Raising a glass to Mr B

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The hearse on Abbeydale Road South

THERE won’t be another Sheffield funeral like it. The rain was teeming down but people lined the pavements, regardless of the spray from passing cars.

A big cheer went up as the hearse drove slowly past my vantage point. People clapped and hollered. Some, clutching bottles of wines or cans, raised a glass. Cars in the funeral cortege following the hearse hooted in reply. Through steamy windows I could see glasses waved in salute.

If there was a lack of the usual reverence normally seen at funerals it was exactly what David Baldwin, much-loved boss of the Omega Banqueting Suite, would have wanted.

Covid-19 had restricted the number of mourners to 10 at Hutcliffe Wood Crematorium. In normal times the chapel would have been packed like sardines. But these are not normal times.

So his widow Pauline and family had asked his friends and customers to line the route as the hearse set off from his family home in Dore and bring a bottle in lieu of a wake.

But what to wear at a roadside funeral? Half a dozen chefs, all of whom had been helped in their careers one way another by the man they called the Big ‘Un or Mr B, had no doubts. Despite the rain they took off their coats and stood in their whites. Some of the male mourners wore black ties.

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Mourners had been asked to bring a drink

We all cheered: former staff – Mr B inspired loyalty – customers and people from across the hospitality industry.

After the hearse passed we broke away, sheltering under the arch at Abbeydale Sports Club, which houses the successor to Baldwin’s Omega, the Omega at Abbeydale. People swapped stories, remembering his acts of generosity, always willing to give a word of advice or lend a helping hand.

Over at Hutcliffe the funeral service was beginning. “Thank you for the days, those endless days, those sacred days you gave me,” sang the Kinks. There were plenty of days – and nights – to remember at the Omega: works Christmas parties, salmon and strawberry evenings, Sixties and Seventies nights, society shindigs, limbo dancing at Caribbean Nights and midday lunches.

The music faded. Elder son David and daughter Polly gave their tributes. Son Ben read the words of My Way. Things were always done Mr B’s way at the Omega because it was the right way.

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Passing the Omega at Abbeydale

There was a psalm, The Lord is My Shepherd. Prayers. A Blessing. And then music from Les Miserables, Master of the House. The lyrics could have been written with David Baldwin in mind.

“Wecome, Monsieur, sit yourself down

And meet the best innkeeper in town . . .

Master of the house, doling out the charm

Ready with a handshake and an open palm

Tells a saucy tale, makes a little stir

Customers appreciate a bon-viveur . . .”

That’s exactly what he was, a bon-viveur. And he made sure his customers were that, too, while they were in his company. Although the lyrics forget the swearing . . .

“Everybody raise a glass to the Master of the House.”

RIP David Baldwin 1939-2010.

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Order of Service

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s goodbye to the Big ‘Un

 

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David Baldwin and wife Pauline

DAVID Baldwin, founder of Baldwin’s Omega banqueting rooms and the Grand Old Man of Sheffield’s hospitality industry, has died in his sleep at home in Dore. He was 80.

“He passed away peacefully at 3am, about the last kicking out time that would have been at the Omega,” said his son David Junior.

While he had retired through ill health after selling off the Omega on Psalter Lane two years ago, his passing marks the end of an era for the city’s restaurant trade. He put his stamp on it in more ways than one.

“He was most proud of the number of chefs he had trained who had gone on to bigger and better things,” added David. They include Ray Booker, now head chef at the Chester Grosvenor, chef turned fishmonger Christian Szurko, and Sam Lindsay, head chef at Owlerton.

Yet, at the same time, he inspired a terrific loyalty and many staff (as well as customers) stayed with him for years.

Among them were head chef Steve Roebuck, who worked for him for 30 years,  and operations manager Jamie Christian, for 25, who have continued his legacy at the Omega at Abbeydale Sports Club.

He was committed to high standards of food and service, was known for providing value for money, and half the city must at one time have attended an office party or a works dinner, or perhaps been to a salmon and strawberries evening, at the Omega.

