Just a tweak and a prayer in the old Mission Hall

It looks good at night

BEFORE Covid struck there was a hit play in the West End called The Play That Goes Wrong, in which Murphy’s Law rules supreme. Actors miscue, scenery falls down, things explode. It’s a real hoot.

It happens in the hospitality business too. Welcome to The Meal That Goes Wrong.

In this case it has happened early on in a restaurant’s life when things have still to be tweaked, staff to settle into routines and systems work the way installers promised

So although things went wrong on our night at the new Cornerstone restaurant in buzzing Dyson Place, just off Sharrowvale Road, I still thoroughly recommend it. Because by the time you go they will have tweaked big time.

You very certainly will be charmed by the 100-cover eaterie on two floors in the former Mission Hall, which had been empty and dark for years until developer Martin Flowers came along.

Those ‘tram seats’ are a little hard

A building where the congregation once raised the roof in praise to God has had it raised yet again (and the floor lowered) to make enough space for tables on two levels.

And they probably won’t keep you waiting for an hour for food, bar bread and olives, and then arrive with your main course because the electronic ordering system has pinged your starters into Kingdom Come.

And, hopefully, the food won’t be tepid because it has waited on the pass too long under lights fitted too high up to keep things warm.

Nor, fingers crossed, will the fire alarm go off for five minutes because the barbecue in the kitchen is sending flames sky high.

This was the sort of night, to be honest, I would have given my right arm for when reviewing professionally because the story really writes itself. People, being what they are, like a touch of calamity. And it was my job to tell it how it was.

Well, I am a blogger now who pays his own way (unless where stated) and this is not one of those anodyne blogs, you’ve seen them, where Everything Is Simply Wonderful.

Folks, that’s not how life works.

Cornerstone is the project of brothers Richard and Michael Massarella, third generation members of the well-known catering family which runs a cafe empire across the North. It was grandfather Ronnie who started it off, building upon an icecream business developed by his own grandfather who emigrated from Italy over 150 years ago.

So they are not rookies in the business.

I’d booked for four of us online and a few days before the meal the agency sends a breezy email checking we are still going. Good idea to stop the no-shows. Then it suggests clicking a link to check the menu on the restaurant website. Bad idea. It’s not on there.

“We are still tweaking the website,” says Richard when we find our table, handing out flimsy paper menus because they are seeing what works and what doesn’t before they commit themselves to laminate.

Lamb kofta and flatbread

The place is open all day and Massarellas don’t need any lessons on providing café dishes. Where the brothers have raised the eyebrows of older members of the family is angling the afternoon and dinner menu to World Food.

So while it nods at their Italian origins with pasta and chicken Milanese it goes progressively East with halloumi, harissa, falafel, kofta,Korean chicken and even a Vietnamese dish, cocking a cheeky snook at the Vietnamese restaurant across the block.

The building itself features bare brick walls with big chapel windows on one side looking onto the table-filled forecourt with heaters. Banquette seating runs round the walls while down the centre is a wooden arrangement which looks and feels, according to the ladies of the party, like old tram seats: fair enough for a five minute journey, not comfortable enough for a two hour meal.

A new metal staircase leads a low raftered first floor where, incidentally, three of the four unisex toilets are.

We order padron peppers with chorizo, sesame prawns with a dip and watermelon with whipped goats cheese but they never come. Our waitress has typed them into a tablet but they disappear into the ether.

We nibble at decent olives and bread (with no plates) and wait for them to arrive. And wait. Suddenly the alarm goes off just after a burst of flames in the partly open kitchen. Our pal Craig thinks it’s his peppers being barbecued.

View through the pass

There is a conclave of staff clustered at the controls for seemingly five minutes and a cheer goes up when it is finally turned off. I notice Richard leads a round of applause and he gets five stars for chutzpah. I like him.

When our mains arrive we vaccilate. The waitress says she will re-order our starters and they go back to the pass. But we worry we will get the same dishes back later and scrap the starters and recall the mains.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a lady in possession of a fish does not want it with bones. Or if it is, the menu should say. My wife’s Vietnamese monkfish was served not as a fillet, nor as a steak, but completely on the bone. It was heavily spiced but the heat made up for the food being barely warm.

My lamb koftas were pleasant enough, served on a flatbread with labneh ( strained yoghurt) with rather too much coleslaw.

