I’M tucking into my haddock, chips and mushy peas at new restaurant Whitby’s off the Parkway and thinking it’s taken half a century for something like this to happen around here.
But it’s worth the wait.
Sheffield hasn’t had a full-blown fish and chip restaurant since Hopkinson’s Capri in the Sixties. So why has it taken so long?
Yes, we’ve had fancy fish restaurants like Slammers and Bluefin and some great chippies with a few tables. But they don’t come bigger than Whitby’s. It’s a super-chippie.
The new-build on Poplar Way, Catcliffe, opposite Morrisons, can seat 160.
For those that can’t wait there’s a takeaway with a six-pan fryer next door.
A big sign outside proclaims: “Just like the seaside on your doorstep.”
It didn’t make any fuss when it opened two months ago but word of mouth has brought a lot of people to its doorstep. The other Thursday the restaurant was full with another 50 queuing.
It’s called Whitby’s because the owner has reeled in some of the key figures in the team which ran award-winning Trenchers, slightly less famous than the Magpie café in the Yorkshire seaside resort.
“We wanted to start quietly,” explains general manager Darren Richards, who like his wife Rebecca, front of house manager, and head-chef-cum-first-fryer Benji Micallef has migrated inland.
He must miss the seaside? “I don’t miss the seagulls,” he says.
The fish is fresh and while the menu is currently limited in scope you can have anything you like as long as it’s cod or haddock, scampi or salmon. And prawns.
Fish and chip restaurants this size are usually beside the seaside and you could certainly be in Whitby or Brid but someone has missed a trick with the décor.
It’s spacious and brown, not blue, and why have those big Andy Warhol pictures of Marilyn Monroe and Mickey Mouse when there could be photos of Whitby, trawlers and fish?
There are no complaints about the food, right down to the little pots of home made tartare sauce.
My haddock (£8.95) tastes really fresh, pearly white flakes of fish coming apart on the tines of my fork.
The batter, covering the fish in crispy, crunchy waves, shatters satisfyingly in your mouth.
The chips are home made (I was a junior potato rumbler in my dad’s chippie so I can tell), firm not flabby, with little crozzly bits of different shapes and sizes.
They, like the fish, are fried in beef dripping which gives them a taste which you won’t find in oil. If you are a coeliac you can ask for gluten-free batter and if a slimmer ask for the fish poached.
If the mushy peas (95p) aren’t quite as good as at the Magpie, which I enthused about earlier this year, they are also home-made with that earthy, mealy texture. Don’t forget to ask them for mint sauce.
Round it off with a cup of tea and slices of bread and butter (30p a round) and it’s heaven.
We do three courses. My wife starts off with a generous prawn cocktail (£3.95). “It’s a bit like the magic pasta pot – the prawns never stop coming,” she enthuses.
For the same money I have three slices of smoked salmon and monkfish terrine with fingers of toast and a seaside salad garnish with little tussocks of cress. That taste takes me back.
If you don’t want to be fishy there’s soup and garlic mushrooms.
For mains there is a choice of cod, wholetail scampi, steak pie (from catering manager Jane Hicklin, noted for her pies when she ran a nearby pub), veggie lasagne and fish pie, as well as salads: poached salmon, prawn, roast ham or Caesar.
My wife has the fish pie (£6.95), so big she can’t finish it, again generous with cod, salmon, smoked haddock and prawns in a white wine sauce under a blanket of parsley mash.
My wife is contractually bound to order dessert, even if she doesn’t want one, but the poor woman has had so much that I agree we can share a good old fashioned knickerbocker glory (£3.95).
It’s just like I remember and once again Whitby’s cares about the little details – it’s got fresh not tinned fruit.
And a word of praise for the service from smiling staff dressed smartly in black.
The man behind Whitby’s is local businessman Edward Foers, who owns the land, and it is rumoured there’s a well-known South Yorkshire millionaire also involved. Darren isn’t confirming who he is but I did spot the odd sofa or two in reception.
There is talk of rolling out more as a chain and if the quality is this good there’s a good chance of success.
But one word of advice, chaps. Do something with that décor. How about a few fishing nets and dried starfish? There’s nothing wrong with kitsch and chips!
We paid £31.30 for three courses, bread and butter and a pot of tea for two. Smashing.
Poplar Way, Catcliffe S60 5TR.
Tel: 01709 838 000.
Open seven days 11.30am-9pm. Licensed. Credit cards. Gluten-free food. Children’s menu. Disabled access and toilets. Large car park.
My star ratings (out of five):