Revamped Castle has theatre, variety and great beers – and it’s quality that’s key
Plates stacked high with slabs of pink roast beef, golden roast potatoes and Yorkshire puddings as big as 16oz boxing gloves are carried shoulder-high across the busy dining room to dads salivating at family tables.
A truly beautiful sight but this is not a good moment.
It’s Father’s Day, I’m starving and I’ve just ordered the fish.
Helping to bring up three kids had its challenges and heartaches but decisions like today’s can make a man question everything he is, was or might become.
We’re at the Castle Inn, run by a pair of Jacks and I’m the knave who thought better than to go for a ‘big brown dinner’, as they call them in the kitchen here, in favour of sea bass.
My apparent fatherly folly will be scrutinised later.
But what about those Jacks?
One is Jack Baker, aged 33, formerly of the Smith and Baker Dining Room on Ecclesall Road, a place he ran in partnership with Sheffield superchef Richard Smith. Jack Baker also worked at the Cricket Inn, Spice Market Café, Relish and the Beauchief.
The other is 21-year-old Jack Windsor, the 2015 Eat Sheffield young chef of the year.
There’s serious talent and know-how. They took over and re-modelled the Castle Inn at Bradway, re-opening in February to some acclaim.
Now they are launching a new menu and new barbecue area to go with their pizza oven, rotisserie and cocktail bar.
It’s quite a place.
“Jack used to be my sous chef. We’ve worked together for three years, we like the same food,” says Mr Baker.
“We teamed up to turn out good food that people will come back for.
“The rotisserie is popular and we have theatre in every room - cocktails in the bar, open fires in the tap room, the rotisserie and the pizza oven and open kitchen in the main dining area.”
Then the killer line: “We are not arty farty, we like good food. It’s not about foam and jellies we’re all about proper gravy.”
Echoes of my roast beef faux pas return but, after a memorable lunch the sea bass decision feels more like serendipitous wisdom.
Such is a dad’s life, on a good day.
We had arrived to a lovely-looking pub and were greeted warmly by a friendly face and seated near in a buzzing atmosphere..
I start with a pint of Moonshine, magnificent as ever, and we order.
Starters arrive quickly, service is brisk, warm and polite.
I went for the mustard and sage rolled belly pork with apple and pickles and sour dough toast.
My daughter Hannah, soon to be a mum herself, had garlic and mozzarella flatbread done in the Castle’s ‘proper’ pizza oven. It’s gorgeous.
Light and crisp and with the substance of good dough it’s full of flavour and crunch and made us wonder why we hadn’t chosen one of the flatbread pizzas for main course.
My pork is equally delicious. The rich meaty flavours of slow-cooked belly pork with sage and apple all on home-made pickles with crunch and sharpness and served with two slices of good quality toasted sourdough. Cracking stuff.
It’s about now that I have my ‘gravy envy’ moment.
But then the fish arrives.
Looking suitably well grilled with a crisp skin, the whole roast sea bass has been boned, stuffed with Rosemary and lemon slices which combine to give it a wonderfully light, fresh, herby presence and is, of course, cooked to perfection.
It comes with a parmesan polenta cake and lies on a bed of courgette and olive provencal, a rich, tomato-based chunky sauce. The combination is bang-on.
Hannah went for the half-a-rotisserie chicken with barbecue sauce with three sides for £12 – she chose chips, onion rings and coleslaw.
The onion rings were sweet and crunchy - ‘epic’ was the word Hannah used to describe them. It’s difficult to disagree.
The chicken was moist and flavoursome thanks to 24 hours in brine then marinated for another 24 hours in spices and cooked on the spectacular rotisserie.
It’s a delight, though the chips were surprisingly and disappointingly limp - I think we were a bit unlucky, other tables’ chips looked a lot better. The coleslaw, made with red cabbage and looking great, seemed to me to lack the sharpness of vinegar or something to give it a bit of kick.
For our Dad’s-day desserts Hannah had a lemon meringue pie, the topping of which is noticeably marshmallow texture and quite liquid.
“It’s an Italian meringue made with boiling sugar. It is supposed to be like a soft marshmallow with a crisp top,” the Jacks assure me later.
“The lemon cuts through the sweetness.”
It certainly does, to great effect.
I had the warm chocolate torte - made with a sabayon, egg yolks and sugar to make it beautifully gooey - with white chocolate ice cream from Swiss ice cream makers Movenpick - the only thing they don’t make on site - and a berry compote which is deep, dark and lovely. It’s chocolate lover’s heaven.
Overall impression is the Jacks are pretty ace at this sort of thing and, although they are trying to be a lot of things at once, they are getting it right.
And I’m going back for that big brown dinner any time soon.
For three courses each, a pint of moonshine and a glass of good Sauvignon Blanc, our bill came to £60.20.
Star rating out of five:
* The Castle Inn, 1 Twentywell Road, Sheffield S174PT
* Tel: 0114 2362955
* Open for food Mon to Thurs 11.30am to 9pm, Fri and Sat 11.30am to 9.30pm, Sunday noon to 7pm.