IT’S not just in football that Sheffield doesn’t come anywhere near the Premiership. Or the Championship. Take catering.
Now Sheffield has some lovely independent restaurants but when the big chains aim to open another new place Sheffield is not considered to be in the big league.
Loch Fyne went to 40 other places before they got to Sheffield and now Browns has opened in Sheffield, England’s fourth largest city but we are number 21 on their list.
As well as a swathe of places in London they went to Bath, Bristol, Leeds, Manchester and even Milton Keynes before coming here.
It’s the demographics. The city doesn’t rate highly as the home of big spenders and dedicated diners.
Browns is part of the Mitchells & Butlers group and they’ve revamped the premises of what was the Ha! Ha! Bar and Grill overlooking the Peace Gardens.
The chain has a reputation for delivering decently cooked, safe, dependable, traditional dishes so we have high hopes as we walk there.
It’s a lovely evening and people are taking drinks on the outside seating under the trees festooned with lights. Drinks only, though, they don’t do food.
Inside it’s a lively buzz and mix of drinkers and diners. The place has had a facelift since Ha! Ha! and the impression is of wooden floors, black and white paint, metal rails and big mirrors.
The open kitchen remains and as we are taken upstairs to our table, looking down on the bar, one of the white-aproned waiters passes us and murmurs ‘Good evening.’
Now that’s a touch of old fashioned restaurant manners.
The heart of the menu is the grill. Steak frites (sirloin) is £12.95. So is a wild boar and chorizo burger. An 8oz fillet is £20.95. There is also a slate of Browns classics – steak, mushroom and Guinness pie, shepherds pie, (both £10.95), chicken schnitzel (£10.95) or if you want to push the boat out, haunch of venison is £17.95.
And there’s a selection of fish, salads and pasta.
The polite waiter turns out to be George, who serves us excellently throughout the evening, although he looks slightly taken aback when we order focaccia (£2.95) without olives (that’s extra) as an appetiser. It’s good warm chewy bead studded with tomatoes.
Our starters are fine, too. My wife goes retro with a king prawn cocktail with wholemeal bread and butter. “Lovely juicy prawns and if you were slimming you’d be grateful they’d gone easy on the Marie Rose sauce,” she said.
My lobster and crab croquettes register well for both ingredients. Both dishes cost £5.95.
Our plates are cleared and George inquires whether we have enjoyed them. We have but then our meal plunges downhill.
My wife’s grilled fillets of sea bass with bass (£12.95) arrived looking as if they had come out worse in some maritime dust up: broken and dishevelled. They are overcooked, cool and tasteless with a limp skin.
The fish came with wilted spinach, hardly a trace of the promised cauliflower puree “(I looked under the fish for it,” said my wife) and some chopped mushrooms, none of them looking ‘exotic’ as the menu proclaims.
“I’ve got a plate full of grey,” she wailed and it tasted that as well.
My confit of pork belly (£13.95), listed under ‘Browns Classics’ was better but if we’re calling this a confit the meat ought to be tender and melting, not tense. Two strips of cracking were served separately but instead of being brittle were simply chewy.
With it was a mound of butternut squash puree dotted with shreds of crisp leeks, some crisp French beans but the best thing about this dish was the mustard and thyme jus.
Neither dish had anything like a potato with it and, oddly, there is nowhere on the menu to order vegetables.
George, noticing the uneaten fish, did not inquire whether she’d enjoyed it.
I’m amazed the fish was even let out of the kitchen but they were obviously in a rush.
But there was no excuse for the pastry in the lemon and mandarin (one segment) tart. at £5.75. Underbaked, it oozed in your mouth.
My gooseberry, apple and elderflower crumble (£5.45) had good fruit under a layer of nutty topping which you almost needed a pick axe to break. “Reminds me of a rock formation,” said my wife.
Food cost us £50 exactly and was nowhere near as good as you’d hope for the price. Add on a couple of desultory coffees (£3.75) and two large glasses of wine (£12.50) and the bill reached £66.25 for a lacklustre evening.
Perhaps we were unlucky but a visit to Browns left us browned off.
8-12 St Paul’s Parade, Sheffield S1 2JL.
Telephone: 0114 276 6710.
Open Mon-Fri from 8am, Sat & Sun from 10am. Close Sun-Wed 10pm, Thur-Sat 11pm. Sun lunch. Prix fixe from lunch to 7pm (main course £7.95 and £9.95). Afternoon tea 2.30-5.30pm.
Lively music. Pianist Wed-Thur evening and Sat-Sun lunch. Credit cards. Disabled access and toilets. Street parking.
My star ratings (out of five):