September. Details going up soon on www.barlowwoodseatshall.com

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LATEST NEWS: Sunday lunches are on hold at the moment, as is the hall website, while planning difficulties are being resolved.

 

Explosions of flavour down on the farm

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‘Scotch egg’ starter – there’s mango in the yolk

CHEF Cary Brown and I are peering at a little pyramid of pink peppercorn meringue. I take a bite and after the initial burst of sweetness comes a very peppery hit. “Too much!” I say. He shakes his head. “Now have that meringue with the pineapple.”

 I cut a piece of the fruit, which has been macerated in Sheffield rum and Malibu, then blowtorched, pop some meringue on my spoon and eat them together. The pepperiness has retreated gracefully into the background but is still there in a bath of pineapple and coconut flavours.

 “That’s very good and I don’t even like pineapple” says Cary, late of the Devonshire Arms, Middle Handley, and like me a judge in a heat at Whirlow Hall Farm’s annual cheffy contest, Sheff’s Kitchen. It may be for charity but the chefs take it seriously so we do, Cary even turning up in his whites.

 Whirlow’s own head chef Stephen Wallis is up against Scott Philliskirk from the Hidden Gem. They have each got a budget of £150 and one sous chef to cook for 23 paying guests and one judge. Diners eat either from the red or black menu and don’t know who is who.

 Cary and I decide the fairest way to judge is to eat liberally from each other’s plates and compare notes as we mark the scores in a series of categories. We quickly realise that while guests may have paid £30 a head they are getting a bargain with meals easily worth £40 – £45. And what is also impressive is the high degree of skill and dedication on show as well as different styles of cooking.

 “We are being very picky,” I murmur as we carefully deconstruct each course – is this pork too dry and this sauce too reticent? – which other diners are happily wolfing down. “We have to be,” says Cary, relishing the task.

At Whirlow there is really only one kitchen plus a bit of one so as Stephen was on home territory he generously offered the main one to his opponent and, with the help of a couple of bain maries, found himself plating up in the courtyard. Thankfully, it didn’t rain.

 Dish of the night is red menu Scott’s cannon of lamb, an explosion of flavour and so tender it almost hurt, rolled in crushed pistachio (“with a little bit of garlic,” notes my fellow judge) with a stunning roast cauliflower puree. Even the fact that the fondant potato could be softer doesn’t detract.

 Yet Scott, who won the popular vote from diners, didn’t win the contest. Stephen inched ahead, first with a complex starter of a ‘Scotch egg’ with a yolk made from pureed mango and carrot. He lost out on the main as the lamb rump delivered to the judges was a little undercooked. We’d been served first and noted that other plates would have rested that little bit longer and the meat would have been that much better. Chefs in future rounds may want to take note of this.

 But he won on a Battle of the Spuds, his carefully constructed smoky potato terrine fighting off the fondant.

 By now there was only a point or two in it. Which chef would get his just desserts? And that was the course we were judging. Was it Scott’s peppery pineapple backed up by a ginger mousse, coconut milk ice cream and ginger crumb? Or Stephen’s Whirlow strawberries, dark chocolate terrine, honeycomb and dark chocolate tuille?

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Whirlow’s Stephen Wallis plates up in the yard outside the restaurant!

 Perhaps it was the richess of the terrine or the unexpected sherbet hit from slices of dehydrated strawberry that just tipped him over the line first.

 I found it extremely instructive sitting down with a professional chef and examining the food mouthful by mouthful. Of course, you can get too technical and I was there to provide the viewpoint of the experienced diner with some 1,400 restaurant visits under his belt.

 “What dish would I eat again, the one with the technical expertise or the one which blows me away?” muses Cary. We hope we got it right but in a sense we didn’t. “Both of you deserve to be in the final,” he tells the two chefs.

 Charlie Curran of Peppercorn takes on Chris Mapp from the Tickled Trout in the next heat on August 13 but all the tables have been fully booked. There are tables available for the semi-final at Sheffield College’s Silver Plate restaurant on September 28, a much bigger venue than Whirlow Farm. To book visit http://www.sheffskitchen.co.uk

 *Cary Brown judged just 24 hours after quitting his excellent restaurant at the Devonshire Arms, Middle Handley, a fish-orientated stay which lasted only 14 months. It would be accurate to say the parting was not amicable. He’s considering his next move. “I’ll come up with something.”

