From burgers to braised pork

AS predicted by this blog, the site of the long-established Sheffield burger bar Yankees is to open as a Chinese restaurant in April, Lounge 418.

Or, more precisely, as a ‘cafe and Chinese restaurant’ according to owners Chun-Fat Lee and his wife Corrie Wong, who bought the site for a reported £525,000.

This is the Chinese Year of the Pig, which purportedly signals wealth.

It will be the first Chinese restaurant on Ecclesall Road (home to Indian, Japanese, Thai and Italuan eateries) for a very long time, possibly ever. And that’s despite it being a short hop away from London Road, the city’s unofficial Chinatown.

Mr Lee told the Vibe website that the new business would not look like a conventional Chinese. For a start the Yankees’ red (an Imperial and lucky colour) has been painted white and Lounge 418 must be the first Chinese restaurant with a dartboard.

The Hong Kong-based couple are in Sheffield where their son is studying and already own commercial premises further along at Banner Cross.

Yankees, at the corner with Thompson Road, was opened by the Freeman brothers in May, 1979, eight years after Ron Barton’s Uncle Sam’s. In recent years it had lost its way, at one point advertising a menu on banners outside not available within. It closed before Christmas 2016 and will have been ‘dark’ for over two years.

Encouraged by several thousand mainland Chinese students at the two universities a swathe of ethnic restaurants have opened in the West Street area to serve them. They are also a boon to local foodies as there is no pressure to Anglicise menus. Lounge 418 will have a South China (Cantonese) menu.

Some Sheffield-based Chinese restaurateurs have remarked upon the students’ reluctance or ‘laziness’ to travel far off the beaten track. It remains *to be seen whether the New Era complex and tower block between London Road and Bramall Lane, with plenty more student flats, will be near enough for Lounge 418 to attract their attention.

Or whether it will stick to the Anglo market.

Yankees as it was

The ugly Bengali fruit that tastes divine

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Lamb Shatkora at the PrithiRaj

NOW you wouldn’t want to eat it raw but when cooked it makes food taste like the stuff they must serve up in Heaven. Your starter for ten if you can guess what it is.

It’s an ugly, pointy-looking fruit which is green and nobbly and looks a little like an oversized lime but is called a wild orange. It’s as sour as a Seville but has a touch of the grapefruit about it. But the taste belies its looks. If you knew this is the shatkora you must be from Bangladesh because that is where it grows.

I’ve never seen on in the flesh, so to speak, but I have tasted it three times in curries at the PrithRaj on Ecclesall Road, Sheffield, and on each occasion my tastebuds have gasped with delight.

I reckon the shatkora is the Bengali answer to the truffle. Its flavour pervades and enhances a dish. In the curries at the PrithiRaj it has a polite sort of tang which sidles across your tastebuds, not harsh and rasping, with a touch of lemon or lime. And there’s an unexpected, momentary little burst of sweetness right at the end. Flavours are vivid. The sauces are rich and grainy and the meat tender, even when it’s lamb, because this is a curry which must be cooked for a long time to get the most out of the fruit.

Celebrity chef Rick Stein discovered it on his TV travels in India but when he got back to Cornwall to cook it had to make do with a grapefruit.BanglaLemon-5602[1]

Green and nobbly but don’t overlook the shatkora

I first came across it in 2012 when reviewing the newly opened restaurant, which had been revamped from the long-established Ayesha’s, for the Sheffield Star. I was bowled over. Dining there with friends earlier this year I ordered the lamb version again, wondering if it would be as good. It was. But because I was too busy talking I couldn’t give it my full attention. I resolved to come back again on a quieter evening.

This time I tried the chicken version with my companion, Colin Drury, who also reviewed restaurants on Saturdays during his time at The Star, for whom a curry isn’t a curry unless it’s a karai.

