IN about the time it takes to sink a pint of Pale Rider or Kelham Island Best in the Fat Cat on Alma Street, Sheffield, you can have a very entertaining quarter of an hour on the pub’s website.
It tells us, for example, that we’re sitting in the very room, the old non-smoking parlour before smoking became illegal everywhere, in which Channel 4’s Time Time, Tony Robinson, Phil Harding and co, supped ale during their dig into the city’s industrial past in 2004.
Here, too, appeared, if only for a moment, the unlikely figure of Ann Widdicombe when a previous Tory administration made her Minister for Sheffield.
It doesn’t relate what she drank, perhaps the Anglo Dutch Brewery’s Stark Raven Mad?
The Fat Cat, of course, is not just any pub. It’s the one opened by Dave Wickett back in 1981 which, together with the Kelham Island Brewery which followed nine years later, helped turn Sheffield into a fermenting tank of micro breweries and a beer tickers’ paradise. There really ought to be a blue plaque outside.
The city is also the beer capital of Britain, a fact no outsider is going to want to challenge after a few pints in the Sheffield Valley of Beer.
Dave, sadly, is no more. He died earlier this year so our visit to the Fat Cat is in a way a little homage to his memory.
It was Dave, of course, who compiled the website, and the man who marked on the outside wall how high the water rose in the Great Flood of June, 2007. The pub and its cellars were not only inundated by water but by journalists.
As Dave writes: “BBC TV News covered Tony Blair leaving Downing Street followed by the flood at the brewery. (They) obviously thought that the loss of 40,000 pints of beer was almost as a big a story as the loss of a Prime Minister!” Some might say more.
The difference was that while Blair never came back, within two weeks the Fat Cat was open for business again.
Stepping into the Fat Cat on a damp, crisp autumn morning is like going back in time. You are really here for the beer, with a dozen real ale pumps serving the brewery’s own as well as guest beers.
There is no Sky TV blaring sports, no whirr of electronic games machines and absolutely no music, just the sound of conversation. No wonder that among the accolades showered on the Cat was a Perfect Pub award.
The Fat Cat has done food since the word go. Unlike the beer, some of the best in Britain, it’s simple, homely stuff.
Since Dave was a vegetarian, veggie (and vegan) dishes don’t take the field as also-rans. There’s also gluten-free if you ask. It’s cooked by Diane Johnson, who has been in the kitchen for 31 years, and Allison Cundy, the ‘new girl’ with just 30 years on the clock.
The blackboard shows a slate of pies and other mains, all at £4.50. There’s steak, mushroom and sage, cheese and broccoli and nutty parsnip, spicy mince or sweet potato and red onion with rice, pasta with three cheeses, burgers, ploughman’s or sandwiches, with a choice of apple crumble, spotted dick or treacle roly poly to follow, for £2.
As we sit there sipping our top-selling Pale Rider and the hoppy Kelham Island Bitter in a room full of industrial and family photographs my gaze is caught by the photo of a Victorian matron in bombazine black. She’s a dead ringer for Dave around the eyes. His son Edward, now in charge, hasn’t a clue who she is (or can see the resemblance).
My steak pie is a portion from a tray with perhaps a slightly too hard pastry but a rewardingly meaty filling. It comes with roast potatoes, marrowfat peas and plenty of gravy.
My wife’s gently flavoured sweet potato dish is in a tomato sauce and served with rice, salad garnish, hunk of bread and pat of butter.
If you’re in this room look for the white cat painted below one of the benches.
We round our meals off with the roly poly and spotted dick, both stalwart puddings to line your stomach in preparation for another pint.
For those who like beer stats it took them 22 years to get to the 5,000th draught ale served at the pub (in 2003) but it looks like they’ll be getting to 10,000 mark sometime soon. The website registered 8,513 in August last year.
The other statistic is that a good lunch with excellent beer in convivial surroundings cost us just £15.30.
The Dawes Verdict
The Fat Cat
23 Alma Street, Sheffield S3 8SA.
Tel: 0114 249 8401.
Food served Monday-Friday noon-3pm and 6-8pm, Saturday noon-8pm and Sunday lunch.
Curry and quiz nights Monday. Disabled toilet. No music. Own car park