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Scott’s cannon of lamb

A few more shots from the evening.

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Stephen (left) and Scott before the cooking begins

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Final touches to the pineapple dish

whirlow's dessert

chefs and judges at whirlow

Chefs and judges

Cary has a Concept and I have a shower

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Thumbs up for Cary

Whenever I wanted a little innocent amusement I turned to TripAdvisor and the reports of the Devonshire Arms, Middle Handley. This award-winning pub drew plaudits and brickbats in equal measure but what added a touch of spice, an unexpected piquancy, were the landlady’s comments.

“Clearly it would have been better for all concerned if you had simply gone to KFC and eaten a bucket or two full of what you normally eat, the finer things in life aren’t for you.”

“Please spend your weekends in Huddersfield away from our pub, we don’t need or want customers like you.”

Now, though, the tone is more upbeat. “My, has the place improved,” notes one reviewer. “This is just what we need, great hearty food,” adds another.

The place, a lovely pub in the middle of some quiet, gentle countryside, is in new hands and one pair of them belongs to charismatic chef, Cary Brown. By both our reckonings this must be his tenth venture or rebranding but, duck for cover chaps, Cary has a Concept.

The man who did fine dining at the Charnwood and Carriages, made fish sexy at Slammers, spinned pizzas at the Limes and transformed himself into The Pub Landlord.1 at the Royal Oak, Millthorpe, with the finest Sunday dinner I’ll ever have on earth, is now The Pub Landlord.2

The Concept is simple, says Cary. It’s a pub. It’s a bit posh but it’s not a gastro-pub. It serves proper food. Don’t panic you might get swirls or flecks or foams. You won’t. It tastes good. No pressure if you don’t want to eat but that bloke at the bar just came in for a pint and weakened at the thought of a lobster roll. You pay for your food and drink when you order and don’t ask for a tab.

“In the past it was a pub with a restaurant. We want to get it back to being a pub again with drinkers in. Nice drinkers – imagine that, people drinking in a pub! –eating pork scratchings,” he says.

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Fishy blackboard at the Devonshire Arms

There’s an echo of his fish restaurant days with a blackboard offering prawns, crab, lobster, thermidor “all served with bread and proper butter.” There was also grilled lemon sole and roast halibut but both had gone when we arrived. Cary promises the offering will get ritzier as time progresses.

We arrived on the day of my former colleague Lesley Draper’s review in the Sheffield Telegraph. She’d liked it but reported there were no starters as such. That’s the Concept although I must admit it took me some time to grasp . And, as she says, since everything is on blackboards, there’s a fair bit of walking about as you decide.

For non-fish eaters there was poussin, a burger, proper corned beef hash (he corned the beef himself) and, among other things, rib eye with Bearnaise. Hearty stuff.

Cary’s partner Shelley Chilton, the other pair of capable hands involved, suggested my wife have the salmon briefly seared and it proved a revelation, firming up nicely and deepening the taste. I had, for some reason, half a pint of king prawns which you could call a sort of deconstructed prawn cocktail.
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You shelled them yourself, of course. I had to be careful as the heads were full of blood which spurted. They were tasty, particularly when dipped in Marie Rose sauce, and if you were looking for lettuce (this wasn’t a prawn cocktail) there were a couple of basil leaves for greenery. It came with Melba toast made from Cary’s own Bloomer but I had to pinch my wife’s butter.

This dish also includes a shower. The lot is served on one of those pesky boards and when it came to clearing away the waitress slipped and the finger bowl of warm water splattered my trousers. Many chefs have wanted to do something similar over the years.

For ‘mains’ my wife had a half lobster thermidor, which at £12 is a bargain and could well become the pub’s signature dish. So far he has sold 160. If you’ve never had this combination of grilled lobster, creamy sauce, mustard and Parmesan try his gutsy version.

I had Brixham crab with a salad big enough to defeat a field full of rabbits. I did think later that Cary had had very little to do with the crab, which must have come already dressed, except to artistically arrange the cucumber slices on the top. But he has never served me a dull mouthful and this was as seafaringly splendid a crab as you’ll get.

