Sakushi

June 30, 2012 at 8:32 pm | Posted in Restaurants, Takeaway | 4 Comments
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There’s no denying it: sushi is THE lunchtime treat for when you’re having a tough day at the office. If you’re keeping an eye on the pennies, then the value-for-money Edo Sushi takeaway is the perfect place to grab a box of fishy goodness on the go. But, if you’re hankering after an hour away from the office, then Sakushi is worth a visit for those with a few notes in their back pocket.

Located conveniently on Campo Lane (slap bang across the road from The Wig and Pen, incidentally) Sakushi puts a trendy gloss on the traditional Japanese restaurant. The interior is all sleek, spotless monochrome, white leather booths and super-efficient staff. Sakushi even modernizes the old cliche of the sushi conveyor belt, with pods of sushi sweeping around a stylish steel ornament and past a reassuringly open kitchen. Even though you can grab your meal straight off a conveyor belt, there’s nothing tacky about Sakushi.

The menu is so exhaustive that newcomers to Japanese cuisine are advised to study it online in advance. Not only does Sakushi offer a wide choice of sushi and sashimi, but there’s an equally impressive range of cooked mains and Japanese tapas too. Our party decided to put every section of the menu to the test – sushi, tapas and cooked mains – to bring you the most comprehensive review possible. We’re selfless, like that.

We began our epic feast with sushi. At Sakushi, you have a choice: you can either reach across and yank whatever takes your fancy off the conveyor belt (the colour-coded plates are then stacked up on your table and the staff tot up the total at the end of the meal) or you can order plates of sushi from the menu. Since we’re an impatient lot, we got stuck in with the conveyor belt.

The sushi portion of our feast consisted of a couple of plates of the Mixed Nigiri (£3.80) which featured all our favourites: salmon, prawn and tuna sashimi. Also cherry-picked from the conveyor belt were Tuna Nigiri (£3.30) and Sake Nigiri (£2.30) both of which boasted a generous slab of raw fish, and the Hamachi Nigiri (£3.30.) Made with “yellow tail” the Hamachi Nigiri was a new one on us, but the tanginess of the pale fish won us over – a newfound favourite! The Tako Nigiri (£2.80) divided opinion; the chewy, raw octopus wasn’t to everyone’s palate – personally, I found the taste a little overpowering.

The big hits at our table were the Sakushi Roll (£3.80) which was laced with crunchy tempura batter, the creamy Salmon and Avocado Roll (£2.80), the Spicy Tuna Roll (£3.30) and the Fresh Crab Roll (£3.80) which was jam-packed with shredded crab.

Sushi fanatics, beware: it’s easy to lose track of what you’re spending, especially when you’re sat next to a revolving door of delicious-looking sushi. It’s a good idea to set a limit on how many plates you’re going to have in advance. Needless to say, we didn’t set a strict limit and got carried away…..

But, we’d solemnly sworn to sample the cooked mains and Japanese tapas as well as the sushi. So, loosening our belts we ordered a portion of the Shiitake No Kani (£4.95), shiitake mushrooms and crab in breadcrumbs served with a sprinkling of side salad.

Generously filled with shredded crab, these little balls of goodness had our reviewer raving. Who would have thought shiitake mushrooms and crab meat would be a match made in heaven? Rich and creamy, and highly recommended.

Also arriving at our groaning table, was a big plate of Seafood Yaki (£9.65.) This belly-buster can be ordered with a choice of sauces – traditional Yaki sauce or sweet Teriyaki sauce – and either soba or udon noodles. Our reviewer settled on traditional sauce and udon noodles. In addition to noodles and sauce, the dish contains tiger prawns, crab sticks, calamari, butter fish, mussels and seasonal greens.

The tangy sauce went down well, but we were disappointed by the amount of seafood and felt the £9.65 price tag was a little on the high side for what was essentially a posh stir fry.

Not content with the upteen plates of sushi and sashimi I’d already done away with, I ordered the Chirashi – Don (£11.14) from the main menu; slices of mixed sashimi on a large helping of sushi rice. When it arrived, my mouth dropped open – it looked absolutely amazing.

