A long time to get it right

Two Steps, in business since 1895

Two Steps, in business since 1895

It’s a Fish and Chips Friday so the plates are warming on a pan of simmering water, the kitchen table is laid with cutlery, bread and butter, vinegar, ketchup and tartare sauce and the neighbours’ cat is settling into the corner with an expectant look while I’ve nipped down to the chippie.

Not just any fish and chip shop. Readers who know I like my food seasoned with a good back story will hardly be surprised at my choice: Two Steps on Sharrow Vale Road, Sheffield. There’s plenty of history in these premises, frying fish for 120 years, since James Bolton set up shop in 1895. This is very probably the oldest in the country on the same spot, certainly in Yorkshire.

If not history, then popular culture. Tony (Is This the Way to Amarillo?) Christie posed here for an album cover while the mostly forgotten Carol-Anne Showband sang about joining the queue to be near a girlfriend (was she serving?) in Two Steps. “In 1895 this old ship set sail/ Why go to France when you can go to Sharrow Vale?” Indeed.

But the main reason I’m queuing up for cod, haddock, one small portion of chips (in reality enough for three) and fluorescent green mushy peas is that the food is remarkably good. As one satisfied customer puts it on TripAdvisor, it’s a “simple chippy, no dodgy kebabs . . .” although current owner Leggy Kafetzis, being Cypriot, would have a legitimate excuse. “They’ve had a long time to get it right” notes another Trippie.

The menu is short: cod, haddock, Yorkshire fishcake, cod’s roe, rissole, chips, sausages, Pukka Pies and, a modest little speciality, the Two Steps’ pea fritter. I’m having the haddock because Sheffield, always a border city as far as Yorkshire is concerned, is on that boundary where the southern preference for slightly effete cod becomes the northern choice for much more manly haddock. And because Leggy once tipped me the wink that the haddock is invariably fresh.

Serving up

Serving up

Sometime the queue stretches out of the door and into the rain but tonight it’s short. “Any haddock in?” I ask the frier, a man in a pony tail, Leggy not being about. As the son of a chippie I know it’s better to order haddock when you arrive, rather than wait for it to be cooked. There are, four fillets.

If you’re a first-timer on recommendation the back wall opposite the counter will reassure you your tea is in safe hands. It is a newspaper hall of fame with cuttings from most of Fleet Street, including The Times and the Guardian, extolling Two Steps’ virtues. It gets its name from the two steps at the door.

I have my order wrapped, unsalted and unvinegared because I am not a lover of non-brewed condiment. I can do it back home with pickled onion vinegar. They do big portions here. Back home, unwrapped, my haddock lolls right across the dinner plate and hangs over. The batter is dry and crisp, the fish steamed inside to its full flavour. I have a bite of my wife’s creamier-looking cod: just as good.

Good chips don’t always have to be triple-cooked Jengas. Leave that to chefs.These are soft and limp but not at all greasy. We all like them, including the cat.

Two of us have eaten for just under a tenner. It’s plain, simple food honestly cooked but just as important the offering is consistently good. There’s nothing worse than looking forward to the chippie all day and being disappointed.

But as the man said, they’ve had a long time to get it right.

249 Sharrow Vale Road, Sharrow Vale, Sheffield S11 8ZE. Tel: 0114 266 5694

Haddock, chips and mushy peas

Haddock, chips and mushy peas

Batter, tatter, fish – what’s up for the Sheffield Fishcake?

The Sheffield Fishcake at Seafayre - but is it under threat?

The Sheffield Fishcake at Seafayre – but is it under threat?

“Batter, tatter, fish, tatter, batter,” is the succinct description of the construction of a Sheffield fishcake, seen as a geological diagram. It’s a sort of fish sandwich, a piece of cod or haddock between two slices of potato, swathed in batter and deep fried.

Some insist on calling it a Yorkshire fishcake on account of it also being sold in Halifax or Huddersfield but Sheffield is the only Northern town to give its name to this speciality. Yorkshire has its pudding and mushy peas so let this be Sheffield’s national dish!

I am not sure whether it’s dying out in the area’s chippies or is still holding on. The three or four chip shops nearest me don’t sell it. In Barnsley they think a fishcake is mashed fish and potato with parsley, as does most of the rest of the country.

It’s not hard to see how the Sheffield fishcake came about. A chippie decided this was the best way to make use of fish trimmings. But why is it a strictly regional thing: surely the same thought should have applied in the rest of the country. Perhaps only a Yorkshireman can turn (almost) nowt into owt.

I have always been fascinated by Sheffield fishcakes. I grew up in Derby where my father ran a chippie in complete ignorance of this delicacy some 40 miles north. I’d had a scallop, a slice of potato in batter, but that was less than half way to the real thing.

Nor had Bruce Payne, owner of Seafayre chippie and fish restaurant on Charles Street, Sheffield. He’s from Leicester and had to be shown how to make them when he married into Sheffield’s Pearce dynasty of chippies. The Sheffield fishcake is popular: when on Castle Market he once sold 224 on a Friday lunchtime. “I thought they would be as popular here but it’s a different clientele,” he says.

Bruce doesn’t use a slice of fish but trimmings as he says it would otherwise be difficult to seat the fish and potato together snugly. He has to be careful with his choice of spuds. “When varieties change I thought a baking potato would be suitable but it just goes mushy.” Nor does he parboil the potatoes. And “I always use cod because this is a cod shop,” he adds.

At just £1.45 it’s a particularly tasty and comforting dish and well worth ordering, with or without the chips.

The Sheffield or Yorkshire fishcake is a working man or woman’s snack but there’s no reason why it can’t be poshed up, as it is at the three-star George Hotel in Hathersage. Sous chef Steven Sumpner may come from Basingstoke but “I’ve always known about Yorkshire fishcakes because my father, who is from Leeds, loves them

“I remember my dad showing our local fish and chip shop how to make them so when we had our fish n chips nights he could have a Yorkshire fish cake. It was a big deal to him being a Leeds boy.”

Steven, whose own favourite fishcake from a chippie is from Four Lanes on Leppings Lane, Hillsborough, produced mini fishcakes for a special occasion at the hotel recently but it often goes on the menu because “it’s homely and rustic.”

His method is to parboil the potatoes so it allows for thick slices of spud which can be cooked at the same rate as the fish and batter: if he used them raw the rest would be overcooked. And because it is a hotel he can use tail ends of fillets.

The batter, too, gets special attention. “My recipe always has wine vinegar and bicarbonate of soda. This gives the batter an extra crispy and light texture with a nice punch of vinegar. I season with rock salt and it really gives that feeling you have drenched your fish in vinegar and salt but you still have a crispy batter!”

Steven’s miniature versions are extremely tasty little morsels with extra oomph in the batter. I enjoyed them.

Of course, one man’s fishcake is another man’s fritter, pattie, scallop or rissole so the Sheffield or Yorkshire fishcake might exist somewhere else in the world under another name. I have heard of a double decker fishcake with a layer of peas as well as fish and spuds and there is the famous mushy pea fritter at Two Steps on Sharrowvale Road.

Finally, here’s Yorkshire chef Brian Turner’s version, as seen on YouTube. Go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xcj8bp_F9Uk

*Seafayre has now closed but Bruce continues frying (and serving Sheffield fishcakes)  at the Market Chippie on The Moor Market. This is for the benefit of Peterborough FC fans accessing this site via http://www.londonroad.net


Steven Sumpner's Sheffield fishcakes

Steven Sumpner’s Sheffield fishcakes

Steven Sumpner in the George's kitchen

Steven Sumpner in the George’s kitchen