August 10, 2014 at 5:19 pm | Posted in Restaurants | 1 Comment
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Despite nipping into Popolo for post-work cocktails on a number of occasions, I’d actually never got around to eating there. So, when I received an invite to the launch of Popolo’s new ‘Grill House’ menu, I was excited to finally be visiting Popolo for something other than drinks!

For me at least, the term ‘Grill House’ conjures up images of big steaks and whole, grilled fish, and maybe some gourmet burgers, pulled pork, and pancakes served with bacon and maple syrup. But beyond this handful of foodstuffs, I wasn’t really sure what to expect, so I was really intrigued to see what Popolo’s Grill House menu was all about.

If you’ve never eaten at this Leopold Square venue, their upstairs restaurant area is a really nice space, with a cosy and intimate atmosphere thanks to a combination of low lighting, plus candles and glittering glassware on every table. It’s the perfect setting for an evening meal, or even a special occasion.

First on the agenda, was our welcome drink. After a week of hot and humid weather, I was in the mood for a summery cocktail, so I couldn’t resist the the Wild Berry Jam (£5.95), which promised a double-whammy of fresh raspberries and blackberries, muddled with raspberry and blackberry liqueurs, and finished off with a helping of Wild Turkey 101 bourbon whiskey.

Popolo Wild Berry Jam

One sip of this cocktail, and I was hooked. It tasted like concentrated berry juice, served ice cold, with a boozy sting in its tail. The fresh berries gave the drink a tartness that contrasted wonderfully with the sweetness of the raspberry and blackberry liqueurs. Despite the addition of bourbon whiskey, my Wild Berry Jam seemed to be a bit light on the alcohol, but it was so refreshing and tasty, I actually didn’t mind. This Wild Berry Jam is the perfect thirst-quencher on a hot day.

My dining companion opted for a Mint Julep, which Popolo served in a brassy mug, encrusted in ice. This cocktail certainly has the ‘wow’ factor!

Popolo Mint Julep

Unfortunately, after perusing Popolo’s drinks menu online, I’m pretty sure the Mint Julep was a one-off special, which makes me very sad.

Cocktails dispatched, it was time to turn our attention to Popolo’s mysterious Grill House menu.

As I’d suspected, the new menu features lots of steaks, ranging from a sensible 8oz sirloin, to a terrifying 22oz T-Bone steak, as well as pulled pork, burgers, buttermilk chicken, and grilled fish. Up to this point, Popolo were fulfilling my expectations of Grill House grub, but then things got a bit random, as Italian classics started cropping up on the menu – meatballs, lasagna, and three kinds of risotto. There’s also a few dishes I wouldn’t associate with Grill Houses at all, most notably a starter of asparagus, hollandaise sauce, and a poached egg.

It may be an eclectic menu, but it’s also a very tempting one, and I had no trouble finding a couple of dishes I liked the sound of. In the end, I commenced my three course feast with some crab cakes (£6.95).

This photo really doesn’t do my starter justice – the crab cakes were enormous. Add a side salad and a handful of chips, and this would easily be a main meal.

Popolo crab cake

This wasn’t a case of quantity over quality though, as the crab cakes were delicious. The crab meat had a creamy, melt-in-the-mouth consistency, and the light coating didn’t overwhelm the delicate taste of the crab.

The crab cakes came with a chunky mango and avocado salsa that was very simple and fresh, and complimented the crab cakes perfectly.

These are easily the best crab cakes I’ve ever wolfed down – although the sheer size of this starter had me wondering how I was going to find room for my main course, never mind a desert!

Also winging its way to our table, was a starter of grilled asparagus, topped with a poached egg and lashings of hollandaise sauce (£5.95). The whole thing looked mouth-watering.

Popolo's asparagus, egg, and hollandaise sauce

In fact, it was so tempting, I couldn’t resist having a taste! The asparagus and egg were both perfectly cooked, and the hollandaise was creamy with a wonderful silky texture.

Neither of us could fault our starters. Popolo had set the bar high for the rest of the evening!

For my main, I’d gone for the king prawn and chilli risotto (£13.95). First impressions were good; I spied lots of tomato chunks and super-sized king prawns.

Popolo risotto

Bearing in mind I’d just scoffed two massive crab cakes, the sheer amount of risotto was a bit daunting, but I took a deep breath and got stuck in. Unfortunately, what I got stuck into was a king prawn so chewy and tough, it was like eating overcooked squid. However, this turned out to be a weird one-off, as every other prawn in my risotto was lightly cooked, tender, and delicious.

Apart from that solitary, tough-as-boots prawn, I thoroughly enjoyed my risotto.

At the other end of the table, my dining companion had ordered an incredible-looking plate of BBQ pulled pork, served on a sweet waffle, and accompanied by a very rustic apple and fennel slaw, plus skin-on chips.

