Native: Funky fish and classy crumpets

FISH restaurants in Sheffield are like buses: you wait for ages then two come along at once.

So now we have, at opposite sides of the city like boxers in a ring, Neon Fish at Millhouses and Native, on Gibraltar Street. And they couldn’t look more different.

Whereas Neon Fish is glitzy and twinkly, Native – next door to a tattoo parlour – is gutsy and gritty, with a wooden floor, weather-beaten tables, exposed brick walls and Sunday School chairs.

Native sits on the end of the street, overlooking the ring road and an empty lot, and while there’s a welcoming whiff of garlic and seafood as we open the door, the decor is not particularly maritime. It’s more funky than fishy.

There is a trio of surfboards on the wall, opposite the small open kitchen, and a statuette of a prawn on a stick.

It will, sadly, be the only one we will see this Friday lunchtime as the kitchen is right out of them, as it is mussels, so that rather depletes the starters we had hoped to graze from in the absence of a light midday menu.

Aside from the olives and bread, you won’t pay less than a tenner for a starter and around the mid twenties for a blackboard main but we like it and we like it a lot.

I was quite tempted by the oysters, after all the restaurant takes its name from the eponymous mollusc, but I can get them cheaper at owner Christian Szurko’s sit down and eat wet fish shop on Sharrowvale Road.

Incidentally I recommend eating there if you don’t mind perching on a stool under the glassy-eyed stare of a monkfish on ice.

So I have the hand dived roast scallops (£13.50) in their shell, three beautifully cooked and sweet under discs of garlic, herbs, parmesan and breadcrumbs.

But you need bread to soak up the fragrant juices and the only bread available is that with my wife’s smoky mackerel pate, two generous quenelles, two small pieces of toast.

We call for more of the toasted sodabread. Why not have it there there in the first place, I ask our friendly waiter? Waste, he shrugs. It’s easy to ask for more.

With only four people in during our stay it was easier to catch his eye than on a crowded evening. And you might want to note that Native charges extra (£3) for remedying shortchanging customers on bread.

But I don’t want to grumble too much because my wife’s seemingly routine smoked salmon crumpet was superb. And I’m talking about the superior, tasty spongy crumpet made in-house, like the excellent bread, by the resident pastrychef.

It was competing with salmon, brown shrimps, a poached egg and a tarragon bearnaise and didn’t come second.

I had a blackboard main at £24 to see what the kitchen could do when spreading its wings.

Two good pieces of monkfish perched on a bed of soft giant couscous, flavoured with chunks of diced lamb breast, aubergine melting to a ‘caviar’ and, giving your tastebuds a zingy, crunchy send-off, bright red pomegranate seeds. In a word, funky.

We ate our meal with a couple of small glasses of decent Muscadet (£5 each) and finished with so-so coffee and wonderful madeleines – that pastrychef again.

It’s taken us a while to sample Native, which opened last year, but this blog doesn’t do a lot of ligging and has to pay its way. Boss Szurko has taken me to task for describing the prices as ‘minty’ but our lunchtime bill was £81.50 and we didn’t push the boat far out to sea.

There’s a lot to like here with an appealing atmosphere and precise cooking. Perhaps you can’t do much about the price of fish but Native could be more generous with the bread.

After all, haven’t bread and fish gone together since Biblical times? And as I remember there was enough to go round.

Native is at 169 Gibraltar Street, Sheffield. Web: http://www.nativejhmann.co.uk

The Chef Behind the (Wet Fish) Counter

IMG_0543 hake with clams and samphire 22-11-2017 14-27-08

Hake with clams and samphire

YOU know how it is, you go out to eat some fancy fish but can tell it’s going to cost you an arm and a leg and then the other two. Well there were four of us and we started with three Colchester oysters and ordered three plates of hake with clams and both fillets of a sea bass and the bill was £43.

Yes, you read that right.

Mind you, we had to make some sacrifices. One of us got out of bed at 5am to bake the ciabatta which mopped up our chilli-spiked tomato sauces while another popped next door but two to the wine shop for a chilled bottle of Puglian white and four glasses.

But if you don’t mind being propped up on a bar stool a couple of feet from a prime display of wet fish on crushed ice while customers come in for their cod or smoked haddock then I can heartily recommend Mann’s wet fish shop on Sharrowvale Road, Sheffield, any lunchtime when it’s open, all week save Sunday and Monday.

An A-board on the pavement invites you in: “Try any fish. We do the rest.”

IMG_0515 A Board outside Manns's fish shop 22-11-2017 13-57-35

The chef, not behind the curtain but behind the counter is Christian Szurko, not some fishmonger who fancies his hand with a frying pan but a fully trained chef with experience at London’s seafood restaurant J Sheekey and the Blue Broom, Lounge Bar and Club One Eleven back here.

Just walk in, size up the fish, tell him how you’d like it (fried or poached, usually) and sit down with a bottle of BYO and wait until it’s ready. All you’ll be charged is the shop price of the ingredients plus £2 per person for the privilege of having it cooked. The hake was £18 a kilo and the sea bass £14. If you really want a fish called wonga the halibut is £40.

