Otto’s

February 16, 2013 at 10:48 am | Posted in Restaurants | Leave a comment
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When I think of my favourite places to eat in Sheffield, a few spring to mind: the Milestone, Wig and Pen, BB’s and the quirky Chimney House (not strictly an eatery, but I still have dreams about that pie and mash.) After visiting Otto’s on Sharrow Vale road for the first time over the weekend, that list has a new addition.

Otto’s is a Moroccan and Mediterranean restaurant, but it has a menu to keep even the pickiest of eaters happy. Like fish? There’s swordfish, fish tagine and seabass. Partial to Italian? Then how about the crowd-pleasing staples of tagliatelli and risotto? Meat-eater? You can choose from two different steaks or chicken in white wine sauce. Of course, if you’re more adventurous there’s authentic tagines and Moroccan Lemon Chicken, and there’s an impressive selection of exotic and unusual starters. Even if the idea of Moroccan cuisine doesn’t float your boat, there’s no reason to miss out on the Otto experience. Check out their menu and you might just be surprised!

Although Otto’s have a licensed bar there’s also a BYOB option for wine and beer, which is always going to get a big thumbs up from me. They do charge for corkage, but it’s tiny compared to other restaurants: £2 per bottle of wine and £1 per beer. Bargain.

Armed with a few bottles of vino, we arrived at Otto’s. I’d booked a table, reasoning that any BYOB eatery will be packed on a Saturday night, so I was surprised to walk into Otto’s and discover only one other table occupied in the entire venue. Nevertheless, we got a very warm and genuine welcome from the staff, and were offered a choice of three tables tucked away in the corner of Otto’s quirky ‘L’ shaped dining room. These tables’ proximity to the loo might put a few people off, but personally I thought we’d snagged the best seats, away from the hustle and bustle over the main side of the restaurant – because although we walked into an empty restaurant, half an hour later it was a completely different story.

Not only did a steady stream of couples and families file in, but it was evident that there was a private function booked upstairs, too. In the space of half an hour, Otto’s went from strangely empty, to a buzzing restaurant in full swing. Despite the sudden influx, we didn’t have to wait long for menus to be brought and our coats taken. Spotting our bottles of wine, the attentive staff asked if we wanted to chill one bottle in the fridge, while providing an ice-pack style wine-cooler to wrap around the other bottle. This has to be one of the most effective wine-coolers I’ve ever been handed in a restaurant, it kept our wine crisp and refreshing even as the room got increasingly warm.

The thoughtful touches continued, as we spied a complimentary bowl of olives on the table. Olives may be one of the few foods I can’t stand, but the freebie was jazzed up with enough tomato, onion and lemon wedges to make me wish I did like them! My dining companion was more than happy to polish them off.

After um-ing and arr-ing over the adventurous starters, we decided to skip straight to the mains. Again, despite the Saturday night buzz we didn’t have to wait long for our orders to be taken, and then there was nothing left to do but sit back, relax and enjoy a glass of ice-cold white wine.

It was around this time that the pianist arrived. When making my reservation, I’d been told that the pianist would be playing from 7.30 onwards, and was unsure about this combination of Moroccan food and piano-playing, but it turned out to be the perfect entertainment. Like BB’s, Otto’s does get incredibly noisy and it would be a struggle to hear a CD over the roar of customers. The pianist cut through the buzz without being intrusive.

The food arrived promptly, impressive on a busy Saturday night, and both meals looked fantastic. My Fish Tagine (£13.50) arrived in traditional style in a tagine pot complete with lid, which my waitress presented with a fun flourish. Across the other side of the table, it was Sirloin Steak (£14.95) absolutely smothered in lush, creamy-looking peppercorn sauce and a side dish of mixed veggies.

Full marks for presentation (although it turns out that cosy, intimate, dimly-lit restaurants are the enemy of the camera phone. You’ll have to use your imaginations on this one!) but how did the grub taste? My fish tagine was incredible; a layer of buttery, falling-apart fish, soaked in a pleasantly salty broth that also had a morish, creamy note, fleshed out with fresh peppers and onion. Despite how light it may sound, the flavour-packed broth and generous wedges of fish left me stuffed. The dish was served with a hunk of bread that I was too full to touch.

At the other end of the table was an equally happy diner – the words “best steak I’ve ever eaten” were even uttered! Below that glossy, indulgent sauce, the meat was flawlessly cooked, easy to cut and packed with flavour. The chunk of bread I couldn’t find room for was quickly claimed and used to mop up every last drop of the steak’s sauce.