The sushi rice was sticky and morish, but the sashimi was the real star of the show. The bowl included generous chunks of my favourite sashimi, tuna and salmon, and new-favourite yellow fish, alongside love-it-or-hate-it slices of octopus, a curl of meaty eel and a prawn. All of the sashimi tasted just-pulled-out-of-the-sea fresh, and the dollop of fish roe gave the dish extra bite (although as a massive roe fan I’d have liked an extra few scoops!) The strips of fried tofu skin perfectly complimented the dish, delivering a welcome hit of sweetness whenever the saltiness of the sashimi became overpowering. For a side order, I plumped for a portion of edamame beans (£2.55), which were served lightly steamed and juicy.

The drinks menu was on the pricey side, so we ordered cokes that came in at £2 a pop. For a small glass bottle of the fizzy stuff (not even a full pint!) we still felt this was cheeky – although going out for sushi and sashimi is rarely a cheap experience!

If you’ve got the time to venture out of town, then Yama Sushi is a cheaper alternative and, if it’s just sushi you’re after, then Yama can’t be beaten for the freshness and sheer tastiness of their sushi. However, if it’s a quick, city centre lunchtime treat you’re after, then Sakushi is the place to go – just keep a mental running total of the bill, because Sakushi can quickly turn into a bank-busting lunchbreak.

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The Harley

June 24, 2012 at 2:51 pm | Posted in Pub Grub | 1 Comment
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Sometimes, nothing quite hits the spot like a Beer and a Burger, but the aforementioned Beer and a Burger deals aren’t always such a bargain if you’re not a fan of, well, beer. This leads us neatly onto The Harley, which serves up ‘High Tea, Harley Style’ – a pocket-friendly deal of a burger and your choice of drink for £5.50. What makes this really special is that, in addition to the usual beer, house spirit and soft drink options, cider fans can opt for a pint of Gaymers. A pint of Gaymers is typically priced between £3 and £4, so at £5.50 for a beer plus bevvie, we weren’t going to miss this one, especially since I’m not much of a beer drinker (and Vodka-And-Diet-Coke and a Burger, doesn’t feel quite right….)

With burgers and bevvies on the brain, we headed to The Harley. Located on Glossop Road, this student-friendly place is well known as a music venue, but this weekday evening the stage was covered up and a handful of tables were dotted around the dancefloor. First impressions weren’t fantastic – there’s a grand total of three tables, plus a couple of sofas tucked away in the corners. The lack of seating won’t be a problem at the weekend or when a band is playing, but on this quiet weekday evening the place felt bare, and sat on an island of a table in the middle of the dancefloor was an odd experience. It’s a shame, as the place has funky decor that isn’t far removed from the cosy and welcoming The Wick at Both Ends. Unusual lighting, graffiti art on the walls and tablecloths printed with scenes from comic strips, all give the place a trendy vibe, but without crowds of people around the bar or the stage, it feels really empty.

The quirky menu also takes a leaf out of the Wick’s book – burger fans can order a ‘Moist Maker’ (“Sunday roast in a burger”) the ‘Ring Stinger’ (“the hottest burger in town”) or a deep fried burger (apparently, “you know you shouldn’t, but you just can’t help yourself.”) Even the menu layout is similar to the Wick’s.

As tempting as the burger menu was, we decided to plump for the budget option and ordered a no-frills beef burger with a pint of Becks (£5.50) and for me a bean burger with a pint of – what else? – Gaymers (also £5.50.) The burgers took longer than expected to arrive, but with our drinks already lined up we were only too happy to wait. When the waitress finally brought our burgers over, first impressions were good. Each burger came with a plastic tub full of french fries, which was an unexpected bonus, and were oozing with salsa and salad.

Too often, veggie alternatives feel like an afterthought, so I was delighted to see that my bean burger was almost twice the size of its meaty counterpart (ha!) As I tucked in, I quickly discovered this wasn’t just a bean burger – it was a seriously spicy bean burger. The delicious, kidney-bean packed burger already packed quite a punch, but the chef had also thrown lashings of fiery salsa into the mix, a double whammy that left my tongue flaming. Beware, this burger is not for the faint hearted, but I have a soft spot for spicy food and wolfed down every morsel. Highly recommended, for those who can take the heat!

The meat equivalent was equally filling, it came without salsa but still had a pleasantly peppery kick, although our reviewer found a few lettuce leaves in the bun that were turning brown at the edges – not very appealing!

The french fries, although a welcome surprise, were the standard fare you could defrost and cook for yourself at home. We also agreed they were too salty, and our cynical brains decided this was a ploy to get you heading back to the bar.

