No Name, this is the pack drill


Griddled scallop starter at No Name

IT’S a beautifully made piece of ciabatta, I think, as I bite into it at No Name in Crookes. Look how it almost quivers, the open crumb and the delightfully olivey taste. It’s almost a shame to dunk it into the bowl of balsamic and olive oil.

I can recall when ‘Italian bread’ here was half a breadcake wiped with garlic. Then it was called Franco’s Pizzeria, no great shakes for food but chef patron Franco D’Egido ended the evening singing the Wild Rover while his wife Elaine let off balloons.

We went back 20 years later to find Franco had retired, it was still Italian but in different hands and the head waiter was called Nigel.

I turn to my dining companion, fellow blogger Craig ‘Mr Ciabatta’ Harris, a foodie and Italophile so keen on authenticity he slips out of bed early to make his weekly batch. What does he think? He nods enthusiastically.

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Crispy chicken beats KFC

No Name is tiny, a micro bistro. It seats 21 or 24 if you all breathe in. So is the menu with just 3-4-2 choices at each course. The prices aren’t micro, though, so a meal for two would be banging on at around £60 and I get a bit of a grump on when Craig, who books, tells me there are two sittings. If I spend that money I want the table all night, particularly at a weekend. But then again, if you’ve got a place that small, it helps pay the rent.

Happily Crookes hasn’t got the grump because No Name, which opened in June, has been a runaway success in an area which is all pizzas and pakoras and where Modern British Cooking has not previously reared its head. “Simply outstanding,” one diner trilled on TripAdvisor.

The owner-chef is Thomas Samworth, 33, one of Mick Burke’s star pupils at Sheffield College, who won the prestigious Maurice des Ombiaux in Belgium, a junior chefs’ European Cup, back in 2003. After a spell at Gary Rhodes’ W1 in London he came home to head up the kitchen at Rowley’s in Baslow, as well as the village’s Devonshire Arms. We’ve eaten his food at both places as well as at the Schoolrooms in Low Bradfield, although he had fewer tattoos back then.

When I saw the menu (there is no website, just a Facebook page) it looked very safe: butternut squash soup, lamb shank and duck confit. I was proved wrong. It’s the way he cooks them as someone very nearly said.

There is now no Nigel front of house but there is a very expectant Mrs Megan Samworth and the hope skitters across my mind that she won’t give birth between my crispy chicken starter and confit main. “If I drop my food it stays on here,” she laughs, patting her belly.

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Megan and Thomas Samworth

I had no idea what crispy chicken (£7) was but it turned out to be a sort of chicken rillettes bound in Bechamel and shaped into a crispy coated lozenge. That’s very modern and also very old, a souped up version of croquettes. What soups it up is a sauce of blitzed sweetcorn and a good helping of fancy micro mushrooms, lightly pickled.

The rest of the table has scallops (£8), three very sweet pieces, seared one side only, with apple caramel, hazelnuts and celeriac. Craig, a celeriac junkie, wished for a bit more oomph with the vegetable.

We men went for the confit (£16), served boned on top of a triangle of wonderfully crisp and starchy rosti potato, so good it threatened to upstage the main ingredient. This was a lovely dish, helped along with earthy kale and an elegant pickled blackberry jus.

My wife had an excellent piece of stone bass, nothing like sea bass but it’s an ugly blighter otherwise known as Atlantic wreckfish, now becoming popular. Craig’s wife Marie enthusiastically offered portions of her ultra-tender lamb shank to share.

In his micro kitchen (just two rings) Thomas said he had got fed up cooking fish and chips and gammon steaks in country pubs and wanted to rustle up the kind of food he liked to eat out. Some pop-up nights at his family home helped establish a following and by early summer the place was open.

And why No Name? “I wanted an air of mystery,” he said. Doubtless he was thinking of The Man Behind the Curtain in Leeds. Well, there’s no mystery why No Name is popular. It’s the good cooking. It’s also BYO so that sort of compensates for speedy eating.

We finish with either spiced plums or a good chocolate mousse with honeycomb. A great night out and we wish Megan and Thomas all the best with the birth. Let’s hope the owners of No Name come up with one for the baby!

