Putting the shine back on Silversmiths


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Pork belly with apple

LAST time I was at Silversmiths restaurant on Arundel Street with a camera I was lurking on the corner trying to snap TV superchef Gordon Ramsay for The Star.

I found him in the street making a phone call during a break from filming his Kitchen Nightmares restaurant rescue show and got my front page picture – it was a bit blurry – but he caught me. “Did you write that piece in the paper?” he quizzed. I had to admit I had indeed wrote that he was a “foul-mouthed chef.”

He paused and walked silently back into the building. Interview over! When the series  was screened in 2009 there were 310 F-words in one episode alone and Silversmiths has become known all over the world.

Ten years later I’m back, this time legitimately, to see whether it will be third time lucky for this Sheffield restaurant since then owner Justin Rowntree, who had called in Ramsay to save his struggling enterprise, sold a transformed business on in 2017.

The last two reincarnations of the place have failed and doubtless there were a few more F-words when it suddenly closed in August, leaving diners in the lurch. So Silversmiths has a reputation to rebuild.

And Justin is back but in a different role. He’s been called in by new owners Rick Bailey and Matt Ray as consultant to publicise and advise on the relaunch. In a sense he’s doing a bit of a Ramsay “but without the swearing,” he laughed, inviting me to do a review as a guest diner.


Silversmiths’ interior

They’ve pinned their hopes on tousle-haired head chef Ashley Bagshaw, just 24, who has already made a name for himself at the two AA rosette Chequers pub at Froggat Edge, to put the shine back on. I’ve already enjoyed his cooking at the much acclaimed Airoma pop-up venue with best mate Luke Hanson.

He’s opened with two menus: Simply British, with old favourites like fish and chips, a nod to Ramsay who instituted a pie night (here fish pie and a home-smoked brisket), burger, lamb rump and a steak; and a shorter, more expensive and adventurous a la carte featuring a mustard panna cotta starter, main course grouse with hazelnuts and a trio of desserts separate to the British menu.


Blue cheese cigar

The restaurant, which seats around 60, seems wider than I recall (there is a separate dining room upstairs). That’s all to do with clever lighting, I’m told, and a row of mirrors helps. The familiar banquette which runs the length of the wall has been retained and so has the stage, a relic of its days as the One Eleven Club and Justin’s Runaway Girl (Ramsay changed the name).

Ashley cooks brightly. A blue cheese ‘cigar’, encased in a crisp pastry sheath (£7) which had absorbed the cheesy flavours, along  with melon balls and pine nuts, was an elegant starter. I had hoped for the panna cotta, which proved unavailable, so went for a very precisely steamed piece of cod enlivened by a hot but not blistering harissa sauce (£8)

My main course was pork belly, perhaps because I’d read that day it had been declared one of the world’s top ten nutritious foods, in at number eight between Swiss chard and beet greens.

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Sticky toffee pudding

Belly pork can be a dream of tenderness and succulence and this didn’t let me down, although my initial disappointment at the absence of a crisp piece of crackling was tempered by seeing Ashley had shattered the skin into crumbs and scattered them on top. The porkiness was continued through a quenelle of black pudding mash (£16). There was a nice piece of roast apple on top.

Chicken is so ubiquitous today that it often makes for a very dull meal. Here a supreme (£16) was full of cluck with plenty of flavour, alongside a rosti made up of a medley of root vegetables rather than just potato, and creamed leeks.

The long bar dominates the room and tables now occupy the stage which makes this a warm, friendly feeling place. Good music on the sound system, too.

We were greeted by general manager Paul Handley but most of the time we were served ably and enthusiastically by waiter and trainee sommelier Nathan.

We finished up with a chocolate suet pudding and a pretty nifty sticky toffee pudding.

The new Silversmiths is a bright, friendly place with a more than decent menu which should please those whose tastes are conservative along with others who want something a little bit different. Let’s wish it well.