As a venue, saying The Harley is rough around the edges is a massive understatement. The toilets would give the Corporation’s a run for their money – good luck finding a stall with a working lock! Despite the quirky, Wick-style touches, there’s an emptiness to The Harley during the day that makes for a strange atmosphere. The Harley may be crying out for a spruce up but their beer and a burger deal puts the big chains like Wetherspoons to shame. After pursuing their mouth-watering, one-of-a-kind burger menu, we’ll definitely be popping in for more burgers soon (maybe the Moist Maker, next time?)

A budget venue – but, if you don’t mind the grotty toilets, then this is a real find for burger lovers.

The Wig and Pen

June 24, 2012 at 2:24 pm | Posted in Restaurants | 3 Comments
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Drinking in the afternoon is one of life’s greatest pleasures, so when we spied a ‘brunch and all you can drink prosecco’ voucher (£15.95) for The Wig and Pen, we wasted no time printing it out before the owners came to their senses and took the offer down. Needless to say, we were excited about this one, especially since we’d had such a fantastic meal at affiliated eatery The Milestone the previous week.

From the outside, The Wig and Pen looks nothing special: it’s a stumpy huddle of buildings in the heart of Estate Agent District (aka Campo Lane.) Inside, it’s far nicer than expected: the interior is all light wood, big windows and ‘swanky wine bar’ atmosphere.

A friendly waitress escorted our party to a table, where we promptly pulled out our voucher and she sped off to fetch the first (of many) rounds of bubbly. Fully expecting to be brought a bottle, we were disappointed when she returned with a tray of glasses. We couldn’t help grumbling, convinced that we’d struggle to attract the staff’s attention when it was time for glass number two (and three, and four) and the ‘all you can drink’ boast was just a conspiracy. If something is too good to be true, then it probably is. It turns out we were just being cynical – despite our waitress also ferrying plates of bulging Sunday lunch to a large party directly behind us, she always found the time to top our glasses up. Far from making us feel self-conscious about burning through the bottles, she was very friendly, and jokingly gave us a running total of how much we’d drank. The Wig and Pen’s staff really are second to none – polite, attentive and friendly. Even better, the prosecco they’ve earmarked for this offer is perfect for afternoon drinking, morish without being too sweet.

Eventually we got around to ordering some brunch dishes to mop up all that fizz. The menu is in the same vein as The Milestone’s, so if you’re partial to the grub at one of the venues, then you’re guaranteed to like the other. Picky eaters beware, The Wig and Pen’s menu is far from extensive, but each dish has been concocted with a keen eye for detail, with a heavy focus on unusual combos. That said, the brunch menu is particularly restrictive. There’s a posh cooked breakfast but beyond that, if you don’t like poached eggs and hollandaise sauce then you’re going to go hungry. Poached egg fans can choose from double eggs benedict, double eggs royal or double eggs florentine, all priced at a reasonable £5.95.

Thankfully, we’re all fans of the humble egg at Sheffield Eats, so we had no issues with the narrow menu. I plumped for Double Eggs Royal, which consisted of two stodgy English muffins layered with wilted spinach and slabs of the strongest, saltiest and most mouth-watering smoked salmon I’ve had the pleasure of crossing paths with. Topped off with two perfectly-cooked eggs and lashings of creamy hollandaise sauce, the portion size may have looked mean, but I’d learned my lesson about the richness of The Milestone/The Wig and Pen’s food, and took it slowly this time.

The eggs were perfectly cooked, with a little runny yolk still in the centre; the spinach was wilted but not falling apart, and the smoked salmon was so thick, it was more like a fillet. The Wig and Pen’s Double Eggs Royal is one of the richest meals I’ve ever eaten and, combined with the sheer strength of the smoked salmon, it was impossible for me to finish. I’d recommend treating this brunch dish as your lunch – it would take a stronger stomach than mine to polish off this plate of loud flavours and calorific sauce before noon.

Also arriving at the table, were a couple of portions of Double Eggs Benedict, which basically replaced the wedge of smoked salmon with a chunk of bacon. The bacon had more in common with gammon than the usual fatty supermarket stuff, and everyone at the table agreed The Wig and Pen’s bacon is in a league of its own.

The food may have been impossible to fault, but we did have an issue with the live acoustic jazz performer who is apparently a regular fixture on Sundays. For the first fifteen minutes or so, the speakers were turned up far too high. With the large party behind us all shouting to make themselves heard above the blaring music, it wasn’t the quiet, relaxed brunch we’d envisioned. Thankfully, The Wig and Pen twigged there was something wrong and had turned the volume down by the time the performer returned for his second set, and we could hear ourselves think again.