While we were the only ‘diners’ on a blowy Wednesday the previous Saturday there had been 20 eating. “Not bad for a wet fish shop, is it?” said Christian, cutting very generous steaks off the fearsome looking hake lolling next to squid.

IMG_0522 Christian beheads the hake 22-11-2017 14-11-00

Christian beheads the hake

My wife and I were joined by fellow foodie blogger Craig Harris and his wife Marie, both staunch Italophiles, and it was he who had made the lovely springy ciabatta that morning.

Customers could already eat in after Christian started an impromptu oyster bar a couple of years back. At £1 a pop it was and still is a bargain. “It escalated from there. We always had the induction hobs because we make our own stock for the shop,” he added. So is he scratching a cheffy itch? “Partly, but I also run pop up restaurants. I’m looking for new premises now.”

If you fancy a glass of Chablis to chase it down then Jane Cummings of Olive & Vine wine merchants has a berth there on Saturdays. As it was midweek my wife nipped out to fellow wine merchants Starmore Boss with a tenner and came back with a chilled A Mano Bianco. They also loaned us the glasses.

Christian, who took over the then Hillsborough-based business with his brother Danny (who has since left the shop) in 2008, could offer the fish with spiced lentil salsa, daal with paneer, spicy tomato sauce or garlic mash that day. We already had the bread so didn’t need the mash but the tomato sauce sounded good. “Throw in some clams and samphire?” asked Christian. You bet.

lunch is on the right 22-11-2017 14-03-13

Lunch is on the right

We almost forgot the oysters until Craig prompted me. They were expertly shucked by Craig’s new partner in the shop Scott Mills, another chef turned fishmonger. These were Colchester oysters in tip top condition.

So was the hake, heralded by tempting cooking smells. I sometimes find the texture of this fish, a favourite with the Spanish, a little on the heavy side but this, while still retaining firm-fleshed meatiness, was also light and flakey, set off nicely by the tomato sauce with a little crunchiness from the emerald green samphire. The clams were fine but I don’t go into raptures over a vongole. What is it but a posh cockle? Give me a winkle or a whelk any day.

IMG_0538 Christian plates while Scott supervises 22-11-2017 14-26-04

Christian plates while Scott supervises

It made for a very pleasant and enjoyable lunch where we could all pretend we were Rick Steins popping in for a bite with an obliging chef. This is one you all must try.

#Mann’s is at 261 Sharrowvale Road, Sheffield S11 8ZE. Tel: 0114 268 2225 On Twitter and Facebook

Check out what Craig thought of the meal at www. craigscrockpot.wordpress.com

IMG_0521

A feast of fish

Shucks, I’ll have an oyster

Christian Szurko shucking oysters

Christian Szurko shucking oysters

Oysters ready shucked

Oysters ready shucked


They say you should sing the first verse of the national anthem in your head after an oyster has been shucked to make sure you are not eating something still alive. That’s how long it takes the nervous system to expire. I didn’t need to do that as chef turned fishmonger Christian Szurko is opening the oysters for me. It looks dangerous. If you want to DIY make sure you bring some plasters.

We are at Sheffield’s newest oyster bar, a couple of wooden counters underneath a mounted stag’s head in a corner of J H Mann, fishmongers, in Sharrowvale Road, Sheffield. Christian and his brother Danny haven’t made a song and dance about their new venture – wet fish is still the focus of the shop – but oysters are available Saturdays and on high days and holidays. They sold 300 at the last Sharrowvale Market.

If, as they say, oysters are an aphrodisiac (it’s all that zinc for men’s hydraulic systems) then it must have been quite an amorous Sunday afternoon after the market.

“We’ve been thinking about an oyster bar for some time,” says Christian, opening an oyster. It’s an art: the customer doesn’t want any shell and the juices should not be spilled. These are Colchester No 1 oysters, plump, juicy with just a touch of briny. We eat them with shallot vinegar. You need to chew not swallow to savour the taste.

You might also savour the price, just £1 an oyster. It’s £2.25 at Loch Fyne and while the surroundings are more comfortable (it’s a stand up job at Mann’s) they are less exotic. From where I am standing a hake is baring its teeth at me. I take its head home for stock.

“I don’t want to charge more than the normal price for oysters,” says Christian. It is early days and the bar has still to be finessed. If you order half a dozen you might well want some lemon and Tobasco. And a tipple. There will be an arrangement with local wine shop Starmore Boss a few doors away to purchase a glass of Chablis or whatever with your oysters.

The oysters are first class, really tasty, a good size. “This is the best time of year for them when the water is cold,” Danny points out.

It is not Sheffield’s first oyster bar. The Lyceum theatre had one, which also served champagne, in the Nineties but it was ahead of its time. They were still the drab days of the Socialist Republic of South Yorkshire. Now there’s not a better time to have one or a better site, just off Ecclesall Road with its trendy restaurant, shops and bars.
*Oysters are also usually available at the West 10 wine bar, Ranmoor.

Dawes scoffs an oyster

Dawes scoffs an oyster