10 Commonside Steel Bank, Chez Lahlou, Sheffield, S10 1GB
Regular readers will know of ten things, it had been more, he said to look for when judging quality of service in a restaurant.
Ranging from welcoming eye contact and toilet analysis to water and bread availability, it was a comprehensive list. But I have another even more urgent piece of advice for would-be reviewers.
Don’t leave your notebook in the restaurant.
Don’t do that because you’ll have to go back to get it the next day and face the person whose establishment you have scribbled about between eye contact and bill presentation.
In this case it was more sheets of paper than a notebook, so all was on display for even the most discreet of restaurateurs to not help but notice.
And here’s another lesson learned by many in Sheffield: if you like large meals in a homely atmosphere then the small but filling Chez Lahlou is the place for you.
Haute cuisine it is not, but looking at the endless five star reviews on Trip Advisor, people love it.
With a French country-style atmosphere and décor, sort of, French-style menu with saddle of hare, frogs legs and snails, it’s like being invited into a Francophile aunt’s house for dinner.
A Francophile aunt who thinks you need feeding up a bit. More is more at Chez Lahlou. For what we thought would be starters we ordered French Onion Soup and mushrooms cooked in garlic and Pernod.
But before that we got the freebie starters so loved by Trip Advisor reviewers.
On the table as you sit down there are already crudités – raw cauliflower, carrots and celery with a home-made dip – very nice and a good welcoming touch.
Then a bowl of complimentary chicken wings arrived in a sweet and sticky sauce, all pleasant enough.
Then the free and plentiful garlic bread slices with herbs and melted cheese arrived on our rapidly filling table, crisp, aromatic and with a certain home-made something about them.
With our starter-starters started, the starters arrived.
I had an entire field of button mushrooms nicely herby with a hint of anise and served with slightly puzzling combo of lettuce, cucumber and melon slices – although the melon was sweet and delicious.
The French onion soup was deep and rich and packed with flavour with an extra slice of garlic and cheese bread alongside rather than in the soup.
Of course we were almost full already.
We remarked to our Francophile aunt, otherwise known as Janine Lahlou who has run the restaurant with her chef husband Edward for around 25 years, that we were getting a little ‘plein’ but she assured us we could bag up what we didn’t eat and take it home with us. What they undoubtedly have bang-on at Chez Lahlou is the house white wine. Cheap and extremely cheerful, an unoaked South African Chardonnay was refreshing and crisp. I needed two glasses to be sure though…
We had noticed that ‘Woof Fish’ was on the menu, something we’d not seen before. Apparently it’s a ‘mild, sweet-tasting member of the cod family’.
Another lesson learned.
The red mullet was sold out so I had sea bass in a bearnaise sauce and my wife went for the pork medallions in a creamy mushroom and pepper sauce.
Both dishes were beautifully cooked, though the fish skin might have been crisper. The sauces were flavoursome and authentic and both plates would have been fine just like that, plenty of food, nicely presented.
But then the vegetable platter arrived.
A whole barge of veg stacked high with everything from carrots to Brussels sprouts including sauté potatoes, celery, peas, green beans, cauliflower and cabbage but all cooked to within an inch of its life, traditional English style.
The only dessert on offer was chocolate fudge cake and cream – apparently people rarely get as far as a pudding.
It was pleasant enough and had lots of chocolate topping and filling but seemed like a bought-in dessert which, strangely enough for Chez Lahlou, could have done with a little more cream.
All in all it’s great value and people leave there stuffed full AND with food to take home with them.
“Edward likes to give people value for money and he loves cooking,” said Janine, who met Moroccan Edward in Sheffield more years ago than she cares to remember.
“He cooks on his own and never stops, even when we are on holiday.”
Such sentiments and dedication are admirable, but in truth the place could do with a spruce-up so that the ambience and overall feel of the occasion matches the warmth and generosity of the portions.
Having said that, the place was pretty full for a Tuesday, weekends are jumping and the phone was ringing all night with bookings.
It seems people just can’t get enough of having too much.
With two glasses of wine the bill came to £52.50.
Food: 3 (5 for quantity)