To round off the afternoon, we took our final glasses of prosecco outside and made the most of a sudden burst of sunshine in The Wig and Pen’s cobbled outdoor area. Set in a courtyard with no traffic and few passers-by, it’s an unexpectedly quiet haven in the centre of town, and the ideal place to escape the crowds and while away a sunny afternoon (if this rain ever stops….)

Full enough to pop and well into our third bottle of prosecco thanks to the attentive waitress, we raised our glasses to one of the best (certainly, the most tipsy!) brunches we’d had in Sheffield. The food, service and venue itself are flawless and, after they’d toned down the music, we could properly relax and enjoy our boozy brunch. Obviously cut from the same cloth as The Milestone, The Wig and Pen has all the same great qualities, and with a more convenient, city centre location to boot.

Tamper Coffee

June 14, 2012 at 7:20 pm | Posted in Cafe | 3 Comments
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One thing that was sorely missing from the Sheffield food and drink scene until recently, was a proper gourmet coffee shop. So, we were delighted when we heard about Tamper Coffee, a new cafe specializing in coffee and cakes, and since our first visit we’ve been completely hooked on its charms. Tamper Coffee is somewhat tucked away on Westfield Terrace, but it’s well worth hunting out.

Be prepared for a warm welcome when you step inside Tamper Coffee. This is the sort of place where the staff recognize you after the first few visits – a rare phenomenon in this age of coffee shop corporations.

Our party kicked off a very sophisticated afternoon with coffees all around. Lovingly brewing coffee from scratch takes time but with table service on offer this is no big deal – and the coffee is worth the wait. The lattes (£2.20) were served in cute glass cups on black saucers (a very funky combination I’m now going to use when I’m trying to impress house guests!) To top it off, Tamper Coffee sketch a little picture in the frothed milk of every latte. You don’t get service like that in Starbucks!

Just as we’d finished coo-ing over our drawings (the team member who ended up with the bunny rabbit was particularly impressed) our Tamper Coffee cappuccinos (£2.20) arrived, topped with a generous sprinkling of chocolate powder.

On their website, Tamper Coffee boast the tagline “serving only the best and freshest coffee in Sheffield.” A bold claim, but one that’s difficult to dispute. Made with Our Cow Molly milk and locally-roasted beans, it bears absolutely no resemblance to the brown stuff you find at the big-buck coffee chains. Coffee lovers, Tamper is your dream come true. Quite simply, it’s the best coffee I’ve ever tasted.

Not content with serving the best cuppa in town, Tamper Coffee’s menu stretches to a selection of sarnies, cakes and breakfast items. Our table ordered two smoked salmon, cream cheese and rocket bagels (£3.80 each) which were served on rustic wooden boards. Starving, my face fell at the size of the meal, but it was all an optical illusion: the smooth cheese, tangy smoked salmon and deceptively filling bagel left me stuffed.

Although I turned down dessert, not everyone could resist and a couple of date scones (£1.80 each) found their way to our table. Tamper Coffee’s date scone is a lumpy, homemade-looking sweet treat that tastes every bit as fresh as it looks. It came with tasty raspberry jam and butter, although it’s laced with so many plump dates it can be enjoyed on its own.

So, the best cuppa in town, fantastic food, homemade cakes, reasonable prices and friendly staff – but being the best in the business comes at a cost: Tamper Coffee was absolutely rammed when we visited over the weekend. Although they have just opened an extension with a few extra tables, we struggled to find enough seats for our party, and the waiting time for food was the longest I’ve ever experienced in a cafe. In fact, one of our meals (a ham and cheese croissant priced at £3.00) got lost in the rush of orders, and by the time it was remembered we had to leave. Tamper Coffee is a real gem of a coffee shop that deserves to do well, and it’s always exciting to see a homely, independent place thriving, but on that particular day I couldn’t help wishing it wasn’t quite so busy.

Tamper Coffee is the perfect antidote to the coffee chains that have dominated our high streets for far too long. It’s a small, friendly and independent gem that deserves your custom. Be prepared to wait far longer than you would for a Starbucks, but be prepared to forgive them for it when the best coffee in Sheffield arrives at your table (although it might be worth keeping a closer eye on your food order than us!)

