THERE were those who got a bit sniffy when as-seen-on-TV chef Simon Ayres switched from Sheffield’s Milestone restaurant to the Showroom cinema last year.
One minute he was head chef at the trendy Kelham Island eaterie with its own herd of pigs, the next he was building an ‘allotment’ on the roof of the arty-farty Showroom for runner beans and beetroot.
“Some people slagged me off,” admits Simon, the man dubbed the cage fighter of the kitchen by Gordon Ramsay when he steered the Milestone to victory in Channel 4’s Ramsay’s Best Restaurant series two years ago.
It did seem an odd move, because Simon, aged 30, could have used his telly glory as a launchpad to bigger things. Instead he’s gone sideways.
That’s putting it politely because the cinema café is probably not the first or even the second place you might think of for a meal out, unless you were going to the pictures or had snaffled a canapé at a reception in the Workstation next door.
Finding out what he’s doing took persistence. The Showroom’s website is antiquated and still shows the ‘sample menu’ Simon devised last year. I had to make a trip across town to pick up the current one.
Then you might be put off by the fact that the Showroom’s dinky café-bar has been ripped out and is not currently being used while the café itself could do with a make-over. Getting rid of the shocking pink paint on the overhead ducting would be a start.
If change is not apparent out front, it is behind the kitchen door. “The kitchen was built for frozen food, we’ve had to turn it around,” says Simon, who works with sous chef Jonathan Tite and a bevy of catering hopefuls from Sheaf Training.
One of his canniest moves was to hire Lisa Curran as pastry chef. The kitchen now ‘sells’ its home made ice cream, made by Lisa, to the cinema kiosk, which brings in enough money to pay her wages and she also has time to make the cakes.
The kitchen doesn’t just look after the café. It also serves the next door Workstation with its various businesses, offices and, of course, receptions.
The Showroom is open for food seven days a week and we cruised in for a midweek three-course lunch, something few customers are likely to do but it did give us a taste of what to expect.
There aren’t any starters listed as such so we found them on the section listed as Light Bites and Sandwiches. There’s a spiced lentil and quinoa nut loaf, a prawn salad and a host of sarnies on the special boards but we went for the Scotch egg and ham hock terrine, both a fiver.
The Scotch egg was home- made, very porky with a hint of sage, with a still runny soft-boiled egg inside. It came with a chilli onion marmalade and a slice of deep-fried pear.
The terrine was even better. Apart from being served at the correct temperature, it featured large chunks of meat rather than being completely shredded, which really improves the texture.
The culinary minded among you might like to know that the hock’s excess fat is melted down and run through the terrine to bind it and add flavour.
Next to it was a little pot of the kitchen’s sweet piccalilli (made with broccoli as well as cauliflower) and a warm walnut roll.
You might have thought there was a herd of pigs in the Showroom’s cellars because our meal was pretty porky through and through, but that’s because I sidestepped the bavette (flank) steak, asparagus with duck eggs, whole roast plaice and wild garlic gnocchi on the mains in favour of the slow-cooked belly pork (£10.50).
It’s a dish I find hard to resist. This was a decent size although without any crackling but to be fair the menu doesn’t promise it. It was soft to cut and as piggy as you’d want, with a wild garlic mash, helped along by a shot of cider, which also featured in the apple gravy.
The garnish was a cluster of apple rings, treated in the same way as the pear.
This was pretty nifty cooking, full of pronounced flavours, as seen with the salmon fishcake (£9.50). It may not have been made with the best salmon but there was enough of it – sometimes there is so little fish you’re struggling to identify what it is.
This was served with a soft poached egg on top and a white wine and cream sauce. We shared a portion of potato wedges (£2), which could have been crisper, with a lovely yellow aioli dip.
The motto of the kitchen is keep things simple so there are no desserts other than Lisa’s cakes. I selected a Bakewell tart but to find an ice cream I had to wander through to the kiosk to see what flavours they’d got among the ice creams and sorbets.
I thought it might be rather fun to have the Bakewell ice as well but they’d run out. I settled on the vanilla, brought to us in a tub with plastic spoons, so presentation needs a bit of work.
We enjoyed the ice, with a big hit of vanilla, and the moist cake, both £3.25 with coffee, a very good price.
Gordon Ramsay might be a loudmouth but he knows his cooking and spotted a good ‘un in Simon. So should you, if you don’t mind shocking pink. And the website’s being improved.
Two courses cost £30, drinks (they sell Abbeydale’s Daily Bread here), coffees and cake another tenner.
The Dawes Verdict
15 Paternoster Row, Sheffield, S1 2BX.
Tel: 0114 249 5479.
Open: Mon-Sat 11am-9pm, Sun 11am-4pm.
Licensed (house wine £13.50). Credit cards.
Disabled access and toilets. Street parking.