Now this isn’t the only place in Sheffield where you can get a shatkora – try other places run by Bengali rather than Kashmiri kitchens – but it is the only one cooked by head chef and joint owner Sobuj Miah. And, at £10.50, it is probably the most expensive. The menu at PrithiRaj (which means Beautiful Princess or whatever the waiter you ask decides) is as long as the River Ganges but you’ll find it on the specials.

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Chef Sobuj Miah

I’m told only the peel is used – the pulp is so bitter it usually get thrown away – but I understood Sobuj to say he used the whole fruit. Whatever, he only needs to use a little bit in each dish. It seems its popularity comes in fits and starts. “We’ve sold about 10 or 12 in recent weeks,” he told us.

Now PrithiRaj, which once had a waiter called Elvis, is an upmarket kind of place and the cooking is beautifully judged and easily on a par with any middle market Anglo venture. And like any chef, Sobuj likes to do the odd twiddle and twirl: As with the dainty spiced-up miniature samosa, whispy onion bhajis and little meat ‘lollipops’ we were treated to.

Look the ingredient up on the menu the next time you go out for an Indian ­– it’ll be on the specials and is not limited to meat, it also goes well with fish and other seafood – and you should find you’ll like it.

407 Ecclesall Road, Sheffield S11 8PG. Web: http://www.prithirajrestaurant.com

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So fings ain’t wot they used t’be, Dave?

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The restaurant at Napoleons on Ecclesall Road

Napoleons was sold this week for ‘considerably less’ than the £850,000 asking price, according to The Star. It is not known what the plans are.

BIGGEST news this week was that Dave Allen was closing Napoleons casino and restaurant on Ecclesall Road this Sunday after 42 years. Since he already has another at Owlerton (plus a dog track and restaurant) and four other casinos in Yorkshire and London that might have been it: sad but a business decision.

But what set the greyhound among the pigeons was his parting shot: “Time moves on and Ecclesall Road is not what it used to be.” Coming from one of Yorkshire’s wealthiest men and certainly its wealthiest pigeon fancier (you can currently buy a DVD online for £9.99 entitled Dave Allen: The Living Legend filmed with a trip around his loft), it seemed a dismissal of one of Sheffield’s liveliest arteries.

He cited the imminent closure of Baldwin’s Omega, which would affect trade, as patrons would no longer be following on their entertainment at his tables. However, while the banqueting trade is certainly not what it used to be, the main reason David and Pauline Baldwin are selling is because of retirement and the chance of a nest egg.

It would have been handy to know what David Easton Dey Allen meant by that remark. But, typical Dave, he’d said his piece, in a statement released on his website, and was not taking calls from journalists.

The Star ran with the story on Wednesday and I bought the weekly Sheffield Telegraph the following day, which splashed it all over the front page. But I cannot have been the only one disappointed to find this was simply a repeat of the daily’s story with just two quotes, one from an existing trader and one yet to open. No background, no analysis: a chance missed.

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Dave Allen

I mention it on this blog for Dave, who heads A&S Leisure, is pretty good on the food front. I am not a gambling man but on the one occasion I have eaten at the Ecclesall Road casino I was impressed by the quality and value. The same goes for the Panorama restaurant at Owlerton although my review which included an obvious joke about eating expired dogs met with a furious response. It might have been a bad joke, it was also bad timing. Co-incidentally a leading Chinese restaurant had put out a Press statement dispelling a rumour it was serving up greyhound stir-fry.

Coupled with the news that Ecclesall Road was closing came details that a 500-seater banqueting suite was planned for Owlerton (presumably hoping to pick up the Baldwin’s business) and another casino, bar and restaurant opening in Manchester. With such big expenditure planned it made sound business sense to axe Eccy Road, a prime redevelopment site.

So why the swipe at Ecclesall Road in general?

It can hardly have escaped Dave’s notice that the road is considerably different than from when he opened in the Seventies. Then it was dubbed Sheffield’s Golden Mile and the ‘Bond Street of the North’ on account of the swanky, pricy boutiques: Alicia Kite, Paces, Posh, Elizabeth’s, Robert Brady and hairdressers such as Andrew Hook’s La Coupe. There were just three pubs and precious few restaurants beyond the Ashoka and Ron Barton’s Uncle Sam’s.