If you like fresh coffee and yummy cakes in a vibrant, local and friendly venue (and really, who doesn’t?) then what are you waiting for?

The Milestone

June 9, 2012 at 6:28 pm | Posted in Pub Grub, Restaurants | 1 Comment
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Despite only ever hearing good things about gastro pub The Milestone, it turns out no-one at Sheffield Eats has actually gotten around to trying it for themselves. Tucked away in a particularly industrial corner of Kelham Island, it’s not a place you’re likely to wander past and decide to pop in. Because it’s off-the-beaten track, you have to make a conscious decision to visit. With so many fantastic eateries lined up in the town centre, is it really worth making a special trip to The Milestone? Judging by the meal we had there this weekend, the answer is a resounding yes.

Located just off Shalesmoor roundabout, The Milestone is perched on the corner of a nondescript road, surrounded by a mish-mash of factories with bricked-up windows and swanky new apartments.

We were advised to book a table for The Milestone’s Saturday lunchtime menu, and it’s a good job we heeded that advice, as by 2PM the place was full. Clearly, there’s no shortage of foodies willing to make a special trip for their lunch.

The Milestone’s decor is a blend of clean, white open space and rustic charm, with plenty of homely prints on the walls and quirky flourishes, such as The Milestone’s twisty staircase and menus printed on fish-and-chip shop brown paper. It’s a pleasant atmosphere that’s completely unpretentious, despite the extravagant menu.

Obviously, the menu isn’t going to be to everyone’s taste. It’s not a million miles removed from haute cuisine, with each dish offering an intricate and thoughtful balance of flavours. It’s the sort of menu where unusual purees, jus and dressings feature heavily. The fish comes with samphire and cauliflower puree, and the 21-day aged beef is served one way: rare.

Excited to discover what had drawn so many people to The Milestone for lunch, I quickly ordered the goat’s cheese and beetroot croquette, which came with fresh garden peas, pea puree, asparagus and a poached egg (£12.95). It arrived at the table meticulously presented but, cynical and hungry, I was dubious whether this daintily-arranged platter could fill up my rumbling tum.

How wrong I was! The croquettes were stuffed with smooth goat’s cheese and the pea puree was unexpectedly creamy. A few bites in and I went from eyeing up the dessert menu, to wondering whether I’d be able to clean my plate.

Although I knew the goat’s cheese croquettes were made with beetroot, I was still surprised when I cut into the first one and was confronted by a bright pink filling. The colour might be off-putting to some, but I was left wondering why I’d never stumbled across this combination before; the beetroot gave the heavy cheese a real zing.

Asparagus can be a tricky vegetable to get right, but The Milestone got it spot-on; it was cooked through without being soggy. Even the salad leaves dotted around the plate had been carefully selected to compliment the rest of the meal; they were delicious mixed up with a forkful of pea puree and runny egg yolk.

An ingenious and expertly put-together plate of flavours and textures, presented with the utmost care. Despite the expert attention to detail, the goat’s cheese and beetroot croquette was still a real gut-buster that left me too stuffed for pudding, and grateful that I hadn’t ordered a starter.

We also ordered The Milestone’s take on the humble burger: an open beef and thyme burger served with horseradish crème fraîche, onion chutney, bread, celeriac coleslaw, rough cut chips and a side salad (£9.50). In contrast to my delicate-looking veggie option, this very upmarket-sounding burger turned out to be an impressive pile of grub.

The beef and thyme meat patty tasted like no burger our reviewer had been served before. A slab of high-quality, perfectly cooked meat, they raved that it was the best burger they’d ever crossed paths with.

The crème fraîche, onion chutney and tangy celeriac coleslaw were inspired accompaniments to this fine hunk of meat. The skin-on chips were served already seasoned with cracked sea salt and vinegar, and as someone with a fondness for skin-on chips, our reviewer was left vowing they’d never eat a french fry again. Crispy and rustic on the outside, and as fluffy as a freshly-baked jacket potato on the inside, The Milestone take the humble chip to the next level.

Unsurprisingly, wine buffs are well catered for at The Milestone. A whole section of the wine list is dedicated to ‘Fine Wines,’ which range from £31.50 to a bank-breaking £100. If you’re not a big-time wine connoisseur, there are cheaper options. We opted for a bottle of sauvignon blanc at £18.50, which went down a treat.

