Foie gras, faux pas?


Foie gras from Fortnum & Mason

The news the other week that animal rights activists had targeted a Norfolk restaurant for including foie gras on its menu seemed all too familiar. They won the day. After menacing phone calls and fake bookings owner-chef Mark Dixon backed down.

I say all too familiar because we had a spate of that in the Sheffield area a few years back. In 2006 a group of vegan activists picketed Rafters on Oakbrook Road, then run by Marcus Lane. Unmoved, he was quite content to let them be: after all, everyone has a right to protest but he sent down a bar of soap so, he said, they could at least be clean and tidy outside his restaurant.

The following year I reported in the Sheffield Star that the Blue Room Brasserie, under Christian Kent, was in the line of fire. He felt discretion was the better part of valour.

In 2008 the Showroom’s restaurant was in the group’s sights but the explanation seemed to be that it had been a menu drawn up for a private party and left as an example on the website. This group was busy Googling ‘Sheffield’ and ‘foie gras’ because Moran’s, on Abbeydale Road South, also got a call. It had, said owner Bryan Moran, been on an old menu and wasn’t now and he refused to sign an undertaking not to serve it again.

As The Star’s food writer and restaurant critic I documented all this. My last story on the subject, before I retired, was about the now deceased Kitchen on Ecclesall Road which, in 2010, scored a double whammy as far as vegans were concerned: on the menu was a veal burger topped with foie gras. The owner worriedly took it off when the calls started coming.

What happened in some cases was that foie gras went ‘under the counter’ and did not appear on menus.

I have not heard of anything untoward since from the people I dubbed the Foie Gras Liberation Front but I do know of several restaurants in the area which serve it from time to time. In at least one case, it is ethically sourced. If you do buy it, don’t get it from Eastern Europe. This article is not the place for the pros and cons of enlarged goose or duck liver but it can be produced humanely. The livers don’t grow as big because the birds are left to eat naturally and greedily. And, of course, it’s much more expensive.

Of course, for vegans, all meat is murder. They are entitled to their view but they are not entitled to impose it on others. And their tactics are cowardly: threatening letters and phone calls, fake bookings and vague threats of worse to come. On one of their websites one contributor pointed out menacingly that the Nottinghamshire restaurant under threat was down an ill-lit county road. Restaurants are easy targets. Foie gras is served up in restaurants where ‘posh people’ go so, and posh people are fair game. In fact, they’re probably Tories.

I note they do not picket Indian restaurants for there are many of us uneasy about the production of halal meat. If they did they would almost certainly get beaten up.

Everyone must make their choice. I eat foie gras (when I get the chance). I try and eat halal meat as little as possible. I won’t eat frog’s legs because they might come from Indonesia where they are still alive when sliced in half then tossed on a pile, taking ages to die.

Selling and serving foie gras is legal in this country (and again in California). So is halal meat. And frog’s legs. Some people will eat it, others won’t. These activists can make their point but anything else is just plain nasty.


My When Harry Met Sally moment

Rafters' belly pork gave me a When Harry Met Sally moment

Rafters’ belly pork with oriental flavours

I’m thinking 50 Shades of Grey as I sit down in the new-look Rafters restaurant in Nether Green, Sheffield. It’s had a makeover and there are greys on the walls, chairs and tablecloths.

The owners have cracked the whip when it comes to décor and given the place a new look from top to bottom. Sheffield-made Carrs Silver Sterling cutlery with Rafters engraved on the blades gleams under the brand new lights.

A splash of colour wouldn’t go amiss I say then I realise it’s on my plate. My starter of belly pork arrives, a colourful assembly of glazed brown meat, green purple sprouting broccoli and an orange blob of sweet potato. But the real colour is in the kaleidoscope of flavours on my tongue.

Forget 50 Shades, I’m having a When Harry Met Sally Moment although I’m not making any noise except Mmmmm. The Moss Valley pork has been cooked very, very slowly (72 hours) so the soy-infused meat is so soft under its sensuous fat you could cut it with a glance.

Flavours are given an extra oriental twist from the crushed cashews pressed on top. It’s very close to what foodies used to call an orgasm on a plate.

I was going to have the smoked trout when I overheard a woman at the next table order it with passion in her voice. I’m having what she’s having! Madam, you were right.

We’re here for an anniversary Sunday lunch at a place where, if restaurants were in the habit of giving long service awards to diners then we’d get one as we’ve eaten here through all the changes of ownership over more than 20 years.

It started by a couple who re-upholstered all the chairs themselves to save cash and had a chef who hated cooking with onions, was taken over by brothers Wayne and Jamie Bosworth, then Marcus Lane joined Jamie until Marcus ran it himself before selling up to a duo from the Devonshire Arms, Middle Handley, front of house man Alistair Myers and wunderkind chef Tom Lawson. He’s 23.

We arrive at the restaurant with its newly painted exterior to be asked “Is it any good?” by a chap studying the menu outside while his wife chose new windows at the shop next door. “If you have any money left over, go,” I joked.

Rafters has long had two USPs: good quality food and consistency. You may well pay the price (£42 before coffee in the evening, £34 for three courses on Sundays) and portions can seem small but you do get the full whack when it comes to taste and flavour, plus all those little extra bits: a trio of amuse bouches came one after the other and there is a pre-dessert.P1020222 Rafters  sirloin

Breads are engaging: a sticky black treacle granary, black pudding bread in the shape of a banger and a classy sourdough white with an eggshell crisp crust. Full marks to pastry chef Jodie Wilson. And while we’re giving accolades my wife says the sticky toffee pudding is the best she’s had.

Traditionally I’m a roast meat man on Sunday and the sirloin here is soft, tender and if it could moo, it would. All the trimmings matched up – sweet glazed carrots, a sophisticated cauliflower cheese, sprightly spring greens and turned roast potatoes, all crisp exteriors and creamy insides. And here’s my only complaint: three spuds is not enough.

My wife had a fishy lunch. Her starter was buttery-tasting scallops on the sweetest of roast fennel. Loin of cod sparkled brighter and had more flavour punch than you’ll get in a chippie. It came poshed up with a crab beignet (fritter), crabby sauce and tarragon-spiked gnocchi.

They do some decent wines by the glass: my Old Vines Garnacha from Spain (£6 for 175mls) was a pleasing, juicy, soft red wine.

If I’m sounding enthusiastic it’s because I was. This is highly expert, ultra confident, sparkling cooking backed up by smooth, professional service. When the bill came (this was not a freebie) it was almost a joy to pay. It was certainly a joy to eat.

Rafters is at 220 Oakbrook Road, Sheffield S11 7ED. Tel: 0114 230 4819. Web:

Rafters' new exterior - in grey!

Rafters’ new exterior – in grey!