Bluff, gruff and wickedly funny, with a personality the size of Yorkshire, he was a great raconteur. A former chairman of the Restaurants Association of Great Britain,  he actively promoted young talent through Young Chef and Young Waiters competitions, and had an unrivalled network of contacts throughout the industry, from Brian Turner to Rick Stein, using them to send his own brightest staff on placements.

He was known for very colourful language. Jamie Christian remembers calling his boss from the kitchen one Christmas after a woman diner found lead shot in her pheasant. He roared back: “What do you think it died of? A f*cking heart attack?”

Known affectionately as Mr B or The Big ‘Un, he and his wife Pauline took over the white-painted hacienda-style building in 1980, after it had been dark for two years.

With a catering background that included running the Angler’s Rest at Bamford and the Hillsborough Suite at Sheffield Wednesday, they acted on a hunch that Sheffield needed at top class banqueting venue. They were right and in its heyday the Omega was constantly busy but times change and they were hit by the decline in office parties as businesses tightened their belts.

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The Rib Room at Baldwin’s

It was offset to some degree by the popularity of lunches in the Rib Room for an elder clientele and people who wanted to give customers and friends a taste of Sheffield. When present and not on holiday abroad, he was a legend in many people’s lunchtimes.

David was born into the hospitality industry as a publican’s son. He was a former communist and a ship’s steward, no doubt accounting for his expletive-laden language. Customers often liked it gently directed at them.

Very much a family man, he had three children, David, in construction; Benny, a TV producer and presenter; and Polly, a photographer. He had four grandchildren.

Many spoke of his generosity. John Janiszewski, a former lecturer in hospitality at Sheffield College, said he had held a fund-raising dinner in aid of its restaurant equipment.

“On a personal note he was a mentor, almost a father figure and a hell of a laugh. We need to think about a proper memorial after Corvid-19.”

The Omega had a certain style, from its massive car park, big enough to house a squadron of tanks, through its entrance hallway with ‘flaming torches’ to the ballroom, scene of so many dinner-dances, with its sprung floor.

The menu might not have kept up with trendier places – roast beef sliced from the trolly by the chef at your table was a highlight – but it was always exceptionally well done. If you couldn’t manage that there was always the Yorkshire Pudding and gravy starter on the plat du jour menu.

Whatever the occasion, lunch or dinner dance, it was always enhanced by the appearance of Mr B himself.

David Baldwin was something of a rarity in the catering trade, equally at home in the kitchen as front of house, a born Maitre D. He will be very sadly missed.

The private funera is on Thursday at Hutcliffe Wood crematorium at 3pm. Friends and colleagues will line the streets as the cottage passes. Donations for the Alzheimer’s Society can be made online at http://www.johnheath.co.uk

TRIBUTES

Some comments from those who knew David

Jamie Bosworth, chef: “He was a true gentleman and very generous. He lent us plenty of catering equipment when we started Rafters (with his brother Wayne) and always provided an ear to listen. Jayne and I  got married at Baldwin’s and we had Wayne’s wake there.”

Cary Brown, chef: “He was the Godfather of so many chefs.”

John Mitchell, wine merchant: “It’s a sad day the Big Un leaving us. There was nobody like him.”

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Taken on the announcing of their retirement

 

It’s lockdown – but is it showdown for city’s chefs?

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Cooking along to Jamie Bosworth’s Facebook show

EVEN before the government turned the key on the nation’s restaurants Marco Giove had acted. Rather than take out tables to preserve social distancing he closed the fine dining business he has run for the last 20 years from a former police station in Archer Lane, Sheffield.

And he turned into a one-man-and-his-family ‘Deliveroo’ service, cooking up pizza, pasta and parmigiani for customers who were dining in rather than dining out.

“When Boris came on the television we shut almost immediately because I knew people were going to stop visiting  restaurants,” says Marco.