Popolo pulled pork

The pulled pork was tender and juicy, and fell apart in the mouth – basically, everything you want from pulled pork. The meat also worked really well with the sweet waffle, and the rustic slaw. If you have a soft spot for pancakes, bacon and maple syrup, then you have to try this!

It was time for pudding, and even though I was stuffed from my super-sized crab cakes and big bowl of risotto, I couldn’t resist Popolo’s Oreo cheesecake.

My cheesecake arrived perfectly presented on a wooden board, dusted with icing sugar, and decorated with a few strategically-placed mint leaves.

Popolo Oreo cheesecake

Okay, so it looked good, but how did it taste? The cheesecake was creamy and sweet without being sickly, but my favourite part of the meal was the accompanying ice cream, which was so light and refreshing, it was almost like a sorbet. After a big meal, this was exactly what I needed.

And with that, our evening of Grill House gluttony was done. Popolo’s new menu is a bit of a random one, but what does that matter when they serve such great food?

All our meals were big, tasty and – apart from that single, rubbery prawn – perfectly cooked. Popolo also scores top marks for presentation, and attention to detail. The food may be a tad pricier than many other city center venues, but it’s worth those few extra pounds.

In short, we drank some great cocktails, ate lots of great food, and enjoyed the surroundings and atmosphere at Popolo. The negatives? Really, my only complaint is a solitary overcooked prawn – and, when that’s the only flaw you can find in a three course meal, you know you’ve had a good night.



Bamboo Door: Sunday Rum Sessions

August 10, 2014 at 2:19 pm | Posted in Cocktail Bar | Leave a comment
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If there’s one thing I love more than a cocktail bar, it’s a themed cocktail bar, so I was excited to receive an invite to the launch of a new ‘Sunday Rum Club Session,’ at Sheffield’s very first Tiki bar, Bamboo Door. 

Bamboo Door is located in the swanky Leopold Square, inbetween Wagamama’s and the building that used to be Platillo’s. It’s a relatively small venue, but it’s surprising what Bamboo Door have managed to do with the space, without making it feel in the least bit cluttered or claustrophobic.

The Tiki decor that might have felt naff or gimmicky, is actually really fun. This is a classy Tiki bar, rather than a cheesy one. The bar in particular is fantastic; it looks like it’s been transported from some distant beach, complete with shaggy straw roof. It’s worth visiting Bamboo Door, just to experience the decor – and maybe to fantasise that you’re ordering cocktails at a beach bar in some exotic location!

I’ve visited Bamboo Door on a couple of occasions and, although this post is supposed to be about their new Sunday Rum Club Session, I can’t resist talking about how great their cocktails are first.

Bamboo Door’s cocktail menu has all the Tiki-themed classics you’d expect, including the Mai Tai, Daquiri, and Zombie, but the majority of the cocktails seem to be Bamboo Door’s own creations, which is always nice to see. You certainly can’t order a ‘Bananas in Bahamas,’ or ‘Mangoes in a Bar’ anywhere else in Sheffield!

Bamboo Door’s cocktails are characterised by lots of tropical fruit juices, and some of the most over the top garnishes I’ve ever seen. Their ‘Eat, Shoots and Leaves’ cocktail is a particular favourite, as it’s topped with a marshmallow, which the barman blow-torches behind the bar, so it arrives warm and gooey in the middle – delicious! Other garnishes include cubes of crystallised ginger; pineapple leaves; and an entire grocery store’s worth of assorted tropical fruits. Spend an afternoon in Bamboo Door, and you’re guaranteed to get your 5 a day from garnishes alone. 

Bamboo Door cocktail

Despite the extravagant toppings, Bamboo Door are also reasonable about the amount of booze they put in your drink – sometimes, innovative and quirky cocktails that utilise a long list of fresh ingredients, have a tendency to skimp on the booze, so I’m happy to report that a few cocktails at Bamboo Door will leave your head pleasantly fuzzy.

The prices of Bamboo Door’s cocktails are reasonable, particularly for somewhere like Leopold Square, and you can expect to pay between £6-£7 for most cocktails on the menu. 

But, the thing I love most about Bamboo Door, are the glasses. Bamboo Door have the coolest collection of cocktail glasses I’ve ever seen. 

Bamboo Door cocktail

Drinking a coconut cocktail out of a tall green glass shaped like a grinning totem, topped with a freshly-toasted marshmallow, isn’t an experience you can get anywhere else in Sheffield!

Bamboo Door cocktail

But, onto the main purpose of this blog – Bamboo Door’s new, once-monthly ‘Sunday Rum Session,’ where participants can learn more about the wonderful world of rum. During each session, everyone gets to sample two different kinds of rum, plus at least two cocktails, with optional soft drinks, too. Each session costs £25, or you can become a member of Bamboo Door’s ‘Rum Club,’ and pay £15. Since Rum Club membership is £10, it makes sense to become a member of Rum Club if you’re planning to attend at least one Sunday Rum Session, especially since membership entitles you to other discounts, too.

