Sheffield: food city? When it comes to eating out, you can probably find whatever you fancy here.
From Japanese to Jamaican, Thai to Turkish, Polish to pies with lashings of Hendo’s, all cuisine requirements are catered for.
There are verifiable China Towns around London Road and Matilda Street, a middle Eastern paradise along The Wicker and a trendy chain quarters in Leopold Square and the Peace Gardens. Burger bars, bistros and high end pizzerias abound. Good grief – the region is even home to two Michelin starred restaurants – The Old Vicarage, in Ridgeway, and Fischer’s at Baslow Hall.
But such a gastroniomic paradise did not always exist.
It wasn’t so long ago that eating out here meant a choice between a Chinese served with chips, an Indian knocked up from curry paste or traditional English restaurant fare – you know the stuff: gammon and egg, lasagne or half a roast chicken followed by a treacle pudding.
Now, today, as the build- up to this month’s Sheffield Food Festival gets under way, Midweek Retro remembers some of the restaurants which really helped show Sheffielders: hey, come now, there’s more to life than chips with everything.
Forgive the pun but just feast your eyes on these pictures – pulled especially from The Star archives. “When I started back in 1988,” says Martin Dawes, The Star’s much-lauded restaurant critic, “things were very different.
“More mundane, far less exotic. I remember there was a French bistro out Hillsborough way called Parkes (La Bonne Bouche). It was 10 francs for a meal where one franc equalled one pound, and the owner worked front of house in a striped Breton jersey and beret. He was from Rotherham, I think.
“But, back then, people went out for meals far less. I did a review once and gave this place a slating. Then a woman called me up on a Saturday morning and asked how dare I go out, spend all that money and not enjoy it. That stuck with me for a long time. There was a deference almost. People assumed if they paid a lot, they should enjoy it.”
But there have always been leading lights; eateries that break new boundaries and set new standards.
Davy’s Cafe in Fargate was legendary as a place to go for a brew and cake mid-shop; Tuckwoods, in Surrey Street, did a smashing plate pie of minced beef; and Indus – one of the city’s first Indian restaurants – may have been in a basement in Fitzalan Square but the reputation of its food was sky high.
The Islamabad, in Attercliffe, meanwhile, didn’t supply anything so westernised as cutlery so customers were encouraged to eat using chunks of naan, while Zing Va, a Chinese just off West Street, could always be relied on for late night feed as early as the Sixties. Famously, the artist Pablo Picasso enjoyed a pie at the legendary Butler’s Dining Rooms, in Brook Hill. And, like every city, Sheffield, of course, had its own Berni Steak Bar.
“Some of those restaurants have gone down in city history,” says Paul Cocker, the city born-and-bred author of The Sheffield Food And Drink Book, a tome dedicated to the city’s culinary scene released this month. “I don’t think anyone could look back, even with rose-tinted spectacles, and say things were better back then. But the reputation they still have even years after they shut speaks for itself.”
* Sheffield Food Festival runs Saturday May 24 to Sunday May 26 at venues and outdoor locations across the city. See sheffieldfoodfestival.org for list of events.
Famous Five Sheffield restaurants
* Tuckwoods (Norfolk Row): The longest-running eatery to have existed in the city, Tuckwoods was open for 145 years before it shut in 2001. It was famous for its minced beef plate pies.
* The Rickshaw (Devonshire Street): Along with The Canary, in Cambridge Street, this was one of the city’s earliest Chinese restaurants, opening, it is thought, in the early Sixties. Famed for staying open late and doing such exotic dishes as, er, sweet and sour chicken and chop suey.
* The Stirrings (Oakbrook Road): Not many eateries are named after plays – especially plays about 19th century industrial violence. But such an idiosyncrasy didn’t stop this place – inspired by The Stirrings In Saturday On A Saturday Night – becoming a popular diner.
* Al Carretto (London Road): An Italian which opened when garlic bread was unheard of, wine was ordered by the litre and waiters came with mutton sidechops. It had decor that never changed in its 29 years despite already looking dated when it opened in 1981. And yet, week after week, every table in the house was booked up.
* Berni Steak Bar (Orchard Street): A giant from another age, the Sheffield Berni was the site for many journalists being interviewed for a job at The Star. If you could out-stay the deputy editor, you probably got the post.