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Half a pint of prawns or DIY prawn cocktail

At this point I had to mention his obsession with Melba toast. I got it again. And without butter, despite the blackboard promises. Bread, preferably brown, and butter is a must with crab. When I asked why he said it was just himself in the kitchen and easier to do. So far he’s been working alone as he builds up the business.

One of his jobs, he says, is to win back the locals so the sort of food he is offering is an attempt to persuade them they won’t have to have a three-course job if they cross the threshold. They’ll find a roomy pub with slick modern décor, not a horse brass or a Toby jug in sight, neutral tones, downlights and the occasional sign (apart from those blackboards) to complement the wooden floor.

There’s a no bookings, no tab policy and, currently, there are problems over the website which is for the previous business. Check things out on the Facebook page listed below.

So, nice one Cary but ditch that flippin’ Melba toast; this is not the Sixties nor the old Dore Grill.

PS: My trousers survived the soaking.

The Devonshire Arms is at Lightwood Lane, Middle Handley, Sheffield S21 5RN. Tel: 01246 434 800.

Web    https://www.facebook.com/search/top/?q=the%20dev%20middle%20handley
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A world without tomato and chilli jam?

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Every time I reach for a jar of my homemade tomato and chilli jam I get Peter and Gordon’s 1964 hit A World Without Love going through my head. It’s got nothing to do with them but there is a mental association. The recipe belongs to New Zealand’s Peter Gordon who invented it while head chef at Notting Hill’s Sugar Club restaurant in 1995.

He mixed the jam with crème fraiche and served it with scallops and watercress, taking a cue from a dish then popular in Australia, deep-fried baby potatoes with chilli sauce and sour cream, the latter tempering the fierceness of the chilli.

Other chefs soon took it up, giving it their own spin. In Sheffield, Cary Brown at Carriages made it a signature dish, keeping the fishy connection but serving it straight with monkfish. And he’s been copied, too.

I’ve been making it for a few years, in various versions, eventually putting my own spin on it. Half the fun of cooking is messing about with recipes. Now, to misquote Peter and Gordon, I can’t imagine a world without tomato and chilli jam.

Peter Gordon, who is Maori and a devotee of ‘fusion food’ which incorporates influences from around the world, uses Thai fish sauce in his recipe and my advice is don’t start without it. Worcestershire sauce is not quite an adequate substitute.

But I have added ginger, which he doesn’t, to up the oriental input as well as lemon juice, and shredded basil if it’s handy. It’s great to make if you have a lot of homegrown tomatoes and chilli so you might want to save this recipe for later. But you can substitute passata for tomatoes or use a combination of both, as I have when I’ve not had enough tomatoes for a big batch. I’ll be making some more soon as my last lot, made in 2014, is fast running out. It keeps for ages.

I eat my chilli jam dolloped straight onto homemade fishcakes (or mixed first with a little yoghurt) and it goes well on grilled goats cheese. And it makes a good marinade.

Here’s my recipe. You can find Peter Gordon’s original which is easily available online. Pick your chillies carefully: go for red and biggish ones which tend to be less hot than the smaller varieties. But as any curry chef will tell you, a spoonful of sugar lessens chilli heat and there’s more than a spoonful in this recipe!

2 kg tomatoes, chopped finely, including peel and seeds
3-4 chillies, de-seeded if liked
3-4 lemons, juiced
1 kg granulated sugar
Generous shake or two of fish sauce
Large knob of ginger, grated and juice squeezed out
120 m red wine vinegar (white or cider will do)
Sea salt and back pepper

Put everything EXCEPT the sugar into a heavy saucepan and cook gently until mushy.
Add sugar and stir to dissolve.
Increase heat as you would for making other jams and cook for 20-30 minutes until setting point. I use the cold saucer method – put three or four in the freezer, taking them out one by one to test. Put a blob on the saucer, stick it in the fridge for three minutes (you’ve taken the jam pan off the heat, haven’t you?) then try the wrinkle test. If no luck, put the pan back on the heat, and cook on for a couple of minutes before trying again. Pour into sterilized jars.
This quantity made me seven 300ml jars.