They’ve all been names in recent years for the same Sheffield pub, now called (as we speak) the Prince of Wales.
Well, not Old Mother Riley – I made that up.
It tells you one thing. Owned by a giant pubco, local pubs can be given a new identity as easily as ramming a spigot in a barrel. That’s what Mitchells & Butlers have done with this fondly regarded boozer on Ecclesall Road South.
Previously an Ember Inn, it is now part of the ponderously named Premium Country Dining Group although Ecclesall Road is no more in the country than I’m a Chinaman.
What has been described as “a decent community pub” has gone upmarket and saved from becoming, say, a Sizzling Pub or Harvester, two of the many other brands in the M&B portfolio.
We’re in there now and I’m reading the pub’s marketing material. “Cask ales are important in a beautiful pub such as ours. There are few things better than a pint of award wining ale sat in front of our roaring fire on a cold winter’s day.”
Well, it’s two degrees outside, the fireplace is empty and those artistically stacked logs are part of the décor, not the fuel.
As for the cask ales, it takes me time to find them lurking apologetically among the flashing beer engines.
There are just three, none local, and the Black Sheep is off. It’s a choice of Timothy Taylor’s Landlord or, whisper it softly, Leeds Pale.
This is not a Prince of Ales.
The décor is mostly beige and Beatles - the Fab Four are on every cushion and my wife suspects a job lot on eBay. There’s not a single picture or ornament to tell you this is Sheffield. Yet it has echoes of a place I can’t put my finger on.
There’s a central bar surrounded by interlocking spaces. You can eat at your tables or move through to a more formal dining area in front of the open kitchen marked ‘Kitchen’ for avoidance of doubt.
There are big tables in front for large parties.
The Prince is now more a restaurant than a pub. The trade is overwhelmingly food in the week, with a 50-50 mix of drinkers and eaters at weekends. Even though it can seat 165 at one go – and has – it’s best to book a week ahead at weekends.
While I’m studying the menu I am airing my spigot thoughts but my wife is having none of it. “I LIKE this place, it’s got nice big well-spaced tables, pleasant music (late night Radio 2) and good lighting,” she insists.
It may be a pub but it’s restaurant prices. There are usual pizzas, pastas, burgers and fish and chips but the rack of lamb sells well here at £15.95, as do the scallop starters at £8.55.
The kitchen, under Mark Hamilton, has to cook the identical menu to the other two pubs in the group, including the good value £12.50 two course prix-fixe, although does have a bit of scope on the specials. Things change twice a year.
I start with spiced carrot and potato soup (£3.95) which is pleasant and comes with breads and oils. My wife orders the lamb koftas with mint yoghurt and a kohl rabi, carrot and cumin salad for £5.95.
The kitchen has other ideas. Perhaps it is an attempt at individuality for the yoghurt is replaced by an over fierce chilli jam and the kohl rabi has been ousted in favour of red onion.
My wife, promised yoghurt with her fish main, frets. “Perhaps it’s off. Or they’ve seen what I’ve ordered and changed it,” she says brightly.
The koftas, like two lollipops on sticks, are well spiced but much too dry and the chilli jam overpowers it.
I have the ginger beer braised pork (£13.95) which gives the dish an interesting, syrupy feel and the meat’s tender, although braising means I haven’t got crackling.
My wife’s sea bass fillets (£15.95) are good: the flesh is firm and decently flavoured, the skin is crisp and the yoghurt and mint sauce is there. This dish is given an Eastern twist with curried sweet potato and spinach.
We also ordered a side dish of root vegetable dauphinoise (£2.95), but it reads better than it tastes or looks, an under-flavoured splodge in a dish.
It’s hit and miss with the sweets: a miss for my lukewarm and springy-textured pannetone bread and butter pudding with even cooler custard (£4.95), a hit for her well-judged plum and frangipane tart.
I feel this is corporate food but can’t deny it is done decently well. My wife will have none of my grumps. She got what she wanted (save for the yoghurt and mint) in a place she felt comfortable in. And the service is good.
As I pay the bill - £52.50 for food, £5.30 for drinks – it suddenly occurs what the Prince of Wales reminds me of: All Bar One.
That’s in the M&B portfolio, too.
PRINCE OF WALES
95 Ecclesall Road South, Sheffield S11 9PH.
Tel: 0114 236 9176.
Open all week from 11am. Food from midday. Last orders Mon-Thurs 10pm, Fri-Sat 10.30pm, Sun 9pm. Two course Sunday roasts from £12.95. Credit cards. Disabled toilets. Large car park.
My star ratings (out of five):