The Italian Kitchen

February 2, 2014 at 2:20 pm | Posted in Restaurants | 2 Comments
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I walk past the Italian Kitchen at least twice a day, on my way to and from work, and every time I ask myself “why haven’t I eaten there yet?” After a few months of making mental notes to pop into the Italian Kitchen, I finally ended up in the Ecclesall Road restaurant by accident, after spending longer than I’d intended in the Nursery Tavern (whoops), and getting a case of the beer munchies. Nipping across the road and filling up on yummy Italian food seemed like the perfect way to finish off the evening.

Despite it being a rainy, mid-week night, the Italian Kitchen was surprisingly busy. This eatery has a very cosy vibe, with a preference for low lighting and dark furnishings, which is very welcoming – especially on a rainy and windy January night! We scored a window seat, so we could watch the pedestrians getting blown around Ecclesall Road while we settled down with our wine, and perused the menu. The menu is typical for an Italian restaurant; that means pizza, pasta, risotto, and steak. There’s nothing really out of the ordinary here, and the prices are pretty average for this kind of food. So far, so good.

Still hung up on the previous week’s Loch Fyne treat, I couldn’t resist the lure of the fish dishes, and opted for the Linguini Marinara (9.95), which promised a trio of seafood: mussels, prawns, and squid. It pretty much goes without saying that the seafood couldn’t compete with Loch Fyne (which specialises in seafood and is more expensive, after all) but I was pleasantly surprised by the sheer amount of seafood the Italian Kitchen piled onto my plate.

All too often a seafood-pasta dish turns out to be four mussels-in-their-shells, strategically positioned on top of a pile of pasta, with a handful of prawns and calamari rings thrown in (if you’re lucky!) Not so at the Italian Kitchen; every forkful of linguine brought with it a generous helping of seafood. Even when I reached the bottom of my pasta, there was a pile of stray seafood still sitting in the bottom of the bowl. I don’t think I’ve ever been treated to so much seafood in a pasta dish before. Other restaurants, take note!

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The seafood was nicely cooked and not in the least bit rubbery, and it had a hum of garlic going on, although I wouldn’t have minded a hotter kick (a bit of chilli in the tomato sauce would have sealed the deal for me). But overall, a tasty, generous dish that’s filling and good value for money.

Once again, it was all about the seafood, as my dinner date ordered a Marinara Pizza (9.95) of prawns, mussels, and squid, with some garlic to season. The Italian Kitchen didn’t disappoint, delivering a pizza piled high with seafood, which left us debating which was the better option for seafood lovers – pizza, or pasta? If you’re a fish fan, you can’t really go wrong. Pizza or pasta, the Italian Kitchen make sure you get your fill.

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With two seafood-packed meals for just under 20, we reluctantly left the warmth of the Italian Kitchen, for the cold and rain of Eccy Road, feeling like we’d enjoyed a great meal, at a great price. A generous portion of tasty Italian grub at reasonable prices in comfortable surroundings – what’s not to like?

Kashmiri Kitchen

June 19, 2013 at 4:44 pm | Posted in Restaurants | Leave a comment
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I love spicy food, particularly that old favourite: the Friday night curry. However, getting into a food-rut is never a good thing so it was a pleasant surprise to discover that beyond the poppadoms, samosas and pakoras, Kashmiri Kitchen’s menu is slightly more unusual than many of the spicy-food establishments in the steel city.

The Ecclesall Road venue has a surprisingly limited menu of seven intriguing main courses: Choosa Handi (chicken), Gosht Handi (lamb), Keema Mutter (mince), Chicken Pilau, Aloo Gobi (cauliflower and potato), Tarka Daal (lentils) and Kashmiri Bhindi (okra.) Surely a restaurant that has the confidence to offer just seven mains, must really excel at those few dishes?

Upon entering the restaurant, first impressions were good as the reception was very polite and efficient. Kashmiri Kitchen do pack in the tables, but we’d nabbed a window seat so at least we weren’t disturbed by people squeezing past. Our drinks orders were taken immediately, and the drinks themselves appeared just a few minutes later. So far, so good.

Despite the speedy service, the no-frills menu meant that we’d settled on starters, mains and accompaniments by the time the drinks arrived. The main meals are all seasoned with medium spices, but chilli heads can upgrade to hot if desired. As this was our first visit to Kashmiri Kitchen, we played it safe and stuck with medium.