Craig was quids in, raving enthusiastically about his flatiron steak which, tweaking the menu himself, he had served with a broad bean, pea and feta salad, swapped from another dish. It, too, was lukewarm.

To be fair they offered us free desserts but we declined, perhaps a bad move as I have been told they are good. So Richard scrapped the alcohol bill. We liked him even more. Our bill was just over £70.

And Cornerstone had lots right: a relaxed, interesting menu, pleasant staff who kept to their stations so you weren’t being asked the same questions by different people, and a good atmosphere.

It’s not always right on the night, particularly when a reviewer is there. Murphy’s Law again. If things can go wrong, they will.

However, the runes are good for Cornerstone. I’ll go back. A tweak and a prayer should get them there.

The courtyard at Cornerstone

Senor Jamon plans a Spanish Conquest

Jamon, jamon at IberiCo from Daniel Pedrosa

IberiCo, that lovely little Spanish deli off Ecclesall Road, is on the move . . .

THE FiRST time I met Daniel, the owner of Spanish deli and tapas bar IberiCo on Hickmott Road, his Northern accent with a slight Sheffield twang led me to think he was a local lad with a liking for that country’s food.

Then when he effortlessly slipped into Spanish to greet an expat customer I thought ” By ‘eck, he’s got the lingo!”

He certainly has. But it’s our lingo. Although he doesn’t fit the stereotype of a Spaniard – he is tall, pale and laid back rather than short, dark and animated – Daniel Marquez Pedrosa is from Cadiz although, as he will tell you, his family comes from Cordoba. The city apparently had an influx of German immigrants a century or so ago.

He’s been in Sheffield since September 2014, arriving under the Erasmus scheme to study English at university. He obviously liked what he saw although South Yorkshire couldn’t be more different to the South of Spain. But he wasn’t so keen on teaching, his job after university, so looked around for something different.

The shop, a combination of grocery, coffee bar and cafe, opened last August Bank Holiday and brought an exotic flavour to the already vibrant mix of places on Hickmott and Sharrowvale Road, the lively area off equally Cosmopolitan Ecclesall Road.

Cheeses and meats at Iberi.co

While it has become a favoured destination for locals lured by the tempting sight of hams, hanging from the hook and on the cradle, it is also a rendezvous for expat Spanish, of whom there seem to be many in Sheffield.

“The Spanish say prices are higher than back home but they would be, wouldn’t they?” he jokes.

Until he speaks his native language you’d never guess he was Spanish although there’s a little clue on the menu with its idiosyncratic spelling of ‘ sandwhiches.’!

IberiCo almost never happened. The shop had been earmarked as a greengrocers but that fell through. Daniel had earlier been interested and got a call from the landlord.

The deli is the heart of the business, stocked with hams, cheeses and boxes and tins and packets of Spanish produce – everything from anchovies to tins of beans and excellent olive oil.

The shelves are full of goodies

It won’t be there much longer. IberiCo is moving . . .but not far. August 13 has been pencilled in for transfer to the former premises of Olive & Joy in Dyson Place.

The larger premises will allow for a wider range of deli items and increase the offer not only from the shelves and counter but on the table.

For Daniel the move into bigger premises so soon wasn’t part of his business plan. “But you have to take your chances when you can. When we first opened this place didn’t look as it does now.”

Daniel, already Senor Jamon to local foodies, has made the little shop a favourite with many as an enoteca or bodega where they can sit down with a plate of meats or cheeses with a bowl of olives, glass of wine and bread from Phil at nearby Perfectionery. Seats are limited although in warmer weather they spread outside.

With more room in Dyson Place there will be tables inside and out. “There will be much more food. We will have a young Spanish chef and she has written a very good menu. It’s going to add a lot to Dyson Place,” he says.

Expect the transition to take a few weeks before it gets fully into gear. There will still be those plates of meats and cheeses plus a menu for more casual dining.

And as IberiCo moves out another food business moves in, upmarket patisserie Gilt from Abbeydale Road.

Looking romantic: IberiCo

Grobbly bits? They don’t like it up ’em!

Leg of lamb: with knuckle

IT CAN’T just be me, surely? I am at the butchers ordering a nice leg of lamb for Sunday dinner when I catch him about to saw the knuckle off.

” Whoa! Stop! That’s the best bit,” I cry and the knuckle hangs limply but still attached. My brothers and I used to fight over who was going to get that. . . as well as a teaspoonful of the blood that leaked from the joint into the runnels of the carving dish.