All across Sheffield restaurants are having to rethink their business models. Some, like the Summer House, on Abbeydale Road South, offered a takeaway service and were “overwhelmed by demand.” But they had to abandon it as the sheer logistics of working and finding staff became too difficult.

So did Michelin-listed Rafters, on Oakbrook Road. Tables were taken out and takeaways sold but the moment social distancing came in they knew it it was time to stop, says front-of-house Alistair Myers, co-owner with talented chef Tom Lawson.

The pair have kept their core team of 12 on furlough – the government money came within three weeks – and are using the time wisely, devising new menus and drinks (Alistair has one made from pineapple skins) and cultivating the restaurant allotment.

They realise keeping the talent in the restaurant is as important as keeping a loyal following in this high-end sector of the business. Alistair  thinks the accent is going to be even more on local produce when things return – but that will be the crunch time. “There will be casualties, more when we are eventually allowed to re-open when there is no government support. The ones which will survive will be those with a loyal following.”

Others, like the guide book listed No Name Bistro, abandoned fancy meals and offered bangers and mash (although with some style) to NHS and other key workers on the Coronavirus front line.

Others tried to keep a presence on social media so they would not be forgotten if and when their doors reopen. At the George Hotel, Hathersage, where new head chef Carl Riley had hardly time to warm up the ovens after arriving, cocktail recipes such as the racy Porn Star Martini have been posted online.

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A customer enjoys a meal at home from Marco@Milano

Over at Thyme in Broomhill, Sheffield, there are plans to put dishes from its 15 year old recipe book online.

But few can have made a bigger splash than Jamie Bosworth. No stranger to the cookery demo – he’s a regular fixture on BBC Radio Sheffield – he streamed a live show on Facebook which has had well over 7,000 views.

“I try and cook simple, easy dishes for three course meals using store cupboard ingredients with plugs for local producers,” says Jamie, who was joined for the second by vocalist daughter Katie for the second,  60 minute cook-a-long. “I could catch up at the stove while Katie sang.”

It was a family affair with wife Jayne holding the camera for a Floyd-esque show, with guest appearances from son, cat and dog.

Jamie has owned and run a clutch of top restaurants and is now a development chef who “keeps his hand in” with regular pop-up bistro evenings at the Rendezvous coffee shop, Totley.

“I had to cancel the last two because of Coronavirus so there’s going to be one hell of a night when we re-open.”

Meanwhile, back at Marco@Milano  Marco Giove, with a helper, is busy prepping orders for deliveries. His partner and her son help take the food to the right doorsteps. To emphasise the new informality customers are encouraged to send in photos of themselves enjoying a Marco meal.

But the current crisis has prompted him to take a different direction, one he has been contemplating for a while. “This restaurant will be one of the last to go back. I am going to change it completely, away from fine dining to something more relaxed with a deli and coffee shop for all the family,” he says.

There is no doubt the crisis has been a big jolt for the city’s restaurants. Some will fall by the wayside. The survivors may take other directions. But it has given restaurateurs and chefs the time to talk to each other and perhaps help each other out.

As the government keeps saying, we really are all  in this together – restaurants and customers alike.

*If you have a coronavirus story or views on the situation do get in touch.

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Tom Lawson ( left) and Alistair Myers in lighter mood

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mashed potato adds to flour power!

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Russian potato bread: one-third mash but you’d never know

WELL. who would have guessed we have so many secret home bakers in Sheffield, judging by the way all the flour has disappeared off the shelves in the Coronavirus panic buying sprees?

Those of us who bake bread regularly and who obeyed the government’s pleas not to raid the supermarkets are now having to rethink. It’s not staying on the shelves  that long.

You can’t do without flour but there are ways to eke out your supplies of strong white.

For a start, plain or self-raising can help but you wouldn’t want to use more than, say, four ounces to every pound of bread flour. Portuguese breads get their distinctive yellow colour from maize, polenta or semolina which you can use in a 2:1 ratio in favour of bread flour.