The starters arrived promptly, and after a glance around the restaurant it became clear why: at 7pm on a Friday evening, there were more members of staff than customers. The waiters and waitresses were actually lined up against the far wall, waiting for something to happen. Good for us hungry and impatient diners, but I hope it got busier later on!

We kicked off our Indian feast with two poppadom and pickle trays, which at £1.25 each were an absolute bargain. Each tray consisted of three large poppadoms, which arrived warm and weren’t in the least bit greasy or soggy, and a gravy-boat of mint and yoghurt dip. Our £2.50 also nabbed us a sharing platter of delicious mango chutney, an eye-wateringly tart lemon pickle, and a mix of seasoned onions and chopped tomatoes. A fantastic budget starter.

pickle tray

I was scrabbling after the last drops of moreish mango chutney when we were informed that our main meals were ready – or would we prefer to finish our starters first? As the poppadom and pickle paraphernalia already took up most of the table, we opted to finish off the starters first, which turned out to be a mistake. Although it only delayed our main course by 5 minutes or so, the mains arrived lukewarm, as though they’d been left cooling on the side the entire time.

Thankfully, this was the only major issue with the mains. I love okra, so the Kashmiri Bhindi (£4.25) was my ideal meal: a bowl of perfectly-cooked okra. This veggie can sometimes go a bit slimy, but Kashmiri Kitchen got it spot on and served up okra that still had a nice crunch. The spices were deceptively tame at first, but the heat built up with every mouthful, and the spices had the depth of flavour you just can’t get from packets of chilli powder or jarred curry paste. Delicious.

bhindi

My only criticism is that, apart from two wedges of tomato and a sprinkling of herbs, the Kashmiri Bhindi really is just a bowl of okra, and some variation (a bit of onion or pepper, maybe) would have been welcome.

At the opposite end of the table, the Gosht Handi (£5.95) may not have looked particularly appetising, but it was packed with juicy lamb in a rich sauce. Like the Bhindi, the spices were deceptive and built up to a nice warmth.

handi

The final dish was a side order of fluffy pilau rice (£1.50) which was the perfect size to share.

rice

The portions weren’t enormous, but they left me pleasantly full rather than stuffed and guilt-ridden. In fact, I was eyeing up the dessert menu (the authentic-sounding Kashmiri style rice pudding was particularly tempting) but in the end I decided to save that for the next visit.

You have to give Kashmiri Kitchen points for bucking the trend with their limited, unusual menu but it’s the prices where they really have the edge. If we’d been able to resist the call of the wine menu, the price for two starters, two mains and a rice side dish would have been a little over £14.

The only major downside is that you’ll work your way through the menu in just a few visits, which will affect the number of times you’ll return to Kashmiri Kitchen. All in all though, this is good food at bargain prices. Definitely worth a visit if, like me, you’re in danger of getting into a bit of a rut when it comes to your spicy food.

four-stars

Fancie Cafe

January 9, 2013 at 7:13 pm | Posted in Cafe | Leave a comment
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When I heard that cupcake connoisseurs Fancie were opening a new cafe along my daily commute, I was excited at the prospect of calorie-laden cupcakes and frothy coffees as an end-of-the-working-day treat (and, let’s face it, a pre-work pick-me-up.) However, Fancie’s new establishment at 359 Ecclesall Road isn’t just about the cake; Fancie have branched out into the brave new world of savouries and cooked breakfasts.

The new cafe is a change from Fancie’s previous pink, cupcake-centric image; it’s a very rustic affair of exposed brickwork, pick-and-mix furniture and mismatched timber cladding. There’s Catherine’s Choice preserves behind the counter and delicious-smelling omelettes flying out of the open kitchen. Even the logo has been given a grown-up makeover. This is a new direction for the Fancie brand but fear not: there’s still plenty of their trademark cupcakes for those with a sweet tooth.

This new incarnation seems to be going down a storm. When we visited on a Saturday morning we had to perform a lap around the venue before we found an empty table. The cafe appears to be a particular hit with young families, with a tangle of pushchairs leaning against the central pillar that dominates the cafe (and, annoyingly takes up a lot of potential seating space.) It’s bustling and noisy, but with a pleasant, family-friendly vibe. Factor in some quaint flower arrangements, vintage crockery doubling-up as sugar bowls and the olde-worlde, greaseproof paper menu, and you have a charming and quirky new cafe.

There’s a limited lunchtime menu, but the food menu is focused on breakfast, with a selection of traditional cooked brekkies, omelettes, homemade granola and bread with jam or butter. The menu is currently missing a veggie cooked breakfast, but it does include a vegetarian sausage roll at a penny-pinching £2.10, so this isn’t a major problem.