“It tastes so sweet,” I add and he nods. ” But our customers don’t like it and don’t want to pay for it.”

I sigh – not just because we now have a generation or two who have no idea how to use and eat the grobbly bits of meat – but because he should know me better.

It’s here I come to order breast of lamb because, if it sells at al, it goes to the dog, or give notice I’ll have some cheaper tail-end beef fillet because it’s going to be sliced up for a stroganoff. No point in paying good money for the meat further up the joint. It’ll taste the same.

I try and buy all my meat from a butcher, grobbly bits and all, but cry inside at supermarkets when I see labels telling me the innards of chickens and turkeys are not included “for your convenience.” He or she who cannot make a giblet gravy does not deserve the name of cook.

I am not going to rant on here that if you are a carnivore you respect the animal by eating most or all of it and not just the ‘best bits.’ I like to eat as if there’s a war on and it’s waste not, want not.

I have noticed big loins of pork for sale at The Moor Market for very reasonable prices – from £10-£14. Now one of these will give me some home-made middle cut bacon, spiced the way I like it, plus I can cut up the rest for a roast loin joint for two and still have enough meat left over for a stew or curry.

But hang on,, all these loins have been trimmed of skin and most of the fat. I want my bacon with the rind on because even in my favourite butchers’ it’s been taken off, doubtless for my own ‘convenience.’

This is part of the reason I make my own bacon, as you can see here. I like bacon rinds. They provide fat to fry the rashers and are great to eat crozzled up. Think mini pork scratchings.

Pork loin: untrimmed, rind on

So I have to ask for a joint specially cut with the skin left on but boned. I mutter something about people not knowing their meat, expecting the butcher to cluck in sympathy. He doesn’t. ” People like it this way.”

Now, wait for it, this’ll make you laugh: the joints are sold with ‘crackling for free. It’s only the skin and fat which has already been taken off!

While I’m about I ask for the bones. They will still have meat on and make a nice supper, marinated then roasted slowly in a barbecue sauce as spare ribs.*

So that’s bacon, a stew and a nice greasy gnaw on some grobbly bits from one piece of pork for under a tenner.

Call it nose-to-tail eating or think there’s a war on, it doesn’t matter. I know what butcher Cpl Jones from Dads Army might say: “They don’t like it up ’em!” Or should that be, in ’em?

Spare ribs: tasty

* These are my free spare ribs from the loin of pork. There’s not really a recipe, I marinated them overnight in a mixture of soy and black bean sauces, ketchup, Sheffield Relish, coriander powder and so on, then roasted at 150C for three hours under tin foil. The pan was a bit dry but a few tablespoons of water, some honey and tomato paste stirred in made a lovely sauce.

Marco takes it easier

AT THE age of 57 Marco Giove has seen all the varieties a life in Italian catering in Sheffield can offer – so he is going to take it a little easier from now on.

“I never saw my children growing up because I was always working. I want to spend more time with my five grandchildren,” he says.

Which is one of the reasons top city restaurant Marco @ Milano is no more.

After 21 years in the former Archer Road cop shop Brindisi-born Marco is handing over the keys to friend and fellow chef Cary Brown, who will reopen the venue as Neon Fish.

Marco, second generation of a Sheffield-Italian catering family founded by his late father Marco Senior, was one of those who took local Italian cooking up a notch or two from cheap and cheerful to fine dining.

After learning his trade in the family restaurant he had run Rossi’s from 1990 to 1995 before being approached by Nonnas duo Maurizio Mori and Gian Bohan to manage the venue, then called Milano, which they owned with Robert Brady. “I said no but I’d buy the business off them,” he recalls.

It was a bit of a struggle at first but he persevered and with head chef Franco Esposito’s cooking the place got noticed, nationally as well as locally: In The Guardian’s Italian Top 10 and the Independent’s Top 15 for alfresco dining – there is a beautiful terrace out the back overlooking Millhouses Park.

Then came the Pandemic. “I’d already been thinking about going back to casual dining, pizza and pastas, before it happened. I started doing takeaways during lockdown and found it was easier,” he says. And that’s when he decided not to return.

His Facebook and Instagram pages have been full of appreciative comments from customers and mournful messages and he says that is what he will remember from his time there – diners who have turned into friends. But they haven’t completely lost him.