Since then the number of pubs, bars and restaurants has multiplied beyond measure. Ecclesall Road is busier, and  livelier and while trade might be difficult the ‘offer’ to consumers is wider and more comprehensive than it ever was.

In fact, to nick a phrase from Dave’s own casino business, Ecclesall Road is still a place “where a great night is always on the cards.”

Make mine a Veeno

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Every bit as good as it looks

IN need of some refreshment I dropped into Veeno, the new Italian ‘wine bar café’ on Ecclesall Road Sheffield. Make a note of the address or you might find yourself at Veeno’s mini mart on London Road where an involtini may be hard to come by.

Veeno is near Berkeley Precinct (I refuse to call it the renamed Berkeley Centre) in what used to be Carluccio’s, a place some local people called pants although my main grouse was the giant pepper pot they wanted to grind on to your meal before you’d checked the seasoning or flag one down if it turned out you did need pepper. Just leave the condiments on the table!

Veeno is not pants. In fact, it is very good if a tad, no, a soupcon, expensive.

I was alerted to it by fellow blogger and Italophile Craig Harris and his wife Marie who had enjoyed a visit to the Nottingham branch of the 15-strong chain and got me a ticket to the opening night. Like me, the best thing about their Italian holidays is finding a cosy little enoteca (the Italian for wine bar) with good wines and boards of meat and cheese. I always remember one on Lake Como where I upset the owner by querying the bill until I told him I thought he’d made a mistake because it seemed too cheap.

Reader, you won’t be thinking it comes cheap at Veeno although it does food, drink and atmosphere pretty well. Fitted out with tables, sofas, alcoves, walls lined with wine racks, and a bar, plus a tasting room, it serves up some very decent wines with top quality meats and cheese, plus a smattering of bruschettas and spuntini, nibbles, the Italian equivalent of tapas or dim sum.

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Inside Veeno

That way you don’t need a chef, just someone adept at putting good quality ingredients together. It seems simple but then the best ideas are. The two young men who came up with translating the enoteca to Britain are Andrea Zecchino and Nino Caruso, whose family just happens to have a vineyard in Sicily.

We’d found a table and were sipping our complementary glasses of house wine when I flagged down a chap who looked like he was Andrea or Nino. He wasn’t. He was Mike from Hungary but he was the owner as he had the franchise, his second after York.

Magyar Mike must have been in an expansive mood because he generously told us to order some food on the house. Perhaps he thought we were influential: Style setters. We liked Mike. The evening’s photographer didn’t hold the same opinion because he never pointed his camera at us once.

Craig promptly ordered the most expensive board in the house, the Italia, at £24.50. And he did it with a straight face. It was lovely and included some Formaggella al Tartufo, a northern Italian cheese with truffles and some runaway gorgonzola with walnuts, speck, the best fennel salami I’ve had, breads, oil, honey with truffle and plenty more. The price could have been worse. In Bristol the same menu item is £26 while in Kingston upon Thames it is £26.50. Magyar Mike is obviously pitching his prices at what he thinks Sheffield will stand. I thought that top whack for the same thing on Lake Como would have been 15 euros but then you’ve got to factor in the air fare.

The house wine at £4 for 175ml was pretty decent, from the Caruso e Minini vineyard. The same glass is £4.20 in Bristol and another 20p more in Kingston. But as Craig had gone large on the free food he felt it only right to go large on the paid-for wine so he ordered us a bottle of Greco di Tufo at a stunning £28 (a quid less than in Bristol). It had lovely honeyed appley flavours.

So there you have it, a little pricy but a very well put together exercise, which is why the chain is doing well. I cavil a bit at the name, Veeno for Vino, and the clunking ‘wine bar café’ self-description instead of enoteca but that’s just me. It won’t stop me going, though!