If you have rye, add a little of that, or whiz your porridge oats in a blender to make flour.

And then there are spuds.

Russian potato bread uses mashed potato and I have just baked a very successful loaaf, weighing just under two pounds, using eight ounces of mashed to one pound of bread flours (12oz white, 4oz wholemeal), a ratio of 2:1 which is a significant saving.

You couldn’t tell the difference unless you knew. This makes a very pleasant moist bread which toasts well and has good keeping qualities.

You can find plenty of recipes on the web but mine came, adapted, from the book Bread by Christine Ingram and Jennie Shapter {Hermes House).

It assumes you start from scratch, cooking your potatoes then reserving some of the water to knead. I already had the cooked potatoes so simply warmed them in milk (the equivalent of the reserved water), mashed them and carried on from there.

A couple of points. I needed more liquid than suggested but do be careful not to add too much. It felt heavier to handle and did not rise much while proving but came out fine. I made it on a baking tray rather than in a tin.

This is what you do. Peel and dice 8oz (225g) of spuds in unsalted water until soft. Drain and reserve a quarter pint (150ml) of the cooking water and mash the potatoes.

Put 12oz (350g) of strong white and 4oz (115g) of wholemeal in a bowl, adding 7g (quarter ounce) easy bake yeast and two tsps of salt.

It called for an ounce (25g) f butter to be rubbed in but I used olive oil. You can also add caraway seeds if you like.

Now add mash and potato water (probably best reunited beforehand) and work to a soft dough. This is the bit you adjust as you go but keep kneading before you add any more liquid.

As I said, it is not so light a dough to handle and less responsive in rising.

It was baked for just over 30 mins in a fan oven at 200C and is pretty good.

It doesn’t have to be potato. In Madeira they have the a griddle bread made with flour and sweet potato, baked as a flatbread on a hotplate. When the taters run out I’ll give that a spin.

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It’s got a lovely, moist crumb

 

 

Ready to order your ethnic authentic? It’ll take 30 years

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Lamb on the bone

FOREIGN restaurants go through a period of evolution when they arrive in this country. The first Indians, Chinese or Greeks might want to give their English customers a taste of what they eat back home but they soon realise it doesn’t pay to be that authentic.

Indian restaurants, in reality Pakistani or Bangladeshi, for long had dishes that wouldn’t be recognised in their own countries. Many still do. Chicken tikka masala? Pull the other poppadom!

I still remember Sompranee Low, who opened the city’s first Thai restaurant, the Bahn Nah, back in the Nineties (Sheffield has always been late for dinner compared to the rest of the country) telling me that she ” dialled down the chilli heat” for customers.

It wasn’t good business for a pallid Englishman, more used to the tranquil flavours of cottage pie or bangers and mash, to be left reeling by an authentic but fiery chilli.

So what we got was a pale shadow of a native cuisine, filtered through several layers of difficulty. The first restaurateurs may not have been natural cooks (many, particularly, Italian and Indian, were redundant steelworkers), the ingredients, herbs and spices were often not available, and Mr and Mrs English knew no better.

If they thought spaghetti carbonara came with cream and complained when it didn’t, unaware that the creaminess came from the emulsion of egg, water and cheese, they got cream.

Then things happened. The first was foreign travel. Holidaymakers in Italy realised that pasta didn’t grow on trees or come out of a tin. The sharper ones, who didn’t high tail it down to the English pubs on the Costa Brava, realised there was a difference.

Secondly came the wider availability of exotic ingredients. Avocados and aubergines started appearing on menus, and much else.

And, thirdly, there are now other customers to please besides Mr and Mrs English: Their own countrymen and women.

Earlier on, immigrants were too poor, too busy or just not in the habit of going out to eat so there was then no need to cater for them. And they would probably have something sharp to say if they did.

