It’ll be wasted on the kids. It was a chew with a very splendid view from the old Abbeydale restaurant five floors up on the top of Sheffield University’s Students’ Union Building.
Pop out on the balcony and the city panorama stretches before you, all the way from West Street, far out to Norton and round to Broomhill.
So when I heard the university had got a new restaurant, Inox Dine, as part of a multi-million revamp I assumed the Abbeydale had been spruced up.
Sadly, no. It’s on the other side of the building, with a less than glamorous outlook on to traffic-choked Western Bank, while the room with a view is now the Discovery Room for schoolchildren.
Inox Dine (it’s a type of steel) is a chance missed, a brightly lit, soulless 100-cover affair which makes an airport transit lounge look sexy. Even the menus are big, unfriendly slabs. Soft lighting, flowers and candles on the table would help.
To be fair, the restaurant also has to cope with breakfast and lunch primarily for the university itself (although it is open to all) but come the evening is hardly the best showcase for head chef Joe Berry’s considerable talents.
Others take a different view. A review in the student newspaper The Tab praises the decor as ‘well posh.’
It took two attempts to eat there. A booking on the answerphone went unanswered because of a technical glitch and as you can’t drive by a restaurant five floors up to see if it’s open we went elsewhere.
Once there I was rumbled by restaurant manager David Smith who had first encountered me 20 years before at the old Sheffield Moat House.
Apparently that didn’t account for the super little amuse-bouches we got, shot glasses containing pea and ham pannacotta topped with horseradish cream and raw scallop.
But it almost certainly did the ‘bread and batter’, which otherwise cost £1.95, which included an excellent sweet and crunchy rye and treacle roll as well as a mini Yorkshire pudding with a Henderson’s Relish onion sauce.
My wife’s Yorkshire goat’s cheese parfait (£5.25) was elegant, creamy and not overpowering in goatiness. You don’t want to feel you’re eating a farmyard.
It came with rosemary flavoured oatcake, little cubes of beetroot and a blood orange sauce.
It looked as appetising as mine did not, but we shouldn’t let looks deceive us. I’d got wild mushroom soup (£4.50) served in a wide, flat bowl, a muddy-looking pool with a small beignet (fritter) emerging from the middle like the Monster from the Swamp.
It certainly didn’t taste swampy. The soup was thickly textured with an earthy, woody taste offset by the sharpness of tarragon.
For mains they do fish two ways here: beer battered haddock with mushy peas for £8.45 or a much posher ‘Yorkshire Cod’ with buttered leeks and scampi in a bisque for £14.50.
My wife sought advice from the waiter as to how the dish was presented. He told her the fish was “in some sort of liquid.” Messrs Berry and Smith need to acquaint the waiting staff with the menu and what it entails.
As it was, the fish was cooked spot on, the scampi sweet, the bisque intense. It came with a ‘salt and vinegar crisp’ which she enjoyed, despite not liking those which come out of a bag.
My 48-hour slow-cooked pork belly (£14.50) is Joe’s signature dish, the meat being first brined then cooked at low temperature so the skin does not become crackling but does have an enjoyable salty crispness.
The contrast in taste and textures between sweet fat and extremely soft meat was luxurious. However I felt the dish was overwhelmed by smoky flavours, first from the choucroute onion flavoured with smoked bacon and juniper, then with a rather too runny smoked potato puree.
Joe had even smoked the milk and cream that went into the potatoes but for me it was a step too far.
Desserts were accomplished. There was a very decent if slightly stiff baked custard tart and a deeply chocolatey terrine with a pistachio flavoured praline (both £5.45) to enjoy.
Joe, aged 38, was previously at Losehill House Hotel, North Derbyshire, where the restaurant does have a spectacular view from its windows. He has a lot of ideas up his sleeve and it’s a pleasure to witness a chef cooking his socks off even if you don’t always agree with him on the results.
Where possible, ingredients are sourced locally. My pork came from Moss Valley, there is honey from the university’s own hives and – eventually – truffles from the ‘truffle trees’ on the balcony.
Service is quite formal – trestles are brought to the table for a tray carrying the dishes – and I’m sure it will sharpen up.
All is not lost with the view from the Discovery Rooms, which can be hired for private parties.
We paid £52.60 for food, £8.80 for two 175ml glasses of wine and £4.60 for coffee, £66 in total. One to watch.
Inox Dine, Level 5, Students’ Union Building, Durham Road, Sheffield, S10 2TG. Tel: 0114 222 6043. Open Mon-Fri 8am-8.30pm, weekends by arrangement. Sunday lunch is on the first Sunday of every month (next is this Sunday, December 1). Lift. Disabled toilets. Music. Credit cards. Parking in evenings in Durham Road car park. Web: www.inoxdine.co.uk