Food and variety good in stylish new diner – but look out for that service charge...
I’d had my eye on the place for months.
When Bill’s was just a building site I stuck my head through the door and asked one of the lads working on it if he knew when the place was opening.
“No idea youth, but you won’t get ‘owt to eat in here today,” said he, smirking and slapping clouds of cement dust off his hands.
Ah the wit of the working man.
The place opened for business last week with a basket of apples on a table outside asking people to help themselves.
I did and then went back to see if I could get ‘owt to eat’ later that particular day.
The place looks and feels very American but the steel and glass fronted eatery in the increasingly cosmopolitan St Paul’s Place is the latest in a chain of 63 Bill’s restaurants that began in Lewes near Brighton in Sussex in 2000.
We walk in to a time-and-motion man’s nightmare.
Staff by the dozen are busying themselves doing not that much but too many workers is a better option than not enough in an opening week.
We are seated by a very polite and helpful waitress who takes our drink orders.
The place is attractive and has some striking features, looking like a cross between an American country store, a quirky sitting room and a trendy bar.
There’s a lot to look at with specials on blackboards, old olive oil cans, preserves and provisions bearing the Bill’s label to buy if you fancy it.
To start I ordered crab, chilli and prawn cakes which arrived on a bed of diced courgette accompanied by three awkward-looking leaves of Cos lettuce.
The cakes were good with a crunchy outside and a moist and tasty filling.
The chilli sauce was piquant without being fiery and the combination worked well.
My daughter had grilled halloumi with quinoa, speckled lentil and roasted fennel salad and a pomegranate and lemon dressing.
The aromatic lentils worked well with the salty cheese and bright sweetness of the pomegranate seeds.
It was as we were finishing off the starter that I noticed who had just sat down next to us.
It was Daniel Evans, actor and artistic director of the Crucible Theatre and another chap who, according to our shameless eavesdropping, appeared to be a fellow thespian. They talked shop and drank fizz.
More on the actorly theme later.
For her main course Hannah had an avocado, bacon and spinach salad.
Mr Evans had the same for his starter, and lamb for his main – you know you were curious.
The bacon was substantial, smokey and though it could have been crisper was tasty enough to carry the smooth richness of beautifully ripe avocado and the bitter tang of fresh spinach.
I went for the big barbecue meat feast or Bill’s BBQ platter which has rack BBQ ribs, mojo chicken skewer, Cumberland sausage, smoky beef and bean chilli topped with yogurt, onion rings, fries, watercress and a ‘complimentary’ Bill’s beer.
At £16.50 I reckon I paid for the beer - made by Harvey’s brewery in Lewes with bags of flavour but a bit yeasty for me.
The ribs were ok, meat relatively tender but needed more sauce or slower cooking to make it memorable.
The sausage was fine but not outstanding but the chilli was exceptional. Flaky melt-in-the-mouth beef, a rich spicy sauce with beans finished with a good dollop of sour cream, top stuff. Fries good and crisp, likewise the onion rings.
General manager Josh Rogers started life in Chesterfield before moving to Milton Keynes when his family moved to run the Fariba restaurant where he began washing pots aged 15.
“I have been involved in the restaurant business since then and have worked for Bill’s since last September in Manchester, Durham and Leicester but this is my first general manager’s job.
“Sheffield is a great place and Bill’s is a great company to work for. Sheffield will love Bill’s.”
Full of vim and ardour as he is for the company, Josh very nearly chose a very different career path.
He studied physical theatre at North Hertfordshire Performing Arts College - ‘crazy throwing people around stuff,’ he says.
Something you might see at Cirque du Soleil? I ask. “Something like that, yes,” says he.
“I hurt my back a couple of times so that ruled out that kind of thing for me so I got into the restaurant business again. I’m loving it.”
And we were loving the desserts.
I had a warm chocolate fondant with peanut butter ice cream which was as rich as it sounds though the peanut butter ice cream got lost in the richness of the chocolate.
Hannah had freshly-cooked donuts with a warm dipping sauce – indulgence at its seaside donut stall best.
Bill’s food is good though not exceptional but it is a fun, busy, quirky kind of place that will do well in the city centre.
With an extra beer, an Earl Grey tea and an espresso our bill came to £63.86 – including an ‘optional’ 10 per cent £5.81 service I somehow didn’t notice at the time.
Look out for that one!
Star rating out of five
* Bill’s 2 St Paul’s Place 127 Norfolk Street, S1 2JF.
* Tel: 2723342
* Monday - Saturday: 8am - 11pm. Sunday 9am - 10:30pm