When, say, the Pakistani, Chinese or Italian diasporas in Sheffield got to a certain size and had the habit of eating out and money to spend, they could support their own authentic restaurants. This is not true yet of all communities. A Thai woman told me recently: “Why should I eat out when I can cook it myself?”

So we have seen little Pakistani and Kashmiri restaurants spring up in the city, unconcerned about Anglo trade, and just think what has happened to the Chinese restaurant business with the influx of students from Mainland China. Suddenly restaurants other than Cantonese have appeared, along with noodle bars and hot pot eateries. Some have not even bothered to have menus in English.

Not too long ago my wife walked into a place full of Chinese. We were the only Europeans and the waiter confidently expected us to take one look at the menu, which contained not a word of English and leave, so he didn’t bother to come across and ask our order. We stood (or sat) our ground until he did.

I don’t suppose that would happen now as there is a band of ultra foodies who delight in finding the most obscure ethnic places and reporting their finds enthusiastically on social media and blogs. (I have followed up some rave reports with less than euphoric results.)

So where is this leading? These thoughts were triggered by a visit recently to one of those little ethic restaurants, Apna Lahore, on Abbeydale Road, Sheffield, with fellow foodie and blogger Craig Harris. Now Craig majors in Italian cuisine but is currently studying for a critical Dip Ed in Pakistani food and this is one of his regular haunts. He’s written about it here

Its sit down custom is almost exclusively Asian, although this place started life as a takeaway. I’m scanning the menu and see among the specials is maghaz, which means brains.

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Samosa and pakora starters

I have eaten brains and trotters, also on offer, before, although in very upmarket restaurants, so miss these and take Craig’s advice to order lamb on the bone. It is a robust, earthy, fiery curry with plenty of chopped bone but I am a natural gnawer so that no problem. And it’s the bone which gives it a deeper flavour.

He has ordered chicken daal, not on the menu, but basically chicken in a sauce of large, soft lentils still holding their shape.

Gutsy is the word I would use to describe both dishes, good nourishing stuff without any hairs and graces.

The decor is bright and basic and very blue. There is music but not too loud. It is of course, alcohol free. You get a bottle of water and glasses when you sit down. Most customers eat with rotis, just workaday bread in my opinion, although cutlery is available.

Pickles and fajitas are very good. Meat samosas come man-sized with proper crisp pastry not filo. The chicken pakoras aren’t bad either.

Two courses, with rice, comes to £26. It’s a bargain. Probably not a first date night place but one to put on your list.

We finish with unspiced Pakistani tea with condensed milk. And a plate of ginger biscuits. Dunking away, we are both impressed by these. Did they make them themselves?

“We get them from Lidl,” said Ali, our server.

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Chicken daal

Apna Lahore is 342 Abbeydale Road, S7 1FN Sheffield.
Tel: 0114 258 8821

Jarvo keeps his mojo with lomo

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Peruvian dish lomo saltado

HEAD chef Steve Jarvis has never been to Peru but he knows a bear who has.

And take it from Jarvo, as he is known to his mates, Peruvian food is the Next Big Thing.

If so, he’s ahead of the game because the Andean country’s national dish, Lomo Saltado, is already a big seller on the new menu at the Lone Star restaurant on Division Street, Sheffield.

Now you might think of Peru as all llamas and Machu Picchu but there’s a definite Northern twang to this dish which centres on chips and gravy. Of course, there’s more to it than that!

The Chinese brought this to Peru as a beef stir-fry but Steve, 42, who took over the kitchen just before Christmas, cooks beef shoulder until it pulls into strands in a sauce with onions, vinegar and cumin, which provides intriguing base notes. Then it’s served with chips and rice: double carbs but they’ve got to keep the cold of the Andes out of their bones, I suppose.

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Steve ‘Jarvo’ Jarvis

It was a new one on me and something I savoured. It’s also a hit with customers, although how they know about a Peruvian dish Steve himself found on Pinterest beats me. Perhaps it’s the friendly waiting staff who push this one, available in two sizes at £5.95 (enough to serve as a tapas along with others such as Baba Ghanoush or crispy, crunchy, fiery Korean popcorn chicken) and £11.95.