On the night of this particular rum session, we arrived at Bamboo Door early, so we decided to start the session right then and there, and ordered a round of drinks. When I noticed Bamboo Door had a special Jalapeno Margarita cocktail on offer that night, I couldn’t resist – I had to give this spicy-sounding concoction a go!

The Jalapeno Margarita arrived in a glass that was encrusted in chilli flakes. Even for a lover of spicy food like myself, this looked a little scary!

Bamboo Door Jalapeno Margarita

The drink lived up to expectations, as the chilli-coated glass burnt my mouth, while the hot margarita mix caught in the back of my throat and, embarrassingly, made me cough. This is easily one of the hottest drinks I’ve ever tasted. 

As I took cautious sips of my stinging Jalapeno Margarita, my rum session buddy examined the long list of imported beers sold at Bamboo Door. In the end, he opted for a bottle of Xingu Black (£4.20), which he thoroughly enjoyed.

Bamboo Door Xing Black

After a short wait, we were informed that rum club was about to start, and it was time to take our seats. We were introduced to Tom, who works at Bamboo Door and would be leading our rum session this evening. He kicked things off with a brief history of rum, and an overview of all the different kinds of rum that are available today.

Tom was extremely enthusiastic and knowledgeable about rum, and was more than happy to answer our questions. He was even willing to fetch some of the other rums from behind the bar, despite the fact that none of them had anything to do with this particular rum session. This is how we got our hands on the most expensive bottle on Bamboo Door’s menu, the Diplomático Ambassador, which retails at almost £200 per bottle! Unfortunately, we did have to give it back.

Bamboo Door diplomatico ambassador

Throughout his introduction, Tom kept stressing that the whole point of these rum sessions, is to show people that there’s much more to rum, than a glass of Bacardi and coke. I’ll admit that I’m a staunch “spirit-and-a-mixer” person, but even I found myself caught up in Tom’s enthusiasm, and was suddenly excited to get my hands on the first of this session’s rums.

As already mentioned, each rum session focuses on a particular brand of rum, and the rum Tom had selected for tonight’s session was Ron Zacapa. Our first taste of Ron Zacapa, was a generous measure of Zacapa 23, which we sipped while Tom went into great detail about the run’s complicated ageing process, which was fascinating to hear.

Despite not being a fan of drinking anything neat, I found the Zacapa 23 smooth enough to enjoy on its own and, although it had a long, slow after burn, it actually wasn’t in the least bit unpleasant. The Zacapa 23 had a complex flavour, with hints of vanilla, cocoa, and brown sugar, with an underlying woodiness.

After we’d sipped the rum on its own, we were each given a square of dark chocolate. Tom told us to take a bite of the chocolate and chew, then sip the rum and swill the two together. The effect was incredible: the chocolate completely took the burn out of the rum, and exaggerated its previously subtle cocoa notes, so the Zacapa 23 suddenly tasted like the strongest, most luxurious chocolate liqueur imaginable.

I wasted no time polishing off the rest of the rum and chocolate, all the while daydreaming about dark, cold winter nights spent at home with a bottle of Zacapa 23 and a big bar of dark chocolate. Maybe I’ll treat myself when the nights start drawing in!

Bamboo Door Zacapa 23

The second rum of the evening, was Zacapa XO. Tom explained that this rum starts life in exactly the same way as the Zacapa 23, before it’s put into cognac casks for a further two years. This is a pricier rum, with a bottle retailing at around £100, so understandably the measure was a bit smaller this time around.

The Zacapa XO was a darker rum, with a deeper flavour to match – it had a smoky, almost tobacco quality to it, with a hint of brown sugar that reminded me of the Zacapa 23. It also had less of an afterburn than the first rum, which was definitely a good thing in my opinion.

Overall, the Sunday Rum Session at Bamboo Door was a fun, informal, and interesting experience. Even if the thought of learning how different rums are made doesn’t fill you with enthusiasm, trust me, Bamboo Door’s staff know how to make distilling seem fascinating! After an hour or so of listening to Tom and sipping Ron Zacapa, I had a totally newfound appreciation for rum.

The evening is also good value for money, as you get a good few measures of quality rum, a couple of cocktails, plus the entertainment of one of Bamboo Door’s knowledgeable bar staff taking you on a journey through everything there is to know about rum. 

There’s nothing else like Bamboo Door in Sheffield at the moment – it’s a fun, quirky, independent cocktail and rum bar, with friendly staff and a very welcoming, relaxed vibe.

Bamboo Door is a great addition to the Sheffield bar scene, whether you’re attending a rum session, or just enjoying a cocktail. If you haven’t given Bamboo Door a go, then you’re missing out!


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