Food Review: Rafters, 220 Oakbrook Road, Sheffield S11 7ED. Tel: 0114 2304819.

Raffters Restaurant ' Chef Tom Lawson
Raffters Restaurant ' Chef Tom Lawson

Seismic shocks in the city’s restaurant trade. In Dore the much-loved Moran’s closed and become Peppercorn, with sighs of relief from regulars that standards were maintained.

Meanwhile, in Nether Green there has been a shaking of the Rafters as the equally loved Marcus Lane, the chef’s chef, handed in his oven gloves after 14 years.

Raffters Restaurant 'Alistair Myers & Chef Tom Lawson

Raffters Restaurant 'Alistair Myers & Chef Tom Lawson

The new bosses, head chef Tom Lawson, just 22, and 30-year-old restaurant manager Alistair Myers, and their brigade must be the youngest in town, so how has the change affected a place with a reputation for consistency and excellence?

Then there is the Sword of Damocles, or should that be the Pastry Knife of Doom?, hanging over the future of Rafters’ iconic signature dish, bread and butter pudding.

“PLEASE DON’T CHANGE A THING’ one diner wrote in capitals on a social forum but the nature of things, even restaurants, is that they do change.

Tom and Alistair kept to Marcus’s December menu with the odd tweak here and there but they cannot understand the veneration for the pud.

They are too young! This dessert has been through two venues and three or four chefs with the odd surreptitious cheffy tweak along the way.

Sentiment has as much place on the restaurant table as salt and pepper.

With the help of the bank, Messrs Lawson and Myers now own Rafters. They are a dynamic duo, having teamed up first at Rowley’s in Baslow and then at the Devonshire Arms, Middle Handley, where Tom had his first head chefship at 21.

That was the last time I tasted his cooking, where he drummed up a venison dish and perfect hake when the most interesting parts of the menu had run out.

He has moved on leaps and bounds, as witnessed by him being voted Sheffield’s joint young chef of the year.

Our meal, from the ‘tasting menu,’ showed a deftness and lightness of touch combined with clarity of flavours backed up by smooth service from Alistair and a charming waitress.

So it should at £37.95 but you get the works: canapés, breads, starter, intermediate course, main and dessert. “We want to keep the Rafters experience,” said Alistair.

Our meal sparkled from the start with smoked mackerel rillettes and gorgeous truffled quails eggs with a crispy coating and still runny yolks, designed to be wolfed in one go.

They are so popular there are thoughts of making them the new signature dish (somewhere in the kitchen the bread and butter pud trembled).

The breads, in four varieties, were vividly flavoured glazed rolls so good I nibbled to prolong the enjoyment. We had rosemary and sea salt and cheddar cheese with black pepper. It will be hard to find better.

This lad can cook but he always wanted to. He left High Storrs School with 12 GCSEs under his belt and could have gone anywhere. He chose Sheffield College’s ace catering school.

My starter of three seared scallops, sweet and soft with a lingering, briny aftertaste were partnered by balls of black pudding on a pea purée.

Chicken, ham and leek terrine, which came with cranberry chutney, showed up moist and very well seasoned.

Here they still do that country house hotel ‘intermediate course,’ a palate cleanser of an expert berry sorbet.

There has been the odd complaint that portions have got smaller.

Indeed there is a worrying trend among younger chefs to sneak back to nouvelle cuisine days.

My eyes and my wallet tell me I want to see food not china.

That said, my wife’s baked cod with creamed leeks in a butter sauce was a fair portion and beautifully cooked, although the only potato she got was in the fishcake.

My spuds had a more glorious role in the excellent dauphinoise in a spin on duck with cherries. Instead of the breast fanned it was cut as two rectangular ‘fingers,’ the meat pink, the skin crisp, the flavour intense. That duck didn’t quack its last for nowt.

Cherry purée dotted the plate. There was a little roasted apple and a few torn pieces of kale. It was lovely but I wanted more. Who had the leftover breast?

Could it be sous chef Tom Baker, aged 21, who stayed on after Marcus or Zachary Buckle, the 18-year-old apprentice?

Zachary gave us a complex chocolate dessert with dark chocolate ganache, white chocolate sorbet and milk chocolate mousse. He is chocolatiering at college and if I were his tutor he’d get top marks.

But the bread and butter pud is not what it was. It is lighter and less glorious compared to what has gone before. It lacked gravitas. However, if you never knew the original you’d be happy.

We paid £75.90 for food, £13 for two large glasses of good wine, and £7.90 for coffees and petit fours, totalling £96.80. It’s a mighty whack but you get a memorable meal, which is what Rafters is about.

Despite my odd grumble the cooking deserves full marks. If you want the experience without the damage two courses with a glass of wine cost £25.50 early evenings.


220 Oakbrook Road, Sheffield S11 7ED. Tel: 0114 2304819.Open Fri-Sun for lunch and Wed-Sun for dinner. Credit cards. Vegetarian meals. No disabled access or toilets (upstairs restaurant). Music. Street parking.

Food 5

Atmosphere 4

Service 5

Value 5