But, before the food, it was time for that old favourite: a brew. Fancie go the extra mile when it comes to the humble cuppa, particularly with their herbal infusions. The green tea arrived with an entourage of teapot, tea strainer, tea bowl, a quirky mismatched vintage saucer and a neat little egg timer that ensures your drink it always brewed to perfection. The egg timer is a lovely, thoughtful touch that makes a simple cup of tea feel extra special. However, at £2.80 for a one-person serving of green tea you do pay extra for the showmanship.

green tea

After seeing the green tea I almost regretted ordering a plain old cup of Yorkshire tea, but for the bargain price of £1.10 I got a bucket-sized mug of the good stuff, served on a lovely vintage saucer with a generously-filled milk jug. Fancie sure know how to make a good cuppa!

tea

The food arrived shortly afterwards, and again I was left feeling like I’d snagged a bargain. My veggie sausage roll was stuffed with tangy cheese, lashings of delicious spinach and flavour-packed tomatoes, all wrapped in thick pastry. I’m not a massive fan of pastry as a rule, but this was nothing like the thin, crispy, greasy stuff I’ve had before. At £2.10 this is a bargain that, thanks to the wedge of pastry, left me completely stuffed.

sausage roll

At the other end of the table, the Petit Breakfast’s (£4.50) motto was clearly ‘quality not quantity’ with two rashers of thick-cut bacon, a grease-free local sausage, buttery mushrooms and fluffy scrambled eggs laced with black pepper making for a tasty breakfast treat. A wedge of homely-looking brown bread and a generous pat of paper-wrapped butter bulked out the meal a bit, but at £4.50 the cooked portion of the breakfast did feel a little on the light side.

petit brekkie

So, have Fancie successfully made the leap from cupcakes to full-blown cafe? The new Ecclesall Road venue is a rustic, family-friendly place with bags of character and a great atmosphere. The flourish they give the humble cup of tea is second to none and, although I’m not entirely sold on their cooked breakfasts, they do serve up some tasty snacks, delicious-looking sarnies and sweet treats (which goes without saying, really.)

The perfect spot for a truly indulgent cuppa, a light bite and, of course, the best cupcakes in the city.

three-and-a-half

Porter Brook

September 29, 2012 at 8:26 am | Posted in Pub Grub | Leave a comment
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It seems the great British summertime has been and gone without anyone noticing it had arrived in the first place, and we’re already in the depths of winter if the constant rain, plummeting temperatures and dark mornings are anything to go by. But cheer up – now you’ve got an excuse to spend all afternoon holed up in a nice, cosy pub, whiling away the hours with a bottle of wine, stodgy comfort food and some creamy after-dinner tipples (ahhh, Baileys, how I’ve missed you!)

In search of the aforementioned comfort food and calorie-packed booze, we found ourselves in the Porter Brook at the top of Ecclesall Road earlier this week.

The Porter Brook’s exterior has an olde-worlde charm, and the interior has that cosy ‘local boozer’ feel you’ll be craving for the next few months. The atmosphere isn’t a million miles removed from the Nursery Tav at the other end of Ecclesall Road, although the Porter Brook does seem to attract less of a student crowd. Despite the lack of freshers, the Porter Brook was doing a brisk trade when we visited, so much so that even on a wet Wednesday afternoon we had to poke around a bit before we found an empty table.

Once seated, we launched into the drinks menu. Bargain hunters beware, the Porter Brook may share the Nursery Tavern’s welcoming atmosphere, but the drinks are noticeably more expensive. After a quick bit of maths, we realised there wasn’t much difference between a round of beers and spirits, and a bottle of wine, which seemed like a good excuse to order a full bottle (£8.95) and make an afternoon of it.

The Porter Brook’s menu covers all the usual pub staples; there’s burgers, jacket potatoes, fish and chips, and all day breakfasts, all at a reasonable price. However, something more unusual caught my eye – a vegetable tagine served with couscous, at a penny-pinching £3.99. I decided to take a gamble and ordered the Porter Brook’s tagine. Convinced that no £3.99 meal could fill me, I added a side order of sweet potato fries (£1.89.)

I needn’t have bothered with the side order. The vegetable tagine arrived promptly (in under ten minutes) and, it turns out that at the Porter Brook a £3.99 meal can fill you up.