#253 Crookes, Sheffield. Tel 0114 266 1520. Open Wed-Sat night. Facebook



Tiny but perfectly formed







The Star Maker still twinkles


Mick Burke takes it steady with an orange juice

A magazine once dubbed him the Star Maker. A former student affectionately referred to him as “the old wizard.” Whatever you call him, an awful lot of chefs, some now with Michelin stars, are very grateful to Sheffield College chef-lecturer Mick Burke, who has just retired.

So when his friends, staff and former students organised a farewell lunch for him at Sheffield’s Copthorne Hotel there was a big turn-out to pay tribute to the 62-year-old chef whose culinary skills,particularly in patisserie, are a legend in the industry.

 They weren’t just content to sit down to a slap-up meal and swap stories. Some, like Rupert Rowley, of Michelin-starred Baslow Hall and Nathan Smith of the Old Vicarage, both Burke protégés, teamed up with chef-lecturers Neil Taylor and Len Unwin to plan and cook the lunch. Joining the brigade was Will Haythorne of Jersey’s Langueville Manor, where another of Mick’s Michelin Men, Andrew Baird, is in charge. Andrew couldn’t make it but gave the nod to Will, another ex-student, to lend a hand.

 Naturally the college, which is losing the brightest star from one of the country’s leading catering sections, made the most of the do: trainee chefs helped out the star names while other students brushed up their waiting skills under the eye of lecturer Maxene Gray.

 It’s a good job there was so much talent in the temporary kitchen offered by the Copthorne. It was Friday the Thirteenth and bad luck struck early when the power went off and stayed off. Food had to be cooked in the hotel’s kitchen and ferried upstairs. “The room we used turned out to be a changing room!” grinned Rupert. But only afterwards.

 Guests wouldn’t have known as they tucked in to game terrine with anise, a terrific crab and lobster ravioli in langoustine sauce, roast sirloin and a wickedly citrousy lemon tart. “That’ll have woken you up,” said Andrew Baird, drily, retired executive chef of the Sheraton Park Lane Hotel, a lifelong friend. One of Mick Burke’s greatest strengths was his connections. He could send students to the best places, get the top chefs to do demos, and call in favours. I recall him getting Michael Gaines down to star in the new kitchens that he had a big hand in commissioning in 2009.

 His involvement didn’t stop at picking up the phone. The room was full of tales of him ferrying students to competitions in his own car or a minibus, from which they all seemed to return with a medal, very often gold.

 “He gives back twice as much as you give him,” said Tom Lawson, now co-owner of the often dazzling Rafters restaurant. “It’s just his enthusiasm as a chef and his ability to instil that in you,” added Marcus Lane, previous owner of Rafters. He, like other former students, now grown up and perhaps wealthier than him, still refers to ‘Mr Burke. Why? “To me he is till my lecturer.” Among other well known local chefs there to pay tribute were Jamie Bosworth, Richard Irving, Christian Kent and Chris Hawkins.


Mick Burke in his chef’s whites

 Mick, a miner’s son from Bolton on Dearne, was the first boy in his domestic science class at Pope Pious secondary school, Wath. Going home with his box of buns on the bus could be challenging. He studied catering at Rotherham and passed with honours as student of his year. Before long he was at Claridges, later coming back to Sheffield’s Grosvenor Hotel as chef tournant, the bloke who can fit in anywhere when needed.

 But Mick never stopped learning. He went to Granville (a predecessor of Sheffield College) to take his 7063 City & Guilds and finished up student of the year again.

 It was around this time he thought of a career in education. As one of his colleagues put it, he could have worked anywhere and would doubtless have influenced many chefs: by choosing education he influenced thousands. It was his pastry work that singled him out. Typically, he made sure he had the right teacher, Roger Taylor, then pastry chef at the Connaught. At this time Mick was lecturing at Granville and the course was in Birmingham. He would teach until noon, catch the train at 1pm and not return home until the following morning.

 Mick is 62, still relatively young. “I have worked here for 37 years and 109 days. There is life outside Sheffield College,” he said enigmatically. Whatever it will be, and he was giving no clues, he will be up to his old wizardry.


Students made Mick this retirement cake


And also:

*Mick said the lunch had disrupted his retirement plans – it was held on the day he and his wife Jill had designated ‘Tidy Friday’

*Each table had a butter hedgehog, in memory of a competition for a themed dinner, in the college’s case Sheffield Steel. Asked by judges how the hedgehogs fitted into the theme a bright female student explained that in Sheffield the little beasts hibernated in the city’s warm steelworks