We’re here at Steve’s invitation. He’d just left Rotherham College of Art and Technology for a new life in catering after a career in building when he emailed me at The Star to recommend the college training canteen. We popped round to review and enjoyed it. So we reckoned Steve knew a good thing when he saw it, even if it was his own.

At 32 when he switched from building conservatories to catering, he was one of the oldest students there. It came about on the death of his gran, whom he enjoyed cooking with as a kid, so maybe there is a connection.

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Bao buns with pork

He’s cooked around the area since college and “eight years in I have still got my mojo,” he says. Well lomo has helped him keep it!

Lonestar, opened last year by Barnsley-based Brook Leisure which runs Sheffield’s Crystal Bar and other nightspots, is in premises previously  occupied by Costa Coffee.

It’s towards the town end, not that far from the City Hall, so somewhat off the student beat. In fact, the majority of customers are 35 or over.

To the casual observer the menu covers a lot of ground, from tapas to sourdough pizzas, Mexican to Moroccan, with a good line in cocktails offered on a two for £10 basis. Or as Steve puts it, “Here, there and everywhere.” Or as they say in the guides, eclectic.

It still is but he’s introduced a pie (in answer to Pieminster which has opened up across the road) and that safety-first dish fish and chips to cater for all tastes. Lonestar is running a Pie Week from March 2.

Our other main was a very pleasing curried cod (£12.95), nice, firm flesh, mildly spiced in a mango sauce on a bed of potatoes and cauliflower.

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Window onto Division Street

Not everything is made in-house. The popcorn chicken (£5.95) isn’t nor the bao buns (£6.95), but the filling certainly was, juicy pulled pork given a sweet edge with a little apple.

Lonestar is a friendly place with pleasant staff and prices which won’t scare the horses. And if you try the lomo saltado and like it, word is that Jarvo has another Peruvian favourite up his sleeve.

And just to keep the Peruvian theme going, the toilets are up a couple of flights of stairs so it can feel like climbing the Andes on a lomo-full stomach.

Web: http://www.lonestarsheffield.co.uk

*This blog ate at Lonestar as a guest

 

 

 

 

A curate’s egg at Butcher & Catch

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Duck breast

THERE’S a famous 19th Century Punch cartoon which shows a young clergyman struggling to say something good about the bad breakfast egg he’s eating at the Bishop’s table. “It’s good in parts,” he says, or some such, thereby launching the phrase ‘a curate’s egg.’

Which is what I think about Broomhill’s trendy Butcher & Catch after a meal there. Good in parts but then not in others.

Let’s start on a high note. You pass an open kitchen before which is set store a display of the tempting meat and fish waiting to be cooked to find a decent sized table in a bright, buzzy room.

And they can cook fish. One of our party had the catch of the day (£17), a whole sea bass as sparkling and fresh and equally as good as that she’d just eaten in Portugal. “Really on point,” she approved.

But why, and here we come to the curate’s egg, had the kitchen served up a heap of practically tasteless new potatoes alongside it?

Our friend’s starter of salt cod and mussel fritters (£6) knocked your socks off in the cod department  – salty, intense, vibrant – but the mussels were hard to find. My wife opened with a blackberry and apple cured sea trout, really quite lovely, but it was set on what was described as a buttermilk pikelet.

“It’s got the texture of a shoe insole,” she bemoaned. It was duly passed around the table and we all agreed it was a load of cobblers.

Both chaps ate the same. Our brioche doughnut filled with sticky oxtail (£6), obviously a Euro riff on a bao bun, was a little underwhelming. There was scant meat inside the sweet bun, burnished with a Henderson’s and maple syrup glaze. The roast carrot puree added an extra pleasing sweetness.

