Food Review: Pesto, 57 Abbeydale Road South, Millhouses, Sheffield S7 2QQ. Tel: 0114 236 1451.

Pesto at the Waggon and Horses at Millhouses
Pesto at the Waggon and Horses at Millhouses
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There’s one thing in short supply at Sheffield’s new Italian restaurant Pesto – and that’s dishes with pesto in.

There’s one thing in short supply at Sheffield’s new Italian restaurant Pesto – and that’s dishes with pesto in.

I counted some 46 items on the evening menu and only two contained that fragrant sauce of basil, garlic, pine nuts and olive oil.

Another thing in short supply on our visit was food. We patiently waited 40 minutes after ordering for the first dishes to arrive, an adjacent table for an hour.

In a friendly little proprietor-run trattoria, when problems strike in the kitchen customers can be rapidly mollified with complimentary plates of bread and olives.

In a big theme restaurant such as Pesto, that just doesn’t happen.

But don’t let this put you off, a visit to Pesto should turn out to be a pleasant experience.

Pesto, part of a northern chain of Italian eateries, opened in April in the former Waggon and Horses pub on Abbeydale Road South, a big boozer where, now I come to think of it, I never got a decent meal in all its different transformations.

Pesto’s changed that.

You may have noticed that Sheffield, indeed the world, is over-faced with Italian restaurants, some run by people who have never been nearer to Italy than watching Inter Milan on Sky. So do we really need another and what could be new to try?

Well, I could suggest a really regional one, featuring the food from, say, Puglia or Tuscany, and no other area but that might be too ambitious.

Founders Neil Gatt and Sara Edwards thought they had the answer. Put off like me by plates piled high with pasta (I like the stuff but not too much of it) they noticed the popularity of little Spanish tapas nibbles.

The direct Italian equivalent is stuzzichini but that might be too difficult for English tongues to pronounce so they settled on piattini, which means saucers or side plates.

Neil had plenty of experience – he invented the La Tasca tapas chain – and since 2008 Pesto has expanded into eight sites, many in failed boozers like the Waggon and Horses.

I was glad to see the company has not turned the place into a haven of faux-Italiana, with red, white and green everywhere, Chianti bottles with candles and posters of Pisa but they do have giant pepper grinders, rarely if ever seen in Italy.

The menu is really a Greatest Hits of international Italian dishes in miniature form so all the old favourites are here. If you are always torn between, say, gnocchi, pizza or cannelloni you can have them all and still finish up on the brighter side of £12.

All are under a fiver, many under £4, and staff advise ordering three per person. I’d say, if you’re sharing, to treat them like tapas and order them in batches so there’s a constant supply of hot food. Order all in advance and they seem to arrive together, leaving some to go cold.

The Sheffield Pesto is a big, seating 125, but tables are well spaced so it doesn’t feel cramped. It’s pleasantly decorated and looks what it is, an old pub poshed up.

We ate more than you might to get the feel of the menu and there were hits and misses.

Our hits included the boneless chicken thighs (£4.50), stuffed with ham and mozzarella, which had plenty of flavour. They were also big, “like Chris Hoy’s thighs,” said my wife.

We also liked the olives (£2.95), the lively tomato and mozzarella bruschetta (£3.95), patate campagna (£3.50), the Italian version of patatas bravas, although the kitchen had forgotten to salt them and they only sang when we added the sun-dried tomato tapenade at 95p extra.

Peposo (£4.50) was a peppery, gutsy beef, potato and red wine stew.

We didn’t have a lot of time for a pallid, limp and lustreless pizza Margharita (£3.75), which really ought to come garnished with fresh basil rather than dried oregano.

Seeking out the elusive pesto we ordered the risotto Verdi (£3.95), flavoured with it, and wished we hadn’t. It was over-wet, stodgy, gloopy and bland, a masterclass in how not to make it, and the pesto failed to liven things up.

As for pasta, the fettucine carbonara (£3.95) was so-so and an ersatz version, the sauce made with cream rather than eggs and butter.

Desserts are pretty good, a meritorious tiramisu and a wickedly sinful cioccolato divino, or chocolate log, in which you could fully taste the orange liqueur (£3.65).

Pesto has a decent all Italian wine list, judging by our large chardonnay (£5.25) and house rose (£4.75).

Staff, dressed all in black, are pleasant but the restaurant needs a firmer hand. We weren’t greeted as we walked in and left to wander until asked to choose a table, nor given the rundown on ordering or soothed unbidden over delays.

As a theme eaterie it lacks, of course, Italian atmosphere but is still a smart space. Tastes are pleasant if pedestrian. But if you want to eat Italian without worrying too much about authenticity, Pesto will do the job.

57 Abbeydale Road South, Millhouses, Sheffield S7 2QQ. Tel: 0114 236 1451. Open all week 12-10.30pm (Fri-Sat until 11pm). Credit cards. Lunch offer (until 7pm) three dishes for £7.95. Music. Credit cards. Vegetarian dishes. Disabled access and toilets. Car park. Web: www.pestorestaurants.co.uk

THE DAWES VERDICT

(out of five)

FOOD THREE

ATMOSPHERE FOUR

SERVICE THREE

VALUE THREE

Category: Theme/Italian