For those who are open-minded about food and who are excited, rather than overwhelmed by a riot of flavours squeezed onto a single plate, The Milestone is for you. Although this isn’t the sort of place you frequent on a regular basis, a meal here is an experience. A trip to The Milestone feels like a special occasion, right down to the off-the-beaten track location.

Strada

June 5, 2012 at 3:14 pm | Posted in Restaurants | Leave a comment
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For a meal out in the hustle and bustle of Sheffield’s town centre, it doesn’t get any better than Leopold Square. With fine italian eateries like Zizzi, Popolo and Strada; posh tapas courtesy of Platillos; flaming hot Aagrah curries; and noodles from Wagamama, the only hard part is deciding where to eat.

After ASK whet our appetite with its hit-and-miss italian grub, we settled on another italian restaurant this week; Strada.

Although there’s enough seating for a few bus loads of people inside, Strada maintains a cosy feel with lots of dark wood and intimate booths. We were escorted to one of the corner booths by a polite and friendly waitress and promptly got the party started with a bottle of white wine (expect to pay between £16 and £27) and a bottle of red (prices range from £16 to a whopping £35). The wine list is sorely lacking budget options (something around the £12-£14 range would be ideal) but taste-wise, we had no complaints about our bottles of pinot grigio (£18.50) and merlot (£15.60).

We began our dining experience with a helping of Olive Castelvetrano (that’s green olives to you and me) which were very reasonably priced at £2.50, and a basket of breads (£4.50) with those old italian classics, olive oil and balsamic vinegar for dipping.

The bread basket and dipping oils were a massive hit at our table. The waitress was even kind enough to leave us full bottles of olive oil and vinegar so we could dip away to our hearts’ content. At other restaurants, we’ve had the staff dole out a strict ration of oil and vinegar, and inevitably you run out of oil before you run out of bread. The variety and quantity of bread was a pleasant surprise; our basket contained the standard white and brown bread, but also olive bread and crispy pane carasau. Easily one of the best “bread and oil” starters we’ve had in an italian restaurant, and the quantity is perfect for sharing as our bread basket could have comfortably served 4-6 people.

At this point, bowls for the waste seafood shells arrived at our table, which made the seafood-lovers amongst us very excited. Any seafood dish that warrants an extra bowl for the shells is always going to be something a little bit special.

Our seafood bounty included a Risotto Frutti Di Mare (£11.75), a risotto of squid, mussels, prawns and clams. Risottos are reliably rich, but the thick sauce means they’re not always the prettiest of dishes. This seafood risotto was different: a light sauce meant it looked every bit as good as it tasted.

Our seafood-fanatic reviewer raved that it was one of the best seafood risottos they’d ever had.

Pasta is another italian staple, so we couldn’t leave without sampling Strada’s pasta. We ordered a Panzerotti Porcini (£9.25), pasta parcels stuffed with a creamy mix of mushrooms, ricotta and provolone cheese and covered in a light broth with a few exotic-looking mushrooms scattered over the top.

Deceptively filling, this dish got another big thumbs up, especially the fragrant broth which was a nice contrast to the earthy mushroom pasta.

Another pasta dish winging its way to our table was the Spaghetti Ragu (£8.95). The beef, onion, red wine, tomato and herb ragu was perfectly seasoned, and came on a mountain of spaghetti. At just under £9, this is a value-for-money meat dish.

But if you’re a seafood-lover, you owe it to yourself to try Strada’s Tegamaccio. It’s at the more expensive end of Strada’s menu, but it’s worth every last penny of the £14.95 price tag. Essentially a posh fish stew, the tegamaccio boasts a lip-smacking selection of clams, mussels, red mullet, squid, prawns and even a shell-on king prawn. The clams, mussels and king prawn all come in their shells, giving the stew a rustic appearance, especially with the hunks of bread perched on the side of your bowl, ready for dipping.

And believe me, you’ll want to dip: the white wine and tomato based soup is heaven. Hearty and satisfying, faultlessly seasoned and packing a real wine zing, I could have drank a bowl of this on its own. In fact, I’d supped half of the soup before I even tried the seafood. When I finally got around to it, the seafood was juicy and tender, even the squid, which is so easy to overcook.