He is continuing the takeaway business so the Marco @ Milano name will continue. He might be quitting the Milano kitchen but he’s just crossing the road to take up residence in Hazel’s Quality Catering kitchen. And the collection point will remain, the garage forecourt opposite the restaurant.

Ironically, it doesn’t look as if there will be a third generation Giove family in catering. Things are a lot different now than when he and his brother Vincenzo, with whom he worked, were growing up.

“We didn’t have a choice. They were different times. We worked in the restaurant as a family. I was put into the kitchen at nine and Vincenzo was put on the floor with my Mum. We have not imposed anything on ours (he and his wife Yasmin have three daughers who have gone their own ways).

Marco, who also got a couple of local awards for best restaurant of the year, has been equally at home front of house as well as in the kitchen but, I wondered, which gave him the bigger buzz? He doesn’t have to think about it: cooking.

Now cooking by himself for the takeaway trade he will still be getting a buzz. And from his grandchildren.

An idea Flowers at Dyson Place

Martin Flowers: Dyson Place is his Lego set

THIS IS developer Martin Flowers, the man behind that new lively little square of shops, flats and restaurants which is Dyson Place, not far off Ecclesall Road, Sheffield.

On a sunny weekday morning the place is vibrant as people stroll in to buy a coffee, stop for lunch, get their hair cut, shop for vegetables or seek a little therapy in the tweely-named but correctly apostrophied Artisans’ Yard around the back.

Martin, aged 63, with no thought of retiring, sips his double expresso outside Tonco, his first tenant, and tells how he had to battle with planners to get his concept off the drawing board.

He’s a tactful man so we’ll brush over the original Town Hall veto of no shops. “Think how boring it would have been,” he says.

It would. The square is overlooked by 14 triple-glazed two-bedroomed apartments with ample balconies from which to survey the scene below. All but one are rented. That is occupied by him and his wife Wendy so living above the shop helps them keep a benign eye on things.

Shops and flats: a lively enclave off Sharrowvale

“I’d never done anything like this before so I had no idea how it would turn out. It has raised the standards in Sheffield. It’s even got decent toilets,” he says. His previous schemes were residential.

Right from the start, when he heard the site was coming up for sale on the death of Ron Wetherall, owner of garage firm Champion & Emmett, he knew he wanted a mixture of residential and commercial. The problem was getting the planners to see that. They just wanted flats.

He also wanted good restaurants. He likes his food. “I find Sheffield a frustrating city . . . I get tired of having to go out of Sheffield to eat decent food.”

The idea for Dyson Place, named after the cigarette stub of a lane between Mann’s fishmongers and the Mediterranean restaurant on Sharrowvale Road, first emerged in April 2013 but it wasn’t until just before Christmas 2019 that it received its first tenant, restaurant Tonco.

He met would-be restaurateurs Joe Shrewsbury and Flo Russell, who were then also considering another location in the city, on site. “It was an article of faith,” he says as the young couple were looking for their first bricks and mortar business. He’s been proved correct. Joe has no doubts he made the right decision. ” It’s really busy here. The city centre is dead.”

The other hospitality outlets are Vietnamese restaurant Nam Song, vegan coffee and cakery Olive & Joy, and from late summer a new Italian-style restaurant, Cornerstone, in what was the old Mission Hall.

Nam Song on Dyson Place

Ironically, this was the one place planners did originally approve for a restaurant. The origins of the hall, built in 1905, are something of a mystery, as is its location, someone’s back yard.

If the original occupants raised the roof with their singing, Martin and his engineers have done it again literally. The roof was raised over a foot in the renovation.

The restaurant offer is going to stop there. ” I want Dyson Place to be somewhere people can kill time, look around the shops, while waiting to meet someone,” he says.

The Mission Hall

Other businesses include Inco Interiors, furniture and furnishings; men’s hairdressers Rapscallions in a former lock-up once used to store Christmas trees, and Unit 6, currently fronted by Doncaster-based greengrocers K.D.Davis & Sons.

The fruit and vegetables bring a splash of colour to the square. ” It’s a different culture to Doncaster ( where the firm has a big stall on the market). People don’t start buying until much later,” says Andrew Davis. His grandfather started the business in 1938. He is third generation, his sons are the fourth.

Greengrocer Andrew Davis at Dyson Place

Behind the aubergines and grapes is an area for a mix of micro-businesses, a sort of posh flea market.