Martin Dawes was a guest of the restaurant in writing this review.

*Silversmiths is at 111 Arundel Street, Sheffield S1 2NT. Web: http://www.silversmithsrestaurant.co.uk

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Head chef Ashley Bagshaw











A toast to Dame Nellie


Melba toast – easy to make and eat if you are an opera singer

You don’t see Melba toast much in restaurants these days and if you do, people make catty remarks. “Oh how very retro, very Seventies. Is there any egg mayonnaise?” But just because fashions have changed as the decades have rolled on doesn’t mean it isn’t any good. Besides, I have a sneaky little liking for it.

 When I want the crispest crunch to go with my pate I’ll reach for the old coffee tin labelled ‘Melba Toast.’ I like to dunk it in my soup the same way as you would a biscuit in tea. The art is holding it in long enough so it becomes infused with soup but still have a slight resistance on tongue and teeth. But not too long that it gloops into your bowl.

 I can recall only two occasions I’ve seen Melba toast in restaurants in recent years. The first was at that haven of Retroland, the Dore Grill, and the second when star chef Gordon Ramsay transformed Sheffield’s Runaway Girl into Silversmiths and revamped the menu. There was something with Melba toast for starters (in fact, versions of toast appeared on the menu three times but I think nobody noticed but me).

 Everybody knows the story of how Melba toast came to be. You don’t? Well in 1897 the famous Australian opera singer Dame Nellie Melba was staying at London’s Savoy Hotel. Feeling a little out of sorts, she ordered some dry toast. She sent it back, poor thing, saying it was too thick. The boss of the kitchen was the legendary Georges Auguste Escoffier who took the toast, cut it in half laterally, re-grilled the cut side and sent it up to her. He named it Melba toast in her honour. He had a track record in naming dishes after her, having created the peach Melba (peach with vanilla ice cream and raspberry sauce) four years before.

 Some say the name was coined by his great friend Cesar Ritz, the hotel manager, who had a flair for publicity. It came not a moment too soon to be listed among the dishes created at the Savoy. The following year the two were sacked for fiddling the books and stores and went on to found the Paris Ritz and London Carlton.

 I was disappointed to see that both the Dore Grill and Silversmiths bought their toast in when it is so easy to make. If ever the oven is on and there is spare bread around I slice it very thin and bake it, gently, at around 160C until it goes golden brown. The toast you see here is from a rather good baguette bought at Perfectionery on Sharrowvale Road. It keeps for ages in an airtight tin.

 And if you are ever short of breadcrumbs to coat a fishcake or whatever you can crumble up a few slices. Waste not, want not, eh? Thanks Nellie (and Escoffier).

PS: I also like egg mayonnaise.


And here’s Dame Nellie herself


Rendezvous with Richie


This is Richie Russell, head chef at Remo’s in Broomhill, Sheffield, and he’s pretty big in South Korea. I know this because I keep getting visits to my blog from that country.

There have been 35 in the last week alone. And the one post they want to read is Rendezvous with Remo, written this time last January, about our Italian bistro evening cooked by Richie. So far that particular item has notched up 532 views, half of which have come from South Korea.

My WordPress blog has some nifty analytics and not only tells me which countries read it but also the search terms and they include ‘Richie Russell chef,’ ‘Richie Silversmiths’ and so on. That means I can’t kid myself they want to read about Sheffield Fishcakes or how to make brown sauce. But how had they tracked him down to my blog?

Richie, you will remember, starred in the Gordon Ramsay Kitchen Nightmares series back in 2009 which saw the Runaway Girl restaurant in Arundel Street turned into Silversmiths, with 310 expletive deleteds uttered along the way, almost all of them by Ramsay and Richie.

This show has been seen around the world. I had a flurry of interest from Australia when it was shown there. And it can be seen on the Korean version of YouTube, presumably with sub-titles. Someone has put a link in the comments section to that post on this blog. hence the visits.