There were a few things that prevented the tegamaccio from being perfection on a plate, and one was the burnt ciabatta bread. Even worse, both pieces of bread arrived with the blackest sides turned face down in the soup, which made me wonder whether the burnt bits had been spotted by the staff. There were also capers in the stew, which kept delivering an unexpected squirt of pickled liquid that didn’t compliment the dish at all. Even with these minor quibbles, Strada’s tegamaccio is one of the best seafood dishes I’ve had the pleasure of devouring.

Miraculously after so much top notch grub, we still had some room left, so we ordered a few reasonably-priced coffees (£2.20 for a latte.) The lattes were smartly presented in neat little glass mugs and white saucers.

For the more boozy members of our party, a shot of after-dinner amaretto (£3.20) was on the cards. Alongside the drinks, we ordered a portion of Strada’s tiramisu (£4.95). For just under a fiver, Strada plates up a doorstop of caffeine-soaked sponge and mascarpone cream drizzled with sticky coffee syrup.

Be warned, this block of cake is not for the faint hearted, and I have no shame in admitting I had to share it with another member of our party. A genuinely indulgent dessert!

If you’re craving something a bit more delicate, the Mousse Al Cioccolato (£5.25) is like a work of an art on a dessert plate. A molded chocolate case filled with fluffy mousse and adorned with a row of fresh strawberries, this dessert is finished off with a dollop of cream, a drop of delicious strawberry coulis and a chocolate filigree. The end result is a treat for the eyes as well as the taste buds.

A fussy, fancy dessert that tastes as good as it looks, thanks to some of the most decadent chocolate you’re likely to come across.

For high street italian food, Strada is a tough one to beat. There were a few niggling problems with my fish stew and the wine is expensive and can really push up your bill if you’re not careful, but overall the food was excellent, and the bread basket starter is highly recommended. Not a cheap evening out, but for the quality of the food, the convenience of the city centre location and the spacious surroundings, this is a top high street italian restaurant.

Patisserie Valerie

June 4, 2012 at 12:17 pm | Posted in Cafe | Leave a comment
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Coffee and cake brunch? It can only mean one thing: a bank holiday!

Located in the heart of Sheffield city centre (Barker’s Pool, to be precise) I’ve wandered past Patisserie Valerie a couple of times, and have always had my head turned by its calorie-ific window display of glazed fruit tarts; profiteroles topped with twists of chocolate and sculptured cream; and every variety of chocolate cake under the sun. Unable to fight it any longer, we were outside the shop waiting for it to open at 10am over the bank holiday weekend, like a right old bunch of cake-addicts.

Despite being slap bang in the city centre, Patisserie Valerie boasts a small outdoor seating area. As the morning hadn’t properly warmed up yet, we settled on a table indoors.

Beyond Patisserie Valerie’s work-of-art window display, the cafe has the same Parisian theme as Café Rouge. The seating is a trendy mix of dark wood and red leather, with plenty of Parisian artwork thrown in for good measure.

It’s a very chic setting for your morning cuppa and despite being the first through the door, Patisserie Valerie soon filled up. This is clearly a popular cafe, particularly for families with young children.

In addition to cakes and coffees, Patisserie Valerie serves a range of breakfast items, salads and sandwiches. Be warned though, the food is pricey – we spotted what was essentially a posh tuna club melt for £8.50, and a chicken caesar salad priced at £9.00. As it was still early, we decided to stick to coffee and cake, and ordered a selection of coffees: a latte (£2.80) cappuccino (£2.80) and americano (£2.70) which were all reasonably priced.

The coffees arrived in the no-frills white mugs you can find in any coffee chain, which was a bit of a disappointment considering our swanky surroundings, but we were all happy with the size of our coffees. Patisserie Valerie serves a decent tasting cup of coffee, similar to a Starbucks or a Caffe Nero cuppa, just in a nicer location.

But what we were really looking forward to was the cake. To offset our guilt, we ordered something that would provide us with one of our five a day (in addition to a wodge of calories and saturated fats) a round of Belgium Apple Tarts (£3.35). Heavily glazed and loaded with slices of apple arranged like flower petals, it certainly looked the part. More importantly, it tasted the part, too. The apple slices were sweet and had the tanginess of just-baked cooking apples, and the baker hadn’t skimped on the cinnamon. Spicy, juicy and sweet with a base of crumbly pastry, we were all in agreement that at just over £3, these posh apple tarts were well worth the money.

