I WAS complimenting French chef Pierre Tungay at Barnsley’s Pollyanna Café on the lightness of his cakes when the man at the next table said: “Don’t believe a word he says. It’s the eggs that make all the difference. There’s an orgasm in every egg.”
The man disappeared for a minute and came back with a box of eggs, different sizes and all in beautiful colours.
Just the sort of colours you’d expect, thinking about it, in the trendy outpost of style and fashion that is Rita Britton’s famous Pollyanna designer clothes emporium.
“I know you can’t bribe a journalist but I want you to have them because I admire a man who is working while he is eating,” he added, nodding at my notebook.
So I was left with eggs on my table. Only later did I discover that the egg man was Rita’s hubbie Geoff.
Just two years ago I was in the same café talking to Chocolat author Joanne Harris, a lapsed Barnsley resident (she has gone posh and is up the road in Huddersfield) at a chocolate launch and admiring the deli installed by Rita’s daughter-in-law Anna.
I was particularly struck by the Tibetan pink crystal salt but even more by Pierre’s cakes – there was a carrot cake, I remember – and other goodies so it wasn’t bribery or even the prospect of free eggs which brought me back for lunch.
Now a lot of people don’t do lunch any more but there are ladies who do and they come here, perhaps to refresh themselves after forking out for a new dress or just to take in the atmosphere of all those expensive price tags.
And should your journey take you anywhere tangentially near Barnsley try and do so, too.
In the shadow of Barnsley Town Hall – once described as like the town’s women, big and bold with plenty out front – you will find Pollyanna’s on Market Hill.
Past the designer clothes and behind the jars of octopus in olive oil, duck pate and tins of Irish oatmeal you will find two white rooms, each with tables decorated with glass bowls containing a heart-shaped anthurium flower.
The menu is on two blackboards, one offering chicken and herb risotto, cod fishcake, roast beef baguette and the croque family, Monsieur et Madame, the other headed ‘Nos Suggestions.’
We take both: Bream fillet with grilled vegetables on a tomato salsa is £11.95 and spicy chicken casserole £9.25, minty for a lunch but then so is Pollyanna.
Your order is taken by a smiling black-clad waitress but will be delivered personally by the chef. Both dishes arrive aromatically, which is a good start.
The bream is in Barnsley proportions, three pieces of precisely cooked beautifully flavoured fish, the skin crisp, on a tangle of vegetables and minutely diced tomatoes, strewn with pine nuts.
My chicken casserole is zingy with fresh chilli which hums nicely on my tastebuds. The broth is intensely flavoured. It could have come with chips but that would have been sacrilege. Instead, I ordered rice.
I had warned my wife that the cakes would be good and they were. We had raspberry and vanilla and sultana cakes but there was also apricot, blueberry and chocolate and passionfruit.
I understand that there are women in Barnsley who are totally and utterly seduced by Pierre’s gateaux. Both cost £3.85 with coffee.
Both are extremely light – you almost have to hold them down – and flavourful. They don’t look sinful, not dripping with sugariness, but I suspect they are. Besides, they are made with orgasmic eggs.
My raspberry is served with a little pot of warm custard, the vanilla and sultana with one of candied orange peel in orange syrup – sort of sin on the side.
Following the egg delivery Pierre, aged 39, tells us he is originally from Brittany, has worked at Pollyanna for just over four years and was previously in a four-star Leeds hotel. “Barnsley is completely different with a difficult accent,” he says. He extols the excellent local market where he buys much of his produce, including the fish.
We finish with coffee and home made shortbread, from a dish under the counter which Rita filches from when she passes by.
“Well, they shouldn’t put them there,” she says.
Lunch has cost us £28.90. I steer my wife past the dresses and into the market, where we buy kippers, smoked haddock and black pudding.
Pierre lets rip with a dinner (£34.50) on the last Thursday of the month. The last one included salmon chowder, venison liver parfait, roast cod with buerre blanc, asparagus bake – and cakes.
PS: Geoff Britton has 100 hens.
14-16 Market Hill, Barnsley S70 2QE.
Tel: 01226 291 665.
Open for food seven days (Sun 11.30am-3.30pm). Vegetarian dishes. Credit cards. Disabled access. Car parking nearby.
My star ratings (out of five):