Food Review: Smith & Baker

Jack Baker (left) and Richard Smith in their new restaurant Smith and Baker, on Ecclesall Road, Sheffield.
Jack Baker (left) and Richard Smith in their new restaurant Smith and Baker, on Ecclesall Road, Sheffield.
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371 Ecclesall Road, Sheffield S11 8PF. Tel: 0114 266 5541. Open Mon-Sat 12-3pm and 5-9:30pm, Sun 12-9pm. Credit cards. Music. Licensed. Disabled toilets and access. Street parking.

This review comes with a health warning: you may feel very full just reading it.

I thought I’d ordered a simple mushroom soup, at £6 the cheapest thing on the menu, and got almost a pint of bosky broth in which floated sliced truffle.

Then the waiter brought a bowl of croutons and sheets of parmesan and a pot of creme fraiche to go with. Lovely.

I had already nibbled at most of a large basket of homemade breads, including an excellent focaccia, with butter and oil, and then came a complimentary bowl of parsnip crisps with their own dip. Then there was the panzerotti, crisp, deep-fried pasta parcels filled with gooey cheese . . .

Steady on old boy, I thought, looking forwards to my expensive and spectacular main, you need to pace yourself.

But after the soup came a couple of extra dishes “because chef wants to see what you think.”

A likely story. Were we being love bombed? No, other tables were getting them, too.

One plate had the sweetest of scallop slices and smoked salmon, a silky dish, the other seared tuna, chorizo and tapioca-like Israeli couscous, chilli heat against slithery cool.

So when it came to my mains, that French classic tournedos Rossini, which at a stonking £28 cost more than my wife’s prix-fixe meal, I was already wilting.

We are at the Smith & Baker Dining Room (previously Relish), Ecclesall Road’s first real high-end glamour restaurant since Slammers, named after Richard Smith and his long time cheffy chum Jack Baker.

Smithy has been the most successful of the city’s home grown celebrity chefs and the most ubiquitous - he owns half a dozen restaurants, cafe and pubs.

He has made his fortune with a slate of Best of British dishes from pies to boiled beef and carrots and fish and chips but inside his considerable girth - although he has lost a staggering eight stone - is a French chef yearning to get out.

That style of cooking is what first made his reputation locally at Le Neptune, the Manor Hotel at Dronfield, then at his own restaurant in Crosspool, latterly Artisan, which got in the guides but ultimately stalled.

So why should it succeed on Ecclesall Road but not at Crosspool?

Perhaps it’s timing. The road is going upmarket.

Then Smithy is cooking again regularly after an absence of nine years and you realise what an excellent chef he is.

There are two things you need to know. His dinners can be a strain on the wallet and the stomach, for his food is very rich and generous. Unlike most modern chefs who put a little food on large plates Richard Smith inhabits the Land of Big Portions.

He cooks turn and turn about with Jack, who spends the rest of his time at the eponymous Jack Baker at the Beauchief, so he’s got one and a half restaurants named after him. They are together at weekends and Smithy was in charge our night.

The room is classy, large black tables and walls papered with outlined black and white cookery motifs. If we had have brought our twin grandsons they would have itched to colour them in.

Staff are sleek, the music is sophisticated and the menu varies daily depending on what is available.

Smithy leaves running of the restaurant to Jack and concentrates on the menus and cooking. “I’ve had this in mind for a year. There’s a world of difference between needing to do something and wanting to do something,” he says.

My wife, who has picked a souffle of Lincolnshire Poacher cheese on the £26 three-course menu, murmurs “cheese heaven” and nearly has a When Harry Met Sally moment when she reaches the cheese tuille. You may want what she had!

She orders the tenderest calves liver and mash while I get to choose my Made in Sheffield (and Smith & Baker branded) steak knife, which cuts the fillet steak like the proverbial butter.

To let foodies know where they’re at there’s a quote from the great French chef Careme, who invented the Rossini, at the doorway.

Classically it’s filet mignon served on a crouton and topped with foie gras with truffles. Here goose has been replaced by a luxuriant disc of chicken liver parfait and the crouton set to one side.

There are truffles as garnish as well as in the mash.

In fact, there are truffles all over the menu as Smithy has found a supply of home grown ones in Wiltshire.

The dish, with wild mushrroms and artichokes, turns up the volume on flavour and richness, echoed by the side dish of carrots which ooze sweetness.

We hit the final stretch with a fine marmalade pudding (£7) and the waiter pours my custard (now that’s posh) and my wife’s blackberry sorbet, a little steep for £7 because the bill shows the carte price, bringing the cost of food to £70.

It has been glorious although prices could be shaved a little.

My bill soars when you add on £5.25 for a G&T, £2.50 for orange, £10.50 for two glasses of wine, £4 for sparkling water and £5 for coffees.

And I must be the first person ever to take home tournedos Rossini in a doggy bag.