Martin finishes his coffee and leads me into Artisans’ Yard, housing skin clinic Arubia, acupuncture and lifestyle practice Life & Lemons and handmade children’s clothes makers Bear & Babe.

This area was originally meant to be the beer yard for the Mission Hall project but developed “organically,” his favourite word.

Dyson Place has had a spin- off effect on the local area. “It’s brought increased footfall on a Sunday from people attracted to the place,” says Marvin, who runs nearby curios emporium Trove.

Dyson Place is the latest sector of an area of Sheffield which has seen its fortunes transformed in the last half century. Ecclesall Road started things with its shops and boutiques, earning it the sobriquet ‘Bond Street of the North,’ before going over to restaurants and micropubs.

Then it was the turn of Sharrowvale and Hickmott Roads, cheaper rents attracting a variety of independent shops, as off-Ecclesall Road. Dyson Place leads off Sharrowvale so in reality it is off-off Ecclesall Road.

It is only with great reluctance that he agrees to be photographed and then when I threaten to take his back view. “Even worse!” he protests.

Developers are often categorised as greedy but you sense Martin has a heart. Consuming food and drink bought off the premises in the square is banned except for fish and chips from local chippie Two Steps “as we love them,” says a notice board.

Dyson Place: fish and chip friendly

It also appeals to the little boy in him. ” This to me is a game of Lego – taking bricks and reshaping them.”

* web: http://www.dysonplace.co.uk

Is it any good? You can bet his shirt on it!

Vito with his fritto shirt

THERE REALLY wasn’t any doubt about what we were having for starters at Grazie, that buzzing Italian restaurant on the corner of Leopold Street, Sheffield. Owner Vito Vernia had it plastered across his chest.

“I’m having what he’s wearing” I said, pointing to the tempting looking picture of a fritto misto on his T-shirt.

Well, it’s one way to sell a dish. There used to be Pepe Scime, who billed himself the Talking Menu. Meet Vito, the Walking Menu.

Grazie has just been voted TripAdvisor’s top city eaterie and for once we can’t argue with a site that so often deserves the brickbat of TripeAdvisor from outraged chefs and foodies.

The local Press picked up the story but in today’s Poundland journalism simply rewrote from websites rather than pick up the phone and speak to someone for a brand new quote or a different angle.

Il fritto

It’s third time very lucky on our resume of eating out after the long lockdown: one decent meal, one overpriced disappointment and now Grazie which provides good atmosphere and authentic, honest, tasty regional food – from Puglia – at commendably decent prices.

That fritto, at £18.50, had some of the best king prawns I’ve tasted since the great days of Franco Tarusico’s Walnut Tree, Abergavenny, (but three on a sharing plate for two?), along with smaller prawns, chewy baby octopus, tempura squid and courgettes.

Another good reason to go is the pasta, all home made and freshly prepared every day – and you can’t say that about many Italian restaurants, can you?

I have to restrict my carbohydrate intake because of Type 2 diabetes – too many good dinners down the years – but this wasn’t going to stop me sampling Grazie’s once again.

Lasagna

I had the lasagna, a thoroughly satisfactory dish at an equally satisfactory tenner, and what impressed me, apart from the richness of the sugo, was the thickness of the pasta sheets. Normally they are wafer thin but these were quite thick and gave the dish an even meatier edge.

The overall effect is a solid, gutsy dish. I’ve had politer, more genteel lasagnes but this was just what I wanted.

I’ve already reviewed Grazie before lockdown so just let me say everything here is made from scratch with care . . . and boy does it show!

For a fuller account of our meal nip across to my dining partner Craig Harris’s blog at https://craigscrockpot.wordpress.com/2021/06/01/review-grazie-sheffield-everything-is-oma-ma-made/amp/?__twitter_impression=true

Elsewhere it’s quite clear that the local restaurant trade is not yet fully up to speed. It’s having difficulties in finding chefs and waiting staff. Inexperienced youngsters are being pressed into service without adequate training. For goodness sake, keep to your section so diners are not harrassed with the same questions from successive waiters.

And please, if you are going to serve water in jugs, put in some ice and don’t leave it to warm in the dining room.

Customers, too, need to smarten their game. There have been far too many no-shows where diners do not turn up. An already struggling trade can’t stand too many more blows, particularly those out of the way places which can’t rely on walk- ins.