The tagine sauce had a rich, satisfying heat that warmed the pit of my stomach without burning my tongue, making it suitable even for non-heatseekers. Although there was more sauce than veggies, there was a good range of vegetables – onion, sweet potato, chickpeas and courgettes. Soaked in the warming tagine sauce, the chickpeas in particular were delicious.

There were also chickpeas in the couscous, which made my bargain meal even more filling. Couscous is a very easy thing to overcook, but the Porter Brook got it just right and cooked my portion through, without turning it into slop. There were a few lumps of couscous that could have been broken up with a fork before being brought to the table, but when you’re getting a big plate of comfort food for £3.99, having to fluff your own couscous is no big deal. The vegetable tagine left me warm, stuffed and satisfied. The perfect winter warmer, and I can’t wait to have it again!

Although I was full from my main meal, it would have been a shame to waste my side order and so I soldiered valiantly on. At £1.89 the Porter Brook once again get top marks when it comes to providing value for money.

Warm, soft and sweet on the inside, these fries are the perfect addition to a winter warmer feast. They disappeared in no time.

Also arriving at our table was some more traditional pub grub: a Mexican burger topped with pepper cheese sauce and jalapenos. Served with coleslaw, fat chips and two dips for 6.99, the Porter Brook again proved themselves a generous establishment.

The burger was nice and juicy, and the combination of pepper cheese sauce and jalapenos ensured this meal delivered the same satisfying warmth as my tagine. Our reviewer raved about the chunky coleslaw, but the jalapeno dip had a vinegary aftertaste, like it had been made from pickled jalapenos. The runny consistency and murky green colour is also enough to put fussy eaters off. After dunking a few chips into the sauce to try and decipher what the sour aftertaste could be, we gave up and the dip went unfinished.

The Porter Brook is a cosy venue with a welcoming ‘local boozer’ feel that’s often missing from the bustling Eccy Road. It clearly draws quite a crowd and it’s easy to see why, the food is value for money and good quality pub grub (just what you need, in this grim weather.) The drinks are on the pricey side, so it’s worth scouring the menu for deals or sharing a bottle of wine between a table. Sinking a couple of vodkas or pints with your meal will seriously push up the bill – you have been warned!

Highly recommended if you’re after a plateful of good old fashioned comfort food to combat the chill.

The Sheaf Island

May 27, 2012 at 2:20 pm | Posted in Pub Grub | Leave a comment
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The UK is now in a double dip recession, which sounds kind of fun, but is actually a Very Bad Thing.

We’re all feeling the pinch, so what’s to be done when it’s the week before payday, but you still want to eat out? The answer is pub grub, and Wetherspoons is surely one of the UK’s best known purveyors of budget nosh. For our penny-pinching evening out, the Sheffield Eats team descended on Sheffield’s newest Wetherspoons, the Sheaf Island on Ecclesall Road.

My major bugbear with Wetherspoons, is that they tend to be rather dark (I’m looking at you, The Benjamin Huntsman) but not the Sheaf Island; the floor-to-ceiling windows let in plenty of daylight (and let you nosey at the people walking past.) The decor has an historical Sheffield slant that makes this Wetherspoons feel less corporate-chain, and more like your friendly local pub, which is a nice touch. Our table agreed that the Sheaf Island is one of the nicest Wetherspoons we’ve ever visited (and as ex-students, this is a real accolade!)

The menu at the Sheaf Island is pretty much a carbon copy of every other Wetherspoons out there, but it still reads like a list of all-time pub faves: scampi and chips, curry, bangers and mash, steak and kidney pudding, fish and chips. For the adventurous, there’s even nods to more modern cuisine: customers can choose from a very healthy-sounding superfood wholewheat pesto pasta, or a lentil, mushroom, mozzarella & pumpkin seed roast. Yum!

We kicked off our food order with a five bean chilli (£4.60) which came with rice and tortilla chips. The chilli was a generous mix of butter, kidney, haricot, cannellini and pinto beans in a satisfying tomato sauce. The rich and spicy sauce in particular got an enthusiastic thumbs up from our reviewer.

Also arriving at our table was a ‘Simple Steak’ (£7.20) a no-frills 8oz rump steak with chunky chips, and a drink included in the price.

And the deals just kept on coming, as my veggie burger deal (£4.99) also came with a drink.

However, when we began tucking into our steak and veggie burger, we hit a snag: the food was only lukewarm and, worse, it had that overbaked taste of food that’s been left under a hot plate for too long.