Craig will doubtless be reporting at http://www.craigscrockpot.wordpress.com. You can check out the Veeno offering at http://www.theveenocompany.com

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Veeno from the outside

 

Yankees – no longer Doodle Dandy

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Yankees closed just before Christmas

(See Stop Press below: Yankees may become the road’s first Chinese eaterie for years)

IT only slowly dawned on me that Yankees, the burger place on Ecclesall Road, Sheffield, had closed down just before Christmas, after 37 years. That’s pretty good going in a business where the average life expectancy is three years. But many will be sad to see it go.

A sign on the door said they were closed for refurbishment but that’s the one thing you don’t do on the run up to Christmas! Now there’s a sign saying the place is for let.

I’d eaten there professionally and off duty over the years but hadn’t been in for quite some time. Well, that’s not entirely true. Tempted in by a new pulled pork and smoked ribs menu I found a table only to be told it wasn’t on that night – despite the banners on the railings outside promising otherwise. So, as I had a review to do, I upped and left.

Despite its age Yankees wasn’t the first American style burger restaurant in Sheffield. That honour went to Uncle Sam’s, further up the road towards town, opened by Ron Barton on July 4, 1971. It was quite a sensation at the time but it wasn’t until the other end of the decade that brothers Peter and Michael Freeman opened Yankees on the corner with Thompson Road in May, 1979.

Uncle Sam’s, still alive and kicking,  was the one with the overhead railway, Yankee’s the place with that cheeky poster of that girl tennis player with the bare bum. Both could tell tales of families where the parents had first eaten there as students and brought their own kids back.

I have no idea why Yankees closed but there is a lot of competition about these days. Chances are if a new place opens it’s either burgers or pizza, which is pretty depressing if you like your food and want a choice.

But Yankees helped to blaze a trail. Surprising as it might seem now, back then burgers, unless you had that uniquely British pattie at a Wimpy Bar, were rare. What Uncle Sam’s and Yankees were offering were bigger, tastier and (so it seemed) more American. It was no accident both were on Ecclesall Road, the city’s most upmarket street.

Then – don ‘t laugh – we called Ecclesall Road the ‘Bond Street of the North’ because there were so many boutiques. Now they have become takeaways and restaurants so, again, the two places were ahead of the curve.

STOP PRESS: The premises appear to have been sold (November, 2018) for a reported £525,000 and shopfitters have been busy. The word is that the place has been bought by a Hong Kong businessman (who also owns property at Banner Cross) and a Chinese or other oriental restaurant will open in the New Year. If so, it would be the first Chinese restaurant on Ecclesall Road for very many years, if not the first. Does anyone know differently?

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That poster – it was Uncle Sam’s with the overhead railway

Fancy a dosa? Follow that tiger!

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My crispy dosa at the Masala Dosa Cafe

I’m doing it all wrong. When you’re faced with a masala dosa, that crispy South Indian pancake which looks like a roll of linoleum, the one thing you don’t do is pick it up off the plate or thali. It will fall to pieces. And mine does.

I’m in Sheffield’s very new Masala Dosa Café on Ecclesall Road and the adjacent table has three Indian diners. I watch them very closely when their dosas arrive. The girl breaks into the middle of hers and the men tackle theirs from the ends.

“Is that the proper way?” I ask them later. “Yes, don’t pick it up but break bits off and dip them into the chutneys,” explains one. And how are their dosas? “Good.”

Which is an accolade indeed for the dosas had not been cooked by someone from Kerala or Sri Lanka but Tony Whiteman from Essex.

You can’t miss the little 20-seater café and takeaway: it’s the one with a life-sized plastic tiger outside. Inside, the place is decorated in the Indian national colours of orange, white and green. That’s Tony and his fellow chef Liam Hamre on the hotplates and Tony’s wife Praful on the counter.