Grazie’s logo

Hope springs eternal in the catering trade and fishmonger Christian Szurcko has opened Native in the city centre, scooping up the lobster and caviar market for those who find Kelham Island too plebby!

Still on seafood, Cary Brown is having his umpteenth transmogrification with new restaurant Neon Fish. There’s plenty to get my teeth into.

*Grazie is at 1-3 Leopold Street, Sheffield S1 26Y. Tel: 07308 028 864. Web: http://www.graziesheffield.co.uk

Well worth a detour

Liver and bacon

THEY don’t care much for fashion and foodie fol de rols at the Omega at Abbeydale, I’m thinking as I glance down its two short menus. In fact I could have eaten most of this any time in the last 40 or so years.

The carte has roast beef and Yorkshire Pudding, fish and chips (dressed up as cod goujons) and, gloriously, calves liver and bacon. Sixties’ school dinners have failed to dampen my appetite for this. The TDH offers roast rump of lamb or fillet of plaice with a herb crust.

The monkfish with a cauliflower and gently curried lentil puree might not have been seen pre-Fanny Cradock (for it was she who made the fish popular) so this is perhaps the only nod to modernity.

There is a leek and potato soup, with no temptation here to fancy it up as Vichyoisse, but then up pops herrings Bismarck which in my book is rollmops.

Before our visit last month I’d been faffing about, unable to find a menu either on the restaurant’s website or Facebook page but it turns out it’s the same as the lunchtime one. What is different is that the Omega now does evening meals and we wanted to show foodie chums Craig and Marie Harris just what we’ve been raving about as they both work over lunch.

When I take restaurant manager and co-owner Jamie Christian gently to task over a lack of published menu he explains they did until hake was posted as a dish but decent supplies failed to come ashore so it was beached. A customer had made a special journey for it and blew up a gale when her hopes were sunk.

Jamie Christian

So chef and co-owner Steve Roebuck scrapped it to avoid the aggro. He may be wrong on this in my book but if you ask nicely they can send you one.

New diners should really start here. The Omega at Abbeydale is the son of the fantabulous Baldwin’s Omega banqueting suite off Psalter Lane run by David Baldwin, who sadly died earlier this year. So great was the esteem in which he was held that crowds of former customers lined the streets, with chefs in their whites, as the cortege passed.

Baldwin’s never opened for dinner – the evenings were devoted to private and public banquets, apart from the odd ‘pop up.’ While Jamie and Steve are continuing in the Baldwin’s tradition they can now do dinners as well as lunches.

The food was marvellous. I’ll not dwell on every course but let’s consider the calves liver. Ideally it should be of the highestest quality and cooked just briefly, barely kissing the pan to seal and stiffen but not by much. And there should be crispy smoked bacon to offset the liver’s sweet succulance. With it should be the silkiest, creamiest mashed potato you could wish for and caramelised onions, soft and sweet.


Reader, it was delivered. It was magnificent. It was memorable. It matched up to the Italian version of liver and onions I had a couple of years ago in a Venetian restaurant. I’d have given Craig a mouthful but he has spent a wasted lifetime hating liver. Instead, he was on the roast beef with Yorkshire pudding.


Just look at the picture. Wouldn’t you want to eat that? In the Good Old Days of Baldwin’s Omega it would have come theatrically on a trolley with the chef carving it from the joint at your table. But no trolley could manage the present kitchen steps.

In the pink – roast beef


We ate contentedly through three courses, remarking that it wasn’t always best to follow the latest food fashion and if the old ways worked, why change them?

I enjoyed the wispiest of tempura batter on my prawns, dunked in a gutsy tomato aioli (which you certainly wouldn’t have seen in the Eighties). And I finished with a lemony creme brulee with the crispiest of toffeed topping.

Now the Omega appeals to a certain kind of customer, monied and probably getting on in years who likes his or her food expertly cooked. The Omega might not even occur to the younger set (unless they attend Abbeydale Sports Club where it now resides).

But give it a try. It’s well worth the proverbial detour.

The Omega is at Abbeydale Sports Club on Abbeydale Road South, Sheffield. Web http://www.omegaatabbeydale.co.uk

Part of the menu

Not just your average Italian

VeroGusto3

Slow cooked Ox cheek

 

WE HAD gathered for pre-dinner bottles of Peroni, just to get us in the mood for our Italian evening, and scrolled a little apprehensively through VeroGusto’s menu. I don’t know what the Italian for big spondulicks is but you do need a lot of them to eat here.