The duck breast (£18) ultimately failed to shine. There was plenty of it, pink and relatively tasty, but why on earth was it served into two big tranches when this is a meat which needs to be eaten sliced thinly? Worse, a thin layer of gristly cartilage was left on both our dishes and the skin, one of the glories of duck, was flabby not crisp.

It did, however, come with a lovely duck leg bon bon which showed what the kitchen can do: lip-smacking, shredded, confited meat in a crisp shell.

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Brioche with oxtail

The kitchen isn’t so hot on the pass, though. Both our dishes were missing their sweet potato fondant. It was rectified but, frankly, sweet potato doesn’t have the texture to make a fondant.

Service here is studied casual so they don’t offer to take your heavy coats unless you ask, put bottles of wine on the table without removing the tops or offering to pour and ask you one too many times if you want more drinks when those bottles are still clearly half full. So, in a similarly studied casual way we don’t leave a tip.

And the wine.!We had a Chilean Merlot and a Spanish Verdejo, both at the cheap end of a short list and poor value, lacking fruit and over acid respectively.

It might have been an off night. I hope so. But they might want to rethink some of their dishes and ask themselves if they really hang together.

In my reviewing days for The Star the tenor of my report often hung on the dessert course. Many a restaurant which faltered on the mains, cooked there and then, scraped home on the starters and puddings, prepped more leisurely in advance.

But this was our money, not the company’s, and my wife and I weren’t prepared to try.

We did, however, give it the old fingers test, where we each raised the number of fingers on one hand to show what we felt. In the spirit of generosity I raised three. She put up two fingers. She had just taken a sip pf wine.

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Sea trout with pikelet

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Tonco: so trendy but tasty

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Quincewell tart – lovely pastry

IF TONCO, a bijou little eaterie tucked away shyly behind the stone lions in embryonic Dyson Place, Sheffield, sounds vaguely Mediterranean (Greek or Italian, perhaps?) you might be surprised to find that it takes its name from a long-forgotten sarsaparilla drink brewed in Barnsley.

Once you have managed to open the stiff front door, which obviously spent a previous life as muscle improving gym equipment, you find an industrial looking restaurant. Bare concrete walls, old school chairs, tables made from bicycle frames and a bar-cum-open kitchen give a deliberately unfinished look.

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Celeriac, confit yolk, pangritata

Tonco is the first tenant of Martin Flowers’ retail and apartments redevelopment of an old garage, chapel and wasteland behind Sharrowvale Road.

The exact location has fooled some but just tootle up the alleyway between the wet fish shop and the Mediterranean restaurant. This makes it off-off Ecclesall Road.

The place is run by rhyming couple Joe and Flo (Shrewsbury and Russell) who specialise in the currently fashionable small plates (think Anglo tapas) with a very eclectic menu. Someone asked me what the theme was and I said Very Modern Modern British. Quirky might be a better description. Which started by pinching the name from an old pop bottle.

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Tonco – Hidden away in the corner

Quirkiness has its charms but can irritate if it doesn’t work. Flo’s cooking, which juxtaposes unexpected flavours and ingredients, makes sure it does.

Slivers of celeriac are topped with a confit egg and run through with crispy pangritata, the Italian ‘poor man’s parmesan’ of fried garlicky breadcrumbs flavoured with thyme (£7). It doesn’t look much but the runny yolk binds vegetable and crumbs together for comfort food appeal.

The fashion for fermenting is seen in the fermented kohlrabi, another root, combined with wild sea bass, lightly cured, or ceviched, in the fermenting liquid (£7). It leaves a satisfying tang in the mouth and quite a bit of heat from a fiery paprika sauce.

We could have had oh-so-trendy cavolo nero salad with hemp seed and sesame or bigger plates of braised beef shoulder with homemade orecchiette pasta but, instead, settled for a delicious and generous plate of Italian meats: coppa, lomo and finocchiona (£7).