They met when Tony was working for HSBC in Hyderabad and Praful was a graduate trainee. They’ve been married since 2002 and in Sheffield for the last two and a half years. Tony’s never worked in catering before – “Liam helps me fill in the gaps” – but it’s a big change from banking.

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The tiger advertising the Masala Dosa Cafe

Tony learned how to make dosas at a place called the Dosa Centre in Hyderabad. His wife’s family helped organise the lessons. “I was trained on the street in Hyderabad, quite an experience,” he says. Then he trained Liam.

I say I am impressed but Tony is disarming. “Dosa being what it is, it’s not rocket science.” But it’s not that easy. The batter is a mix of fermented urad dal and rice flour, which has to be carefully spread on the hotplate to cook. Experts had produce dosas several feet wide. Tony and Liam settle for a more modest foot or 30cms.

“Large crispy golden dosas cooked live” trumpets the menu. I order a chutney masala dosa, £5.75 with a drink, and my wife goes for the Chicken 65 masala dosa, at £6.95 with a drink. Service is a little slow but we don’t mind waiting.

The dosas are served on tin thalis with the compartments filled with a sambar and various chutneys. I’ve got something coconutty, something coriander andanother which is probably tomato-based. The central third of each dosa is filled with a spicy mix of crushed potato and onion. My wife’s has red coloured spicy chicken pieces. It apparently gets its name from being invented in 1965 at the Buhari Hotel in Chennai (Madras).

We liked the contrast between crunch and soft filling, the dips and the spiciness which creeps up on your palate so by the end of the meal your mouth is all a tingle.

It’s only in the last few years that we’ve been introduced to dosas in Sheffield as South Indian and Sri Lankan restaurants have arrived.

The café has so far only been open a few weeks and around a quarter of the custom is Indian which is a good sign. We loved it and will be back as there are more flavours to try: the Mysore, the Pav Bhaji, Chinese, Pulled Pork and Jini . . . and more. So if you want a tasty snack our advice is Follow That Tiger!

 

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Liam on the hotplate while Praful serves

Ecclesall Road, Sheffield. Web www.masaladosacafe.co.uk

  • The tiger is called Thekkady, after the tiger reserve in Kerala where the couple spent their honeymoon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In memory of Sam n Ella’s

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I can never make French onion soup without remembering the menu at the long-gone Sam n Ella’s restaurant on Ecclesall Road, Sheffield, in (I think) the early Nineties. It was a minor sensation, mainly because of the cost. It was dirt cheap, even for then.

Starters and desserts were all £1 and main courses £3. As I said at the time, for a fiver you couldn’t go wrong. If you liked it then you had a bargain. If you didn’t, then you just shrugged your shoulders and put it down to experience. You couldn’t really grumble. You could also share in the jokey name which was a play on salmonella.

After I wrote about it the story was taken up by hospitality press and Caterer & Hotelkeeper had an article on the business. “How can this place make money?” asked the man from the magazine. “Search me,” I told him.

Oddly, I cannot remember a single thing from the menu, which I reviewed, other than the French onion soup. It was not a rich broth with long cooked caramelised onions. They were still raw and the stock tasted like Marmite dissolved in hot water, which is exactly what it was. “Well, what do you expect for a quid?” said the owner.

Sam n Ella’s burned brightly for a time then expired. It might have been full but no one could make a profit on those margins.

Today I was to be giving a talk to Stocksbridge Probus Club but it was snowed off. I was so keyed up I had to release the adrenaline somehow and went into the kitchen to make French onion soup, ideal for a cold, snowy day.

You don’t need a recipe for onion soup here but the dish, as served in Les Halles, requires a rich, beefy stock. I don’t know about you but that is not something you find very often in my kitchen. But after I’d cooked the onions with garlic, thyme and bay for a couple of hours I made a pint or so of stock with a couple of Italian cubes, a tablespoonful of kecap manis (rich soy sauce) and reached for the jar of Marmite . . .