Eating calamari on the Costa del Donny

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Great squid at Clam & Cork

THEY all rave on TripAdvisor about the calamari at the Clam & Cork on Doncaster’s Fish Market. “Soft and delicate,” wrote one diner. “To die for,” said another. Even grizzled Guardian food critic Jay Rayner approved of them in their salt and pepper batter although he quibbled slightly that all the membrane hadn’t been removed.

So, of course, we had to order some.

It’s quite right. They are as tender as a baby’s bum and as delicate in quite a fiery coating. They are very simply done: The rings are kept moist then dunked to order in a bowl of seasoned flour before being deep-fried. And the membrane certainly wasn’t evident. They were perched on a chipotle mayonnaise. Very spicy, very nice for £7.50.

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Prawn cocktail in a glass!

I’m not sure if the Guardian tried the oysters, Irish from Carlingford Lough. I had four (£1.50 each), well presented on plenty of ice with lots of lemon and an excellent shallot vinegar. They were sweet and briny. They would have been even better if the chef hadn’t doused them under the tap after shucking to remove any stray splinters of shell. That lost their exquisite natural juices.

The little stall, with not more than 18 seats on three sides round the kitchen and a few tables outside, opened last year. I read Rayner’s enthusiastic review a little later and wondered whether it had anything to do with the broadly similar Med at the Market which we visited in 2013, feasting on Catalan fish stew and fish kebabs. It hasn’t and that is now closed.


Monkfish on tamarind coleslaw

The Clam & Cork has been praised for its friendliness and informality and good food, as well as being an unexpected outpost of culinary excellence on what we must call the Costa Del Donny.

We went on a Wednesday, not the busiest day of the week for most of the stalls are closed (try Tuesday, Friday and Saturday) and some of the ones that would have been open were not as their owners were attending the funeral of a popular market butcher. There was loud clapping as his hearse, a coach and horses, went by during our meal.

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Irish oysters from Carlingford Lough

The eaterie, squeezed in between two shellfish stalls and a fish stall proper, has a short, simple menu of small and large plates. The former listed calamari, fried monkfish, Pil Pil prawns, scallops with lime and coriander and prawn cocktail, the latter cod and chips, monkfish burger, coconut fish curry, pan roasted salmon and sea bass with a crab salad and brown crab mayonnaise. No sign of a clam, though.

Along with two generous glasses of pinot grigio we ordered two more small plates to follow. The monkfish (£7.50) was a generous portion and came in a similar batter to the calamari, this time on a coleslaw spiked with tamarind.


The prawn cocktail (£7.50) was nicely stocked and was served, purists will be pleased to see, in a large wine glass. It was also trendy. The traditional Marie Rose sauce had been dumped for pink grapefruit and avocado. I wasn’t offered any but was told it was good!

The bill with wine for a relaxed and pleasant lunch was £39.50 and I can quite see why the Clam and Cork is number one in Doncaster on TripAdvisor. You can’t reserve seats so choose your moment to go, perhaps for an early or late lunch. The place stays open until 4pm.

For those seeking a wider range and more inventiveness with fish then Mann’s fish bar closer to home at Sheffield’s Kommune Food Hall takes some beating. But that, as yet, hasn’t had a visit from Jay Rayner.

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Not many seats but the food is good


Expensive wine: Rayner is right!


Jay Rayner

Now how many times have you said this? “That looks to be a nice pair of shoes/jacket/shirt. How much is it? Really? I can get it for a third of the price down the road. Still, I’ll pay your much higher price.” Never, eh, you wouldn’t be so daft.

Now substitute the phrase ‘bottle of wine’ in that paragraph and read it again. How many times have you paid well over the odds for wine in a restaurant?

It’s a well-worn, familiar topic because we all know restaurants put a big mark up on their wine but Guardian food critic Jay Rayner, the foodie world’s Marco Pierre White, has popped the cork out of the bottle again at the Cheltenham Literature Festival where he was punting his latest book.

He is reported to have said he was irritated by wine snobbery (aren’t we all?) and added: “I refuse to be intimidated by a wine list. (They) are fraught with problems but mostly because of the b——- spouted by wine connoisseurs. They irritate me profoundly.”

He went on: “I do not hold to being intimidated by anything in this life and if a wine list irritates you just buy the cheapest on the list and tell them all to p— off.”

This was interpreted by headline writers as ‘always buy the cheapest wine,’ which is invariably the house wine, and has irritated the great man on Twitter as he didn’t say that but the context is clear. I certainly object to paying well over the odds for wine personally and so did my newspaper’s expense account.

So I felt only reasonable, as it should be to  Mr Rayner, to order the house wine so I could recommend it or not to the readers. I can recall several occasions where I warned them to avoid it in some places. Once I forgot my own advice and went back and ordered it again, a rubbishy Merlot in an Italian restaurant!

I certainly agree that your evening can be enhanced by matching particular wines to foods but unless I am sitting at home am not prepared to expensively indulge this pleasure in restaurants. I would rather spend the money on the food, which should not need the wine to support it.

Rayner is right. There is an awful lot of wine snobbery about and most diners feel intimidated. If restaurants really thought it was vitally important to match wine with food they would offer more half bottles and wines by the glass because it is unlikely one bottle will suit both mains when a couple go out to dine.

That’s why it irritates me when waiters ask if we have chosen the wine before we have decided on our order. We opt for a glass these days, so we can make a decent pairing.

Mark ups of 200 or 300 per cent are common and that is on the retail price you’ll find in supermarkets. Wholesale prices will be cheaper. I accept there should be a premium added to compensate the restaurant for its capital investment in stock. They can have a lot of money tied up.Some places will tell you that the spend on drink subsidises the food.

I think it legitimate to mark up a wine which is reasonably exclusive. I’ve just run my eye down the list of one leading Sheffield leading restaurant which offers a New Zealand white at £60. You won’t find it on many other lists although it is sold in another northern restaurant at £45!

Rayner tells of being ‘treated like dirt’ because he asked a waiter to suggest a cheaper wine. My favourite tale comes from former Sheffield Star restaurant critic Stephen McClarence who fancied a rose but couldn’t find one on the list.

He came back to the office regaling us with his account of how the waiter offered to mix a glass of red and white for him!

FOOTNOTE: You might like to read this post on BYO in local restaurants here