Now Kitchen Nightmares happened over six years ago but the past is always present on the internet. Richie has moved on, first to Piccolo, then, three years ago, to his old friend Remo Simeone’s place in Broomhill. Between them they have turned the best coffee shop in town into a thriving café and once a month bistro.

I popped in for coffee and put my head round the kitchen door to see Richie. He’s not unaware of the interest. “I can always tell which country is watching the show because people try and contact me. When it was shown in Australia people wanted to befriend me on Facebook,” he said while preparing for that night’s bistro evening.

He has not, so far, had any requests from South Korea although that can only be a matter of time. I had a request to make of Richie. The blog picture most clicked is that of the café but while it shows Remo at work there is no sign of Richie.

Every journalist knows they should never disappoint a reader so here, for all of you out there in South Korea, is Richie. Now how long before someone puts a link on YouTube to this?

STOP PRESS. Richie left Remo’s in September, 2018. For readers in South Korea I am trying to find out where he is now. In fact, he has quit catering and is now in painting and decorating.

A star has fallen

Tessa Bramley, chef-patron of the Old Vicarage

Tessa Bramley, chef-patron of the Old Vicarage

So the Old Vicarage at Ridgeway is one of the unlucky 13 in Britain which has lost the Michelin star, held since 1998 and the only one in Sheffield. It made front page news in the Sheffield Telegraph. But how much does it really matter?

True, it must be a bitter disappointment to chef-patron Tessa Bramley and her long-term chef Nathan Smith, who has been there for every starry year. They are most probably the victim of changing fashions rather than falling standards because reviews of the food have been mostly good or excellent although service is reportedly wobbly.

Chefs at the top of their profession crave stars but they probably mean more in terms of kudos with their fellow chefs than to the average diner. Relatively few people read the Michelin Guide, certainly not in comparison to the Good Food Guide and Hardens, compiled from public reports rather than food inspectors.

It may be difficult to the public to appreciate how much stars mean to chefs and how they feel when they lose them. French chef Bernard Loiseau shot himself in 2003 when he thought, wrongly, he had lost one of his three stars at the Cote d’Or in Saulieu. I have eaten there, sat next to his widow Dominique, and enjoyed the signature dish of frogs legs, garlic and parsley. Gordon Ramsay is said to have wept when he lost two stars at his New York restaurant, The London.

On the other hand, Skye Gyngell handed back her star at her café in a garden centre, Petersham Nurseries, because diners drawn there by the publicity expected glitzier surroundings. And in Sheffield Marcus Lane, who then owned Rafters, felt his Bib Gourmand (just below a star) put undue pressure on the kitchen and asked not to be considered the following year.

There is no doubt that winning a star brings customers. But that can mean more staff and more costs in keeping up the standards – and pricier food to match. Conversely, losing can cost. Forbes magazine quotes studies showing that dropping a star can halve sales. More than one restaurant has won a star and gone bust. There’s another factor. Michelin stars tend to turn restaurants into pricy, over-formal, reverential temples of food where people speak in hushed voices when eating should be a lively, gregarious, convivial and sensuous experience.

It is some years since I have eaten at the Old Vic, and then we had the night to ourselves, for my editor at the Sheffield Star felt few readers would be tempted by £40 a head lunches and £75 dinners. But it has been consistently good since I first went there (just six meals into my reviewing career!) shortly after it entered the Good Food Guide 27 years ago.

I have even cooked there. Once, for a story, I was a commis chef for the night (the lowest of the low) cooking samphire and vegetables to go with an amuse of cods cheeks. Tessa, on the pass, sent one of my plates back three times before judging it good enough. She was a kind but strict taskmistress. I was terrified there might be a food critic in that night!