Dry-aged fillet of beef £31.80 and that’s without the chips. Mmmm. Pan-fried Gressingham duck breast . . . tempting but £25.50 and no spuds mentioned.

Across the table there was a passable imitation of Mount Etna erupting. “Rocket leaves with Parmesan shavings £6.50 . . . I am not paying that.”

I nodded. “We shall have to pick our way very carefully through the menu,” I said. My companion added: “I don’t mind paying high prices but I want to be blown away for it.”

As it happens we dodged the salad and the duck and we were both gastronomically blown away by some long-cooked, slow-cooked, low-cooked ox cheek.

But we are getting ahead of ourselves. We haven’t even got through the door of this swish little family-run Italian on Norfolk Row. It looks classy from the outside and the sight of the black waistcoated waiters within confirms it.

Expensive bottles of wine line the back of a long narrow room which once housed the town’s tourist information office but which goes back to Georgian times. This is not your average Italian ristorante.

VeroGusto2

Delicious octopus

I’ve known this restaurant across two locations and three changes of name ever since Esterina Celva and partner Bruno Saverio opened on Church Street as Gusto-Italiano.

“You should be charging more,” I told Ester back then after a lunch eating her cheerful, happy food. She and Saverio, everyone seems to call him by his surname, did just that when they moved across town, first as Gusto, then as VeroGusto, and went spectacularly upmarket.

The food is exactly like that you would hope to discover away from the tourist traps down one of the smarter streets of an Italian city. You’d come back bursting to tell your friends of your little find. Somehow finding it a few yards from a Sheffield bus stop doesn’t have quite the same glamour but it will save you the price of a plane ticket.

VeroGusto is for most people without big wallets a special occasions type of place which is why, for us, we haven’t been there for a couple of years. But tonight is my wife’s birthday and we are celebrating with friends Craig and Marie Harris, fellow foodies, Italophiles and bloggers.

I fancy portion sizes have crept up a little since our last visit. You longed for more on the plate and deep down all Sheffielders, even the swankiest, treasure Value For Money. We got it here.

Enjoying food comes on so many levels: presentation, smell, texture, flavour and afterthought – reflecting with satisfaction on what you have experienced.

My starter of polipo (£11.95), octopus, would have been the price of a main in many cases. It looked good. The firm meaty flesh was cooked to perfection with a tang of the sea and, as Craig remarked, with just a touch of the grill.

It came with chicory, the biggest pine nuts I have seen, olives and sultanas and a sort of pretzel, a tarollo Napoletano, which I had not previously encountered, rather like a hard biscuit.

Birthday Girl’s fritto misto (£13.85) was squid, prawns and courgette flowers in the wispiest of batter, more negligee than Winceyette pyjamas.

Saverio, now sporting a lockdown beard, had read out some specials including one I liked the sound of, ox cheek with creamed potatoes. Now that’s what caught my attention because at that point I was going for the duck but was mentally grumbling I’d have to pay extra for spuds.

I asked the price. Why don’t restaurants give it automatically when they’re reading out specials? People don’t like to ask but what else do you buy without knowing the cost? I don’t have the bill now but it was cheaper than the duck so I ordered it. Craig must have had the same thought processes and did, too.

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Plenty of monkfish here

It was wonderful. The meat had held together but the texture was so soft and tender you could have sucked it up through a straw. And the sauce, a reduction of wine and the bed of vegetables the meat had sat upon, finished with just a hint of sweetness.

It’s a dish you’ll find on many a Modern British menu but you’ll have to look hard to find better. And the mash? Silky, smooth, luxurious. It came with a Parmesan tuille which always scores an extra point with me.

P1000997Marie was clucking happily over her house lasagne (£15.95) “So many layers,” while my wife enjoyed her taglierini pasta with monkfish (£17.50). I hoped neither of them noticed we men had the more expensive dishes.

As you might expect, wines are pricy here but we managed to find a bouncy bottle of Primitivo for about the price of the ox cheek.

We left happy if lighter of wallet. Ester, who has managed to bring up two delightful children while cooking so brilliantly in the kitchen, and front of house Saverio give the city centre restaurant scene a much needed touch of class.

And to think, when at Church Street they were thinking of packing it in until a rave restaurant review turned their fortunes around.

Web: http://www.verogusto.com

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Fritto Misto

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