On my next visit I will get my teeth into bigger dishes such as the beef or stone bass with burnt leek, mussels and elderflower emulsion but instead shared a dessert from the list unforgivably headed Pud-Pud. There was nothing twee, though, about the tart, a quince take on Bakewell with spectacular pastrywork.

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Sea bass ceviche, fermented kohlrabi

The baking is first class here: try the soft, moist, spongy bread which almost converted me to sourdough with a vividly grassy Greek oil – just pressed by a friend of Joe’s, naturally.

They don’t have an espresso machine so you have to settle for cafetiere, which comes in a homely mug.

Tonco may be achingly trendy but, with the dishes we had at least, it works. What I liked was the excellence of the ingredients and the care with which they are used. So be like Joe: go with Flo.

Website: http://www.tonco.co.uk

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Joe and Flo at Tonco. Picture by @zoegenders

No pizzas but you can have a Margherita

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Terrific pasta at Grazie

ALMOST alone among Sheffield’s Italian restaurants you can’t get a pizza at the latest to open, Grazie on Leopold Street. Not even a pizza Margherita.

But there is a Margherita. She makes the pasta.

Traditionally back home the best pasta is made by ageing Nonnas with bulging biceps who have been kneading and folding and rolling all their lives. The Margherita who makes the three types of pasta here is all of 21 and, not having seen her, I can’t speak for her biceps. But she has brought her mum with her! It’s glorious.

This is the lightest, springiest, toothsome pasta I’ve eaten for some time. I’m having main course orecchiette, ear-shaped pasta made with fine semolina (as is the shell-shaped cavatelli) in my Amore Pugliese (£9.25). It’s tossed with the stems of cimi di rapa, wild broccoli, anchovies, chilli, garlic and breadcrumbs for extra texture.

You could almost imagine being, if you ignore the double-deckers rolling by the restaurant’s picture windows, hundreds of miles away in a ristorante fanned by Mediterranean breezes.

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Sausage and mash, Italian style

Grazie, with a mostly Puglian regional menu, is owned and run by Vito Vernia, from that province via Piccolino in ,where he was general manager. Margherita is also from Puglia so she knows exactly the sort of pasta needed.

Grazie has already been widely praised, not least by my pal Craig Harris, whose review you can read here . I’d just like to add a few comments.

I don’t just like to leave a restaurant with, hopefully, a happy tummy full of good food, but an idea or two I can try at home when I’m feeling particularly cheffy. And, my word, there were quite a few at Grazie.

Craig and his wife Marie have already made one visit and he’s back, this time with us. And I’m eyeing up his main course sausage and mash. But it’s not as we know it.

There are two butterflied Italian sausages, as juicy and spicy as you could want, which have been griddled so there are perfect parallel lines. Instead of mash there’s a pool of broad bean puree and a garnish of caramelised red onions.

Fave e salsicca (sounds better already, doesn’t it?) is very tasty and I think I’ll give it a go, although I want to replace the broad beans with mashed potatoes. And I can’t help thinking that £14 is a bit steep for a couple of bangers, no matter how good.

There are lots of interesting things here. The semolina-rich Altamuran bread is excellent, particularly as a bruschetta tipica (£6.50). It’s smeared with some of that broad bean puree and topped with more cimi di rapa, the leaves this time, crispy onions, chilli and extra virgin olive oil. I love the Italian way of using two different parts of the broccoli. You won’t find it over here but try tenderstem or purple sprouting.

Graizie is in the premises of what used to be the Prosecco Lounge and reminds me a little of the early days of Gusto, then round the corner in Church Street, with its burst of new (to Sheffield) ideas and lively cooking.

Vito is married to Elena and you might see her and their new young baby Joseph popping into the restaurant during the day.

Grazie does coffee and cakes until 12 then the full menu operates through the afternoon and evening. There’s plenty more on the menu for us to explore – and we will.

1-3 Leopold Street, SheffieldS1 2GY. Web: http://www.graziesheffield.co.uk

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Vito Severa (wife and bambino in background)

 

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.

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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.

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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