The veggie burger was packed with sweet potato and lentils, and would have sat nicely in my stomach; a wodge of pure comfort good – if it had arrived at the table hot. By the time I got around to the chips, they’d gone completely cold. Even the stingy portion of salsa dip that came with the chips wasn’t enough to give them that fiery kick. The steak was juicy and came with plenty of chunky chips but again, it was a rush to finish the meal before it went cold.

Between us, we’ve eaten in the Sheaf Island a few times, and have always been impressed by the speedy service (perfect for when you’re ravenous after a long day at work), cheapness, and quality of their pub grub. However, there’s no excuse for serving food that’s clearly been stood cooling for a while. On this occasion, the Sheaf Island’s budget eats left us feeling short changed.

Mud Crab

May 13, 2012 at 3:40 pm | Posted in Cocktail Bar, Restaurants | Leave a comment
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When news first reached Sheffield Eats HQ that Felicini was closing and opening in its place was newcomer Mud Crab, we were all shocked. Felicini always seemed to draw a healthy crowd, and besides, aren’t Mud Crabs those pesky little blighters who mob you everytime you go anywhere near water in Skyrim??

So, not sure what to expect, we made a trip to Mud Crab over the opening weekend, in search of nourishment and a few cheeky pre-dinner cocktails. Firstly, Felicini fans will be happy to learn that the interior is still recognizably Felicini, just with more pictures of motorbikes and some vaguely nautical flourishes, such as exposed iron rivets that look like they’ve come straight from the Titanic. The staff are very friendly – one of the waiters had seen our party wandering around Ecclesall Road earlier and joked that he was convinced we were stalking him, and the bar staff were eager to chat while mixing up our cocktails.

To kick off our Mud Crab initiation, our thirsty party ordered a platter of cocktails. The Chocolate and Banana cheesecake cocktail (£6.50) is an absolute must for those with a sweet tooth, tasting like a creamier version of a Bailey’s. Just be sure to tackle this one on an empty stomach; it’s like pudding in a glass!

We also ordered a Jalapeno Margarita (£6.50) – cocktail connoisseurs that we are, we still have to admit that this is a new one on us. A refreshing mix of ice, tangy lime and jalapenos, this is aimed at those with an adventurous palate, and it split opinions at the table.

We also sampled some daiquiris (£6.50), which come in a range of flavours. We opted for a creamy banana daiquiri and the blackberry version, which seems to be made from real blackberries and not syrup, judging by the blackberry seeds. The cocktail menu isn’t particularly extensive, but it contains many you’d be hard pressed to find anywhere else in Sheffield, which makes the Mud Crab a must for cocktail fans.

But enough about the cocktails – onto the food! Mud Crab specialises in “custom built burgers and other essentials.” Customers can choose from a mouth-watering list of toppings for their burger: double mature cheese, chopped jalapenos, fried egg, cream cheese… Here, we hit a snag: there’s no veggie burger on the menu, and I don’t eat meat. Neglecting to include a veggie option is a major oversight. The burgers coming out of the kitchen looked amazing, so hopefully this is something they’ll sort out soon. Unfortunately, this lack of veggie options isn’t restricted to the DIY burgers: if you’re a vegetarian, the only thing you’ll be able to eat on the menu is a posh cheese and tomato pizza. Disappointing.

Personally, I’m a bit of a cheat and still eat fish and seafood, so I opted for the yummy-sounding monkfish and prawn thai curry (£14.50) which didn’t disappoint. The dish was a regular melee of seafood and veggies, topped with toasted coconut flakes which gave the dish a nutty edge. The pile of veggies and juicy seafood came on a bed of noodles; I would have preferred rice (better for soaking up that creamy curry sauce!) but overall, this was a unique and delicious take on the traditional thai curry.

Our table also ordered some “good fries,” which were beautifully presented in a rustic mug wrapped in greaseproof paper (£3) and the slow cooked chili beef brisket, served with corn bread, sour cream, cheese and salsa (£10). This is the only place I’ve seen in Sheffield that serves this American favourite, so if you fancy a twist on the traditional beef dish, get yourself down to the Mud Crab! One member of our party called it the best meat dish they’d ever tasted, so you won’t be disappointed.

The Mud Crab puts a fresh slant on the restaurant staples of burgers, curry, sarnies and meat dishes, and we thoroughly enjoyed everything that was served (they just need to add a few veggie alternatives.) Mud Crab is also a wonderful addition to Sheffield’s ever-growing cocktail bar scene. If you’ve exhausted the menu at Browns and Revolution de Cuba, then you owe it to yourself to venture down to Mud Crab.

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