Who Said Pie?

Butler's on Broad Lane - a drawing by Patrick Smith

Butler’s on Broad Lane – a drawing by Patrick Smith

Last week the local newspapers carried a story about two Asian brothers jailed for12 months apiece and ordered to pay fines and costs totalling £182,000 after unauthorised building work led to a building collapse on Brook Hill, Sheffield, in 2013.

The structural engineering standards of the Indian sub-continent finally put paid to the building which had once housed the city’s most celebrated café –the fabled Butler’s Dining Rooms,

Memories fade fast. The Press reported it had previously been an Indian restaurant, which it had, but made no mention of the café there before that which for 80 years had been such an iconic part of the city’s eating scene.

Legends abound about Butler’s. It was here that Picasso, visiting the World Peace Congress in Sheffield, a Communist front, drew a dove of peace on a napkin. It was here they served the Desperate Dan cow pie, so big it was cooked in a metal tin the size of a baby’s bath under a glistening golden dome of shortcrust pastry. You knew when it was ready when the windows steamed up.

Stephen and Edna

Butler’s stood across the way from the old Jessop Maternity Hospital and they say, although I cannot prove it, that men attending the fertility clinic would pop across for a helping of meat and potato pie for vigour before making a, ahem, donation.

It opened in 1910 and closed in 1993, so that’s a lot of pie, liver and bacon, toast and dripping and jam roly poly which went down the city’s collective gullet.

It was run in my time by Stephen Butler, son of the founder, and his wife Edna. Stephen almost always wore a white T-shirt with a picture of a Bisto-type Kid and the legend “Who Said Pie?” But this was the only gesture to the late 20th century.

The cellar kitchen

The tables were Spartan, Formica-topped if you were lucky, and didn’t have cloths. One I remember was topped with a sheet of metal and riveted onto the wood below. It was as if the café was stuck in an aspic of calves foot jelly for on the wall was an RAC map of Britain before the motorways.

Stephen, used to journalists in search of local ‘colour,’ showed me around once, including the cavernous basement with ovens which had once belonged to a London hotel. They made everything themselves. You never heard the ping of a microwave here.

This was stoutly working class.The staff were locals, workmen, people partial to pie, journalists– the Independent commented on the ‘artisan ambience’ – and, every now and then, a self-made man coming back to rediscover his roots. You could tell that if there was a Rolls or Bentley parked outside.

That was until the city council painted double yellow lines outside in 1993. There had been a change in tastes – people were more likely to want a burger than pie – but it proved the death knell of the business. Trade dropped. Stephen sold it to an Indian restaurateur who, knowing its reputation, kept on the name as Butler’s Balti which was a smashing thing to do. It has since, and well before the demolition job, moved to new premises further down Broad Lane.

Serving girls in the window

I ate there several times, either as a restaurant critic or for a story for The Star’s Diary page, now, sadly, no more. The food was basic but very, very good. I can still taste the pie and the roly-poly. I didn’t move very fast after lunch that afternoon.

As I wrote at the time if this had been France Stephen Butler would have been a local culinary hero and they would have pinned medals on his chest. The Cow Pie would have been a regional speciality.

But this is England. He retired and has, sadly, passed away. And isn’t it oddly, eccentrically British, that he is remembered in the name of an Indian restaurant?

#Pictures by Barry Evans

Tiina turns on the style

Cauliflower and pistachio fritters

Cauliflower and pistachio fritters

“Interesting opportunity,” said the auctioneers’ auction brochure of lot 23 which went under the hammer on April 23, 2013. And what an opportunity Tiina Carr has seized.

The old DHSS Peace Guest House, left derelict and an eyesore on Brocco Bank, Sheffield, for several years, has been transformed. It still takes paying guests but they now fork out quite a bit more as the premises have become Brocco on the Park, a chic boutique hotel.

When the hammer went down marketing consultant Tiina, making her first venture into the hospitality industry, had paid £294,000, slightly under the guide price, for the Edwardian villa where, it is rumoured, Picasso spent a night in 1950. He’d come to a Communist-organised international peace conference at the City Hall and drew his ubiquitous doves of peace.

Commentators have called the décor Scandinavian and the adjective which normally goes with this is ‘stark.’ Yet white walls, lots of glass and grey Lloyd Loom chairs don’t make for a cold or clinical look: it feels warm. Tiina has a sure touch with design. And judging by our two visits it’s very popular with ladies who lunch.

From my table I couldn’t see a single picture and thought this was deliberate but there were two around the corner. Tiina – there are two ‘i’s in her name – is still choosing them. Thankfully she hasn’t called the restaurant the Picasso (although you will spot bird motifs throughout the hotel).

It’s a bustling 44 cover restaurant in two rooms plus a terrace. We had booked for lunch for a second time and it proved to be highly enjoyable. There’s a partly open kitchen which adds to the theatre because you can watch head chef Leslie Buddington (last seen at the Curator’s House and Platillos) on pass.

Service runs smoothly but then the restaurant manager is Jenni MacKenzie, previously at the helm at the upmarket Peacock at Rowsley.

The slightly cautious menu changes four times a year, with daily specials, running lunch and evening. Lighter options include nibbly platters, flatbreads with fancy toppings and a goat’s cheese, kale and pumpkin tart. As for heavier dishes, Leslie must have a couple of deer in the freezer as there was venison cottage pie on my first visit, venison meatballs on my second.

There are a number of gluten-free dishes as Leslie is gluten intolerant. So that’s chickpea flour binding my excellent cauliflower and pistachio fritters spiked with cumin and chilli (£6), garnished with tiny pickled florets and soused sultanas. My wife has delicate beetroot-cured salmon on dill-flecked blinis (£7).

There’s more spice in my duck confit (£15) set against a smooth celeriac mash and sturdy red cabbage. Her fish pie special (£15) looks enormous but gets eaten. The mash is mixed with smoked cheese and the fish itself is tasty although it could have done with some salmon and the odd prawn to improve looks and texture. Sweet potato chips (£3) are more-ish.

Desserts at £6 are elegant from pastry chef Hugh: a ‘burnt custard’ or crème brulee with a whisper-thin crisp top and the shortest of shortbreads plus a dark, rich, intense chocolaty cheesecake.

Grumbles? Both our house wines, red and white, were a tad warm and perhaps breads should be offered with a meal that nears £30 a head for three courses. The cooking is adroit but dishes could be a little more adventurous to match the surroundings.

It’s a stylish venue with Sheffield charm. The place bills itself a neighbourhood restaurant and I’m glad it’s in mine.

Brocco on the Park

Brocco on the Park

Hugh's burnt custard

Hugh’s burnt custard