The Botanist

October 2, 2016 at 5:54 pm | Posted in Restaurants | Leave a comment
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Leopold Square has seen several restaurants come and go over the years, and now we have another newbie to add to the list: the Botanist, which has just opened in the unit formerly known as Popolo.  

The Botanist isn’t a name I’ve encountered before, but a quick look at their website reveals quite a few Botanists dotted around the UK, so they must be doing something right!

Before visiting the Botanist on opening night, I had a sneaky peek at a few photos on the venue’s Facebook page, so I already knew they’d gone for an extravagant, more-is-more theme. However, even looking through numerous photos didn’t prepare me for just how beautiful this restaurant truly is!

Our party was greeted at the entrance and taken up a flight of stairs that felt familiar from all my years spent sipping cocktails at Popolo’s, but then we were take up another flight of stairs, and another, and everything began to feel very different. For starters, this place is enormous!

Eventually we emerged into a corridor that was completely covered in branches, leaves, vines, flowers and other assorted foliage, and decorated with twinkling green and white lights. I didn’t think it was possible to be wowed by a corridor, but apparently I was wrong!

the-botanist-sheffield

But this was nothing compared to the main dining area.

the-botanist-sheffield-2

The Botanist is beautiful, with vines, leaves and flowers all curling and creeping artistically across every surface, and lots of intricate latticework. Fairy lights, street lamps, and decorative butterflies provide the finishing touches to this pretty, whimsical dining room. I felt like I’d stepped off the streets of Sheffield and into some kind of secret garden (as corny as that sounds, I challenge anyone to visit the Botanist and not get caught up in the magic!)

the-botanist-sheffield-3

I must have spent the first 5 minutes snapping photo after photo, without even thinking to look at the menu – and I was ravenous, so that’s testament to just how lovely this place is to look at!

the-botanist-sheffield-4

But you don’t visit a restaurant just to look at nice furnishings, so was the food any good?  

My first course was very good, as I tucked into a starter of curried mussels (£7.50).

the-botanist-curried-mussels

These mussels were tender and juicy, and were served in a deliciously light, fragrant broth that contained just enough chilli to provide a nice kick, without overwhelming the taste of the mussels. After I’d polished off the mussels, I spent ages scooping up every last drop of the broth, as it was just too good to waste!

If you love your seafood, then this is your dream starter.

My friend opted for a baked camembert, which was served with a smoked bacon and crispy onion crust (£6.95).

My friend is pregnant, so she asked whether the staff could make sure the camembert was cooked all the way through. Not only were the staff happy to oblige, but they made a point of popping back to the table to let us know that the starters would be a while longer because the chef was making sure the camembert was really, truly piping hot all the way through. Clearly, the staff took this request seriously, which was very much appreciated!

When it arrived the camembert looked delicious, and was baked all the way through as promised.

baked-camembert

Kicking off a meal with a full camembert may sound a bit daunting, but this particular camembert is the perfect starter size.  

I can see myself ordering this at some point, especially now the weather’s turning cooler – because if there’s anything better than baked camembert on a cold day, then I’ve yet to discover it!

Onto the mains, and the chilli broth from my starter had left me craving a spicy main, so I was excited to spot a Malaysian curry on the menu. You can order this as a chicken or a vegetarian curry; I went for the veggie version (£9.95).

malaysian-curry-botanist

This was my first taste of Malaysian curry, and I found it to be a much lighter, fresher take on your typical curry. Instead of a rich tomato or creamy coconut sauce, this curry had a light broth that wasn’t too dissimilar to my starter.

The Botanist’s curry delivered a subtle heat that was warming and tasty, rather than being spicy just for the sake of it – an approach that I’m a big fan of, because what’s the point of having your tastebuds burnt off by a curry that doesn’t even taste good?!

My only niggle is that, for a main course, this portion is a bit on the small side, so if you fancy the Malaysian curry then you should probably make a point of ordering a starter or a dessert as well.

My friend ordered something truly exciting for their main meal: one of the Botanist’s famous Hanging Kebabs. The menu promised a hanging kebab of either chicken, lamb or beef (priced at £11.50, £12.50 or £13.95, respectively) “sopped” in sweet chilli sauce, garlic and ginger butter, and suspended over a bowl of chips.

I was curious to see what a hanging main course looks like, and the Botanist didn’t disappoint, as this definitely isn’t your typical main meal!

hanging-kebab

The idea is that the sweet chilli, garlic butter and (there’s no nice way to say this) meat juices drip down onto the chips and seasons them. The Botanist’s hanging kebab is one of those culinary guilty pleasures, like chip shop curry sauce or super noodles covered in melted cheese. It isn’t elegant or sophisticated, but it is lots of fun and is absolutely packed with flavour. This got a big thumbs up from my friend!

We’d reached the final course, and I had serious doubts about whether I had room for pudding. Then I saw that the Botanist serve a Rocky Road hanging kebab (£5.50)  and I realised that yes, I did have enough room for dessert after all.

botanist-rocky-road-kebab

The Rocky Road kebab is a mix of strawberries, hazelnut brownie chunks and yummy toasted marshmallows, all suspended over a bowl full of chocolate crumbs and served with a tub of biscuit sauce. The idea is that you pour the sauce over the kebab so that it drips over the fruit, brownies and marshmallows, and eventually melts into the bowl of biscuit crumb, where the two merge into the ultimate sweet, sticky sauce.

This isn’t just a novelty dessert, it’s really tasty too! I particularly enjoyed the chunks of hazelnut brownie, which were wonderfully rich, and the marshmallows which were perfectly toasted so they were warm and gooey on the inside.  

This dessert also isn’t too heavy, so it’s perfect if (like me) you’re struggling to find room, but still fancy something sweet to round off your meal. Plus, pouring the sauce over the kebab is just fun! This dessert is guaranteed to leave you with a big smile on your face.

My friend had opted for a regular, non-hanging dessert: warm chocolate fudge cake with vanilla ice cream (£5.50).

fudge-cake

This is a dense, indulgent dessert served with lashings of thick chocolate sauce – basically, everything you could want from a slice of cake!

And thus concluded a fantastic evening at the Botanist.

I’m recommend paying a visit just to gawp at the gorgeous decor, but the Botanist isn’t a case of style over substance, as they also serve great food at reasonable prices. I’m now obsessed with the idea of hanging mains and desserts, as it just brings something new and fun to a regular meal out. The staff were also very friendly, attentive and only too happy to make adjustments to our meals, which was very much appreciated.

There’s no shortage of restaurants in Sheffield, but we certainly don’t have anything like the Botanist, which makes this a really exciting addition to the Sheffield food scene.

You know a place is good when you immediately want to share it with other people, and I can’t wait to introduce my friends and family to the Botanist, partly so I can see their reaction to the interior but also just because the Botanist serves some really fantastic food. 

5-stars

Popolo

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.

 5-stars

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!

5-stars

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.

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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