With a string of cafes all over the UK, Patisserie Valerie clearly work hard to maintain their ‘local cafe’ atmosphere. The boutique decor and lavish window displays create an independent vibe that makes this a far more pleasant venue than the coffee shops of other nationwide coffee chains. Although the coffee tastes similar to Starbucks and Caffe Nero’s, the decor, relaxed atmosphere and friendliness of the staff makes this a much more pleasant venue to while away a morning, and when it comes to cakes Patisserie Valerie excels – there isn’t a pre-packed muffin or cellophane-wrapped cookie in sight.

A decent cup of coffee, a fantastic range of fresh cakes and characterful surroundings – Patisserie Valerie is a nationwide coffee chain done right.

ASK

June 3, 2012 at 6:45 pm | Posted in Restaurants | Leave a comment
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Remember that heatwave/summer we had last week, before the Curse of the Bank Holiday kicked in and plunged us back into 24-7 drizzle? During one of those rare evenings where you don’t need waterproofs just to go into town, we headed out in search of that old classic: italian grub. Sheffield has no shortage of fine italian restaurants, and in the end we settled on ASK.

Located on Cambridge Street, ASK has some stiff competition from Leopold Square – so how does it stack up against neighbours Zizzi and Strada? Well, unlike the Leopold Square crew, ASK lacks outdoor space, which is only going to be a problem during nice weather. Unfortunately, this was one of the 5 days a year where being outdoors doesn’t require full winter gear. Even though the ASK staff had thrown all the windows open, it was still a few degrees above comfortable inside.

Temperature gripes aside, ASK’s big, gleaming open plan interior has a cafeteria feel to it, that doesn’t set the ‘italian restaurant’ mood. Thankfully, ASK makes up for this when it comes to its eye for detail: the wine comes in stylish, gleaming glass carafes and the water jugs have polo-style hand-holes set into the glass.

Still a little too warm for comfort, we downed glasses of water while examining the menu. ASK serves the usual crowd-pleasing mix of pasta dishes, pizzas and seafood, all mixed up with plenty of those italian staples: cheese, tomato and herbs. We ordered our meals and switched from water to a carafe of white wine (£10.15 for the chardonnay) while we waited for our food to arrive.

First to appear was a helping of risotto gamberoni (£12.45). The risotto sauce was creamy and layered with tomatoes, prawns and refreshing shredded courgette. The courgettes and rings of red chili were perfect additions; the freshness of the courgette and the fiery kick of the chilis prevented the thick sauce from becoming overpowering.

Despite some interesting flavours thanks to the chili and the courgette, I was wondering why a rice dish demanded such a hefty price tag – until I tucked into the single shell-on king prawn that came with the risotto. The king prawn meat was as fresh and tangy as sushi, and cooked to juicy perfection. Although I only managed to scrape a few forkfuls of prawn meat from the shell, the price tag suddenly made sense. If I’d been served a plateful of nothing but those king prawns, I’d have gone home raving about ASK.

Also shipped to our table, was a Stromboli pizza (£8.95) The pizza arrived rustic-style, on a chopping board with an extra helping of chilis, as requested. Despite the sprinkling of chili peppers, the pizza still lacked a kick and there were complaints of it being too salty.

Finally, we were treated to the ravioli marittimo (£10.35). The pasta parcels were jam packed with a creamy mish-mash of seafood: crayfish, crab and salmon, to be precise. Like the rest of our ASK meals, the portion sizes seemed disappointing at first glance, but it’s the sheer richness of the food that leaves you stuffed. Topped with a herby tomato sauce and a few prawns, the ravioli completely finished our reviewer off.

However, we had one major gripe with ASK, and that’s how quickly the food arrived. While speediness is usually a good thing for rumbling tums, it meant we’d ordered and finished our food in under twenty minutes. Paying nearly £13 for a risotto that’s ready in ten minutes leaves you feeling cheated.

To stretch out our evening, we felt compelled to order a round of hot drinks and some puddings. Just like the carafes and quirky water jugs, our lattes (£2.15 each) arrived in style. Served in neat glass mugs with silver handles and white saucers, the presentation was faultless. Meanwhile, the honeycomb cheesecake hit the spot, although at £5.25 it was rather pricey for just one slice.

Our experience at ASK was a bit of a mixed bag. They certainly know their way around seafood, but the prices are a bit on the steep side, especially for food that arrives in under ten minutes. If you want to make an evening out of ASK, be prepared to shell out for plenty of extras. We were left stuffed, but with the nagging feeling that our evening out was over too quickly.

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