Like any good restaurant, stories about the Old Vic abound. In the early days Tessa’s son Andrew, nicknamed ‘Lurch,’ would open the restaurant door (you rang the bell) and look you up and down as if to judge your worth. There is the story, probably apocryphal, of the loud pub landlord out dining who asked for a bitter to which the reply was: “Would that be bitter lemon or Angostura, sir?”

My favourite is of the late Michael Winner, reviewing for the Sunday Times, who on visiting the gents noticed a bowl of strawberries. He reached to pick one then wondered about the personal hygiene of previous visitors and desisted. Winner wickedly made much of this in his report, taking the wee-wee so to speak, but gave a favourable review.

For the Old Vic, losing that star may be the end of an era but it is not the end of the world.

The Old Vicarage

The Old Vicarage

Not just cheese in Wensleydale

Wensleydale Heifer's fish pie

Wensleydale Heifer’s fish pie

I’m feeling retro at the Wensleydale Heifer fish restaurant and grill so it’s ‘70s prawn cocktail,’ followed by fish pie and Baked Alaska. For a questing foodie, I know, this is a little shameful but I cannot ever recall eating the latter. So there’s a gap to fill.

You might ask why there’s a fish place in the middle of the Yorkshire Dales in a pub named after a cow but they just like their fish. Except they can’t do a prawn cocktail. Instead of the balloon glass (what else does ‘70s’ suggest?) it’s on a plate. Oh! I groan to the waitress. She says the chef couldn’t get it all into a glass but that’s nonsense.

I’m not saying it doesn’t taste fine with lots of prawns, a Marie Rose sauce spiked with Jack Daniels (although I needed the menu to tell me that) and paprika but this dish is really all about presentation and the fun of furtling at the bottom of the glass for the last prawn. So I thought I’d been had.

I know who to blame: Gordon Ramsay, who first ‘deconstructed’ this dish. At least, that was the defence of the last chef who served me something similar.

This blog is normally concerned with Sheffield, South Yorkshire and North Derbyshire while the Wensleydale Heifer, at West Witton, is in North Yorkshire. We are on holiday and this is our fourth visit down the years so we obviously like it.

I love the warren of little eating areas, old beams and quirky design although not the naff nursery-style pictures which have appeared in the main dining room. Nor the ‘optional 10 per cent service charge’ as we like to judge our own tips. It’s also a little pricy but standards are high and if you stay off the carte, lobster and steaks it’s not that painful.

Service is usually good so perhaps the waitress just forgot to carry our half-drunk proseccos into the dining room, unlike those of the previous two guests she took through?

We’re having lunch off the three course £21.75 prix-fixe menu. My wife has the scallop pakoras, lemon lentil daal and cucumber raita with coriander, cashew and coconut salad, which is £4 extra, so the kitchen should really have remembered to include the salad. Despite my wife being a lover of cashews, she doesn’t realise this component was missing until we reread the menu before dessert and consult our photos. Too late!

That said, the pakoras, fragments of very fresh scallop in a crunchy coating, were excellent but how much more would they have been with their cashews, coconut and coriander? So ask to keep the menu with you to check the kitchen hasn’t gone ditzy.

Wensleydale Heifer: cow's name, serves fish

Wensleydale Heifer: cow’s name, serves fish

The menu modestly declares the fish pie is famous so I have it and am not disappointed. It comes in a pan at the temperature of a nuclear reactor so the dish is still cooking at your table. Note that, I’ll be coming back to it.

The USP is the gorgeously crisp topping of toasted cheesy mash spiked with nutmeg. The creamy white sauce contains fennel, chopped boiled egg, capers and spinach so that takes up quite a bit of space before we get to the fish. Fish was there (smoked, white and prawns) but the kitchen needs to cut the pieces larger because the contents were dangerously approaching a modge. A tasty modge but still a modge. Turn the temperature down, lads.

My wife’s double crusted hake (a herb crust topped with crispy shallots) sat on a fine parmesan and herb risotto, well judged all round.