After the faultless mains, I couldn’t resist a peek at the dessert menu. Inevitably, a cheese board was ordered. What arrived was a decadent pile of biscuits and thick wedges of cheese. At just over £5 it may sound like an after-dinner treat for one, but don’t be fooled, I wouldn’t want to tackle this pile of cheesy goodness on my own!

When it came to the bill, Otto’s charge the going-rate for independent restaurants serving this high standard of authentic cuisine, but the BYOB option really drives down the price. Not only is a night at Otto’s guaranteed to feature superb food, a warm, friendly and lively atmosphere alongside a bit of quirky entertainment (be it the pianist, or the magician or belly dancer that sometimes pay Otto’s a visit!) but it won’t break the bank either.

If you’re after a quiet meal you should probably avoid Friday and Saturday nights, and head out on Sunday lunchtime instead, as when we visited it was busy and very noisy. Personally, I enjoyed the atmosphere, but if you enjoy a quiet night out then this is worth bearing in mind.

There is very little to fault with Otto’s. Friendly and genuine staff, delicious food, a BYOB option to take the sting out of the bill, authentic Moroccan surroundings and a buzzing, party atmosphere. If you live locally and haven’t tried Otto’s yet, then you should make it your mission to do so.

5-stars

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Spotlight: Seven Hills Bakery

February 2, 2013 at 5:07 pm | Posted in Features, Made Locally | Leave a comment
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bread

Specializing in sourdough and long-fermented artisan bread, Seven Hills Bakery’s menu makes for mouth-watering reading (Apricot and Hazelnut loafs, Mixed Seed Sourdough made with sunflower, sesame, poppy and millet, Linseed Sharrow with buttermilk…) and it’s not unusual to see people queuing outside their shop in Sharrow Vale road and at their stall when they pitch up at Sharrow Vale market.

I spoke to baker and co-founder of Seven Hills Bakery, Matina Mitchell, to find out the secret to making bread that the people of Sheffield are willing to queue for, and what 2013 holds for the bakery.

Can you tell us a bit about yourself, pre-Seven Hills Bakery?

Matina: I worked in the NHS in Wales as a planner and for local authorities. However I have baked bread at home since I was a student and got more and more interested in it. Three months in Berlin in an organic bakery convinced me that I wanted to make bread professionally, but also underlined that there was a big difference between baking at home and for a market.

What was the inspiration behind Seven Hills Bakery?

Matina: I have wanted to open a bakery for several years but knew that I couldn’t do it alone. How to meet the right people to bake bread with and start a small business? I met Laura and John at the School of Artisan Food and we decided that we should set up together. We’d had an amazing experience as students selling Welbeck bread at Nether Edge Market and after some research decided that Sheffield was ready for a new artisan bakery! After a year John decided to move on to do other things, so Laura and I have been the two partners since last October.

I’ve seen people queuing outside your shop before – what’s the secret to baking bread that people are willing to queue for?

Matina: You’ll have to ask our customers! But we strive to produce consistently high quality bread and cakes with first class ingredients. Maybe the secret is to make what you like to eat yourself!

Where do you get the inspiration for your recipes?

Matina: We read a lot of bread books and eat a lot of different artisan bakers’ breads! We take recipes but work on them ourselves and tweak things until we are happy with the taste and the consistency of the end product.

You make your bread using locally grown and milled flours, and much of your equipment was made my local tradesman. Why is it so important, that people support local businesses?

Matina: There is good evidence that money spent locally in locally based businesses revolves round the local economy more times than if the money is spent with a big multinational and therefore leaves the area. But there is also something very satisfying about having equipment that is made by people working in local firms. Tins and trays made by Invicta, moulding table made by Andrew Marsh. We currently use both the Yorkshire Organic Millers (YOM) based on the edge of the North York Moors and Shipton Mill (further away on the Severn estuary) for our organic flours. YOM produce stone ground flours from grain grown locally and we use the wholewheat in many of our loaves.

And finally, what are your plans for 2013?

Matina: We are hoping to extend our range of bread and cakes and start making pastries e.g croissants. We also got planning permission to open a cafe at the back of our shop in Sharrow Vale Road and we are working on getting that up and running in the next months.

You can find out more about Seven Hills Bakery at www.sevenhillsbakery.co.uk

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