As a Baked Alaska virgin I was satisfied. The vanilla ice cream perched on a sponge disc, coated with meringue and garnished with shreds of candied lemon. The enjoyment is the contrast between cold ice cream and warm meringue but this is, in the end, a dish that’s all ‘fur coat and no knickers’ gastronomically. Much more rewarding was a rich, oozing chocolate fondant with Kirsch cherries.

Equally rewarding was the bill, which had missed out our pre-lunch proseccos and the two glasses of Pinot Grigio with the meal. As we had greatly enjoyed ourselves I pointed it out and the bill was upped from £50 something to £80.19, with service charge. I was thanked for my honesty but not offered a discount for it. No matter, I had already given myself one by neglecting to mention the £4 supplement on my wife’s starter with the missing cashew, coriander and coconut salad.

A lovely afternoon despite the niggles.


Not what I'd call a prawn cocktail

Not what I’d call a prawn cocktail

Baked Alaska with some fine sugarwork

Baked Alaska with some fine sugarwork

Probably the worst picture we've seen in a dining room

Probably the worst picture we’ve seen in a dining room

Rendezvous with Remo

Italian meatloaf

Italian meatloaf

luxurious tiramisu

luxurious tiramisu

The other night my wife and I did something we haven’t done since last October. Well you can stop sniggering because we went out for a meal together. Not with the grandchildren, just ourselves. Oh and a pen, notebook and camera. When you’ve had over 1,400 meals out over 26 years of restaurant reviewing old habits die hard.

I thought I might as well, for the blog. Anyway I could never switch off when I was working. I’d always pause mid-mouthful and ask myself what I could say about it if asked. Once on holiday we went to the famous Magpie fish and chip restaurant in Whitby. “Now you’re not working, just enjoy it,” admonished my wife.

“Hello Martin, Are you going to write about them?” called a well-known Sheffield character who spotted us coming in. And I thought, why not? Lots of Sheffield people eat here on holiday so a review would be legit. My wife didn’t quite see it that way but I jotted a few notes on a paper serviette, took the odd picture, wrote up the piece and in the end the paper settled the bill. Now that’s what I call a free meal.

We were certainly paying at Remo’s in Broomhill, a place we invariably call in for coffee when we’re out shopping on Saturday. It’s got lots of atmosphere, looks authentic (the boss is Italian via Rotherham) and has very probably the best coffee in town.

Last year owner Remo Simeone finally realised his dream of expanding the place and doing rather more in the food side than a few salads and sandwiches and the odd hot dish cooked and brought in by veteran Sheffield restaurateur Marco Giove Senior. He hired his old pal Richie Russell as chef.


Chef Richie Russell

You’ll know Richie. He was the chef in that Kitchen Nightmares TV show in 2009 who memorably swapped 310 expletive deleteds (including 240 F words) with celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay at the restaurant rebranded as Silversmiths in Arundel Street. Despite this, one reviewer described Richie as one of the nicest chefs seen in the series. And so he is.

Since starting, Richie has introduced more hot dishes to the menu, which now changes every month, and there is now a monthly bistro evening. Well, chefs have to keep interested. We’ve been meaning to go and eventually did.

Soup was cauliflower, chickpeas and celery, with a background flavouring of rosemary, with a slice of ciabatta with toasted taleggio on top. Nice flavours, which is what you could also say about the asparagus and artichoke tart which followed. I followed next with Italian meatloaf (a sort of square meatball) and got two gutsy slices. The kitchen had used quite a bit of bread in the mixture but it was a good, rumbustious dish, although it cried out for a tomato sauce.

Instead, it was partnered with a bean casserole, as was my wife’s main course of baked squash with pasta and Dolcellate. It looked rib-sticking but was quite delicate, if too much with the beans. It was all good spirited stuff and the meal ended with a quite glorious orange, chocolate and Amaretto tiramisu so, with BYO and no corkage, it was great value for around £